Craft Beer Drinkers Are Less Diverse Than You Think

Sometimes it can feel like there is a glut of craft beer to try. An overwhelming number of breweries to choose from and an unlimited number of styles to taste. But when you start looking at the overall numbers of what is “popular” things start to become much more narrow.

First off, let’s start by saying this article needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as we are pulling directly from the top rated beers from BeerAdvocate, a community sourced review site. It’s not the ideal means of collecting data, but it does provide a snapshot of what craft beer drinkers are preferring, and more importantly, which styles are being rated the highest amongst those drinkers. It’s also fair to assume that most contributors to BeerAdvocate have a more than general interest in beer.

So, considering all those factors, lets take a look at the top 250 craft beer. In order to be on this list, BeerAdvocate uses a proprietary Bayesian-based formula that takes the number of ratings into consideration by applying a weighted rank or rating (WR) behind the scenes. Basically, if a beer has a 4.5 average and over 2,500 ratings it should rank higher than a beer with a 4.75 and less than 100 ratings.

The first thing we notice is that for a list of 250 beer, there are only 86 brewers represented, meaning that those breweries are either producing some seriously consistent beer, or there is some brand bias being attributed to breweries. Let’s say it could lean either way, as I doubt many would argue against the fact that the likes of 3 Floyds or Russian River have both great beer and a strong reputation.

More importantly, when looking at the total number of styles listed in the top 250, there is a drastically small amount of diversity. Three styles dominate the entire list, so much so that there is practically nothing else represented outside of those styles. What then, are the styles that are proving to be the most popular? First, and unsurprisingly, are IPA’s (or pale ales) which combined account for nearly 40% of the entire list. Second are Stouts/Porters which nearly come as close to IPAs for the number count on the list, and finally are sour/fruit/wild fermented beer. Overall, we’re looking at close to 90% of the entire list dominated by these three styles, with IPAs and Stouts representing the majority.

What does that say about the craft beer industry? Well for one, it says that no matter the diverse styles offered by brewers, drinkers are going to continue to favour Stouts and IPAs as their drink of choice. Not surprisingly, the top listed beers also happen to heavily be weighted towards Imperial, meaning ‘serious’ craft beer drinkers prefer to have a Stout or IPA that has a much higher alcohol content and stronger flavour profile.

While sour/fruit/wild fermented beers do represent a good portion of the list, they is clearly a much smaller subsection of craft beer drinkers that favour that type of beer compared to the mass appeal of an IPA.

Taken in this light, it’s hard not to say that I’ve been guilty of the above. While I do have the opportunity to try a number of diverse styles, I can easily (sadly) say that my beer fridge, and cellar, is heavily dominated by IPAs, Stouts and Sours. Whether that’s because there are some brilliant beers in these categories, or I just lean heavily into those styles, is hard to separate.

Does this information help? I for one might be a little more inclined to grab something other than the big 3 the next time I’m at my local bottle shop, but there’s still that temptation to grab the latest Oud Bruin or NE IPA.

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