The Beer Gazetteer: What beer style do Americans love (and hate)?

By: Patrick W. Zimmerman

In order to properly rate beer, we first need to calibrate our ratings. Not all 4-star beer ratings are the same! For example, since Americans tend to like IPAs more than non-alcoholic beers (duh), a 4-star double IPA (good but nothing really that special) is way less impressive relative to its peers than a 4 star non-alcoholic beer (save the label because there are exactly 2, apparently).

However, looking at most rating systems lumps (say) Budweiser (a bad lager) into the same scale as an Ommegang Trippel (a Belgian). Not only are they different beers, they’re not even really trying to be the same thing.

So, can we look at how Americans rate different styles and then use those to create a rating scale to help people judge beers relative to their peers, apples to apples, oranges to oranges, and orange wit to other wheat beers?

Um….yeah. That’s kind of what we do here.

Let’s get our webscraping on, then create different scales for different beers, including pretty graphs and letter grade ranges. Principally Uncertain: making the world a better place, one pint at a time.


The question

What beer styles do Americans tend to like more, and can we use this to create a scale to help compare beers to their legitimate peers? 


The short-short version

What determines how we rate our beverages? Put simply: class.

Is there a pattern to what Americans tend to rate higher? Yyyyup: we like to drink elitism. We like rarer specialty beers that make us feel special for even knowing what they are in the first place. Of the top 5 beer styles, only stouts really count as an exception to the “elite and uncommon” heuristic. Thus, we tend to rate expensive high-alcoholic or strongly-flavored styles better.  Lambics (3.85/5 stars), barleywines, stouts, and sours top the ratings averages.

On the flip side, we hate declassé beverages and rate them accordingly. Non-alcoholic beer (2.85/5 stars because, come on!) as well as cheap high-alcoholic beers like malt liquors and “healthy” or otherwise doctored beer-like substances such as gluten-free beer and lemonade-y shandys (think “Bud Light Lime”, as an extremely macro-brew version of this popular-in-Europe style).

For the curious, Ye Olde Average-Rated Beer: Octoberfests / Märzens, at a 3.46/5 stars.

Want to skip the graphs? Jump to the big table.


The methodology

We pulled ratings data for every single US beer from Untappd with at least 5 ratings (n=89,014), then sorted the (thousands) of different styles into 45 different “metastyles”.  For sanity’s sake, we lumped in all Belgians, all IPAs, and the like into single categories.  So a Double IPA and a Triple IPA and a fresh-hopped IPA are all considered IPAs in our dataset.

Then, we created histograms for each metastyle, and assembled them into pretty, pretty graphs, for the visually inclined among you all.


What do Americans love to drink? The top 5 styles, in histogram form

In order to make this easy to use on a beer-by-beer basis, we’re going to show both the histogram distribution of ratings for each style and those distributions translated into a grade scale. The grades will be defined on a standard curve, with a grade-width of 1.0σ.

Thus:

  • A range: is 1.5σ or better above the mean.
  • B is from 0.5σ to 1.5σ.
  • C is from -0.5σ to 0.5σ.
  • D grades are -1.5σ to -0.5σ.
  • F graded beers are below -1.5σ.


LambicsThe connisseur’s beer.

Wild-fermented, funky, and almost certainly subject to some serious population sampling bias in the ratings. That is to say, unless you’re already pretty primed to think that lambics are the bees knees, you probably don’t even know what one is, much less are dropping a rating on Untappd. Thus, the average lambic is very highly rated. See one rated 4.0/5 stars? For the style, that falls into the “nice. Not thrilling, but nice” category.

Mouseover for details.

Grading lambics on a curve. Mean: 3.85. σ: 0.37

  1. 4.39-5
  2. 4.03-4.38
  3. 3.67-4.02
  4. 3.31-3.66
  5. 0-3.30


Barleywines Do you like, giant, dense, sweet beers? Apparently, you do!

Because our favorite really, really, really high-gravity ale comes in at number two on our list. Closer in alcohol content to wine than beer (hence, the name), Barleywine is a modern evolution of Medieval strong ales, re-branded in the 18th century to make them seem more refined and haute-cuisine. That is, more like wine (and able to command higher prices).

Mouseover for details.

Grading barleywines on a curve. Mean: 3.75. σ: 0.26

  1. 4.14-5
  2. 3.88-4.13
  3. 3.62-3.87
  4. 3.35-3.61
  5. 0-3.34


Stouts The dark(est) side of beer

Stouts are made with a relatively high proportion of toasted malts, and this can encompass a surprisingly wide range of tastes, gravity, and alcohol content. The style ranges from Irish Dry Stouts (pretty low alcohol, not as heavy as one would assume) to Oatmeal Imperial Stouts (basically, breakfast in a bottle that will buzz you for most of the morning).

Mouseover for details.

Grading stouts on a curve. Mean: 3.71. σ: 0.31

  1. 4.18-5
  2. 3.88-4.17
  3. 3.56-3.87
  4. 3.26-3.55
  5. 0-3.25


Sours Trendy beers are trendy, but also a really old style of beer.

Sour beers generally get heir distinctive flavor from adding Lactobacillus to create lactic acid as part of the fermentation cycle, and that acid adds another dimension to beers apart from the malt (sweet) and hops (bitter) standards. The term “sours”, like stouts above, encompasses a wide range of styles, from lightly-sour Goses through biting-into-a-lemon wild yeast farmhouse ales.

Mouseover for details.

Grading sours on a curve. Mean: 3.70. σ: 0.28

  1. 4.12-5
  2. 3.84-4.11
  3. 3.56-3.83
  4. 3.28-3.55
  5. 0-3.27


Meads Technically a beer, really!

More than what you randomly shout for at your local Medieval LARP meetup, mead is actually a beer. Just one made out of honey rather than barley sugars. It is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance, and there are now almost as many meads in our ratings database (617) as lambics (719) and more meads than Ryes (592), Scotch Ales (554), or Altbiers (358).

Mouseover for details.

Grading meads on a curve. Mean: 3.68. σ: 0.32

  1. 4.16-5
  2. 3.85-4.15
  3. 3.53-3.84
  4. 3.21-3.52
  5. 0-3.20


What do Americans hate to drink? The bottom 5 styles, in histogram form

Low/non alcoholic beerMissing something.

Woof. The people have spoken, and if they’re paying for booze, they want it to contain actual booze. To illustrate the point: the average low and non-alcoholic beer is rated a full 2.57 standard deviations below the mean beer rating. If there were such a thing as an F-, this category would get a lot of them.

Mouseover for details.

Grading low and non-alcoholic beer on a curve. Mean: 2.58. σ: 0.53

  1. 3.37-5
  2. 2.84-3.36
  3. 2.31-2.83
  4. 1.78-2.30
  5. 0-1.77


Malt Liquor More alcohol, without any of that pesky flavor.

Now, for one of the most strongly class-associated categories: Malt Liquor. You’re not going to find too many of these in your local gastropub on tap (submit photo evidence to octopi[at]principallyuncertain.com!). Malt liquor is basically a thin pilsner or lager beer with little hops, whose high alcohol content is acheived by adding lots of dextrose to the mash that yeast can digest more efficiently than barley but is basically flavorless.

Mouseover for details.

Grading malt liquors on a curve. Mean: 2.64. σ: 0.52

  1. 3.43-5
  2. 2.91-3.42
  3. 2.39-2.90
  4. 1.87-2.38
  5. 0-1.86


Gluten-free beer Feel for the celiacs, because this is what they have to deal with.

Unlike non-alcoholic beers, gluten-free beers aren’t normal beers with something taken out, but rather brewed with sorghum instead of barley. This tends to lead to a sweeter beer, which probably also affects the ratings.

Mouseover for details.

Grading gluten-free beers on a curve. Mean: 2.98. σ: 0.41

  1. 3.60-5
  2. 3.19-3.59
  3. 2.78-3.18
  4. 2.37-2.77
  5. 0-2.37


Shandies & Radlers Half beer, half lemonade.

Pretty much exclusively drunk during summer, these beer blends originated in Germany, mixing a light lager with lemonade to create a citrusy, low-alcoholic beer style (~2%) that has been either growing in popularity or infesting your summer, depending on your perspective on this.

Curious statistical note: Shandies and radlers have an almost identical ratings distribution to gluten-free beers, though there are roughly 3 times as many of them.

Mouseover for details.

Grading shandies and radlers on a curve. Mean: 2.99. σ: 0.42

  1. 3.62-5
  2. 3.20-3.61
  3. 2.78-3.19
  4. 2.37-2.77
  5. 0-2.37


Lagers The macrobrewer’s macrobrew.

This is one of the few styles with a distinctly asymmetrical histogram, having a pretty long tail on the low end of the graph. There are good lagers out there, though there aren’t many great ones. And there are a whole lot of godawful ones.

This is also the second-most common beer style (in terms of separate beer labels, not necessarilly volume produced) with 7,579 differnt lagers in the US, way behind IPAs (13,411) but significantly ahead of 3rd-place stouts (6,394).

Mouseover for details.

Grading lagers on a curve. Mean: 3.07. σ: 0.42

  1. 3.71-5
  2. 3.29-3.70
  3. 2.86-3.28
  4. 2.44-2.85
  5. 0-2.43


How does each style grade out?

Style # of beers Mean Rank σ F D C B A
Altbier 358 3.44 23rd of 45 0.23 0-3.08 3.09-3.31 3.32-3.55 3.56-3.78 3.79-5
Barleywine 750 3.75 2nd of 45 0.26 0-3.34 3.35-3.61 3.62-3.87 3.88-4.13 4.14-5
Belgian 4,599 3.52 12th of 45 0.28 0-3.10 3.10-3.37 3.38-3.65 3.67-3.94 3.95-5
Bitter 2,840 3.37 32nd of 45 0.20 0-3.06 3.07-3.26 3.27-3.46 3.47-3.66 3.67-5
Blended 143 3.27 39th of 45 0.30 0-2.81 2.82-3.11 3.12-3.41 3.42-3.70 3.71-5
Blonde Ale 1,893 3.33 36th of 45 0.25 0-2.94 2.95-3.20 3.21-3.45 3.46-3.70 3.71-5
Bock 2,062 3.48 16th of 45 0.27 0-3.07 3.08-3.34 3.35-3.60 3.61-3.87 3.88-5
Brown Ale 1,881 3.52 13th of 45 0.25 0-3.14 3.15-3.39 3.40-3.64 3.65-3.89 3.90-5
Cider 2,880 3.49 22nd of 45 0.33 0-2.98 2.99-3.31 3.32-3.65 3.66-3.98 3.99-5
Cream Ale 428 3.46 19th of 45 0.27 0-3.05 3.06-3.32 3.33-3.59 3.60-3.86 3.87-5
Dark 1,776 3.42 25th of 45 0.27 0-3.00 3.01-3.27 3.28-3.54 3.55-3.82 3.83-5
English Mild Ale 555 3.41 28th of 45 0.23 0-3.05 3.06-3.28 3.29-3.51 3.52-3.74 3.75-5
Fruit Beer 1,744 3.30 38th of 45 0.39 0-2.71 2.72-3.10 3.11-3.49 3.50-3.88 3.89-5
Gluten-free 241 2.98 43rd of 45 0.41 0-2.36 2.37-2.77 2.78-3.18 3.19-3.59 3.60-5
Golden Ale 1,930 3.36 43rd of 45 0.21 0-3.04 3.05-3.25 3.26-3.45 3.46-3.66 3.67-5
Herbed Ale 890 3.34 35th of 45 0.36 0-2.79 2.80-3.15 3.16-3.52 3.53-3.88 3.89-5
IPA 13,411 3.65 6th of 45 0.26 0-3.25 3.26-3.51 3.52-3.77 3.78-4.02 4.03-5
Kellerbier / Zwickelbier 495 3.38 31st of 45 0.22 0-3.04 3.05-3.26 3.27-3.49 3.40-3.71 3.72-5
Kölsch 702 3.41 27th of 45 0.21 0-3.09 3.10-3.30 3.31-3.50 3.51-3.71 3.72-5
Lager 7,579 3.07 41st of 45 0.42 0-2.43 2.44-2.85 2.86-3.28 3.29-3.70 3.71-5
Lambic 719 3.85 1st of 45 0.36 0-3.30 3.31-3.66 3.67-4.02 4.03-4.38 4.39-5
Low/non-alcoholic 829 2.58 45th of 45 0.53 0-1.77 1.78-2.30 2.31-2.83 2.84-3.36 3.37-5
Malt Liquor 195 2.65 44th of 45 0.52 0-1.86 1.87-2.38 2.39-2.90 2.91-3.42 3.43-5
Mead 617 3.69 5th of 45 0.32 0-3.20 3.21-3.52 3.53-3.84 3.85-4.15 4.16-5
Medieval Ale 47 3.40 29th of 45 0.25 0-3.01 3.02-3.26 3.27-3.51 3.52-3.76 3.77-5
Octoberfest / Märzen 1,311 3.46 18th of 45 0.21 0-3.13 3.14-3.34 3.35-3.56 3.57-3.77 3.78-5
Old Ale 232 3.60 9th of 45 0.33 0-3.10 3.11-3.42 3.43-3.75 3.76-4.08 4.09-5
Other 1,309 3.47 17th of 45 0.37 0-2.90 2.91-3.27 3.28-3.64 3.65-4.01 4.02-5
Pale Ale 6,294 3.45 21st of 45 0.24 0-3.08 3.09-3.32 3.33-3.56 3.57-3.80 3.81-5
Pilsner 3,566 3.18 40th of 45 0.34 0-2.66 2.67-3.00 3.01-3.34 3.35-3.67 3.68-5
Porter 3,060 3.64 8th of 45 0.26 0-3.24 3.25-3.50 3.41-3.76 3.77-4.02 4.03-5
Red Ale 3,233 3.44 24th of 45 0.22 0-3.09 3.10-3.32 3.33-3.54 3.55-3.77 3.78-5
Rye 592 3.49 14th of 45 0.28 0-3.06 3.07-3.34 3.35-3.62 3.63-3.90 3.91-5
Sahti 20 3.30 37th of 45 0.42 0-2.66 2.67-3.08 3.09-3.51 3.52-3.93 3.94-5
Saison 1,993 3.60 10th of 45 0.25 0-3.21 3.22-3.46 3.47-3.71 3.72-3.96 3.97-5
Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy 554 3.59 11th of 45 0.25 0-3.21 3.22-3.46 3.47-3.70 3.71-3.95 3.96-5
Shandy / Radler 885 2.99 42nd of 45 0.42 0-2.36 2.37-2.77 2.78-3.19 3.20-3.61 3.62-5
Smoked beer 517 3.49 15th of 45 0.27 0-3.07 3.08-3.34 3.35-3.61 3.62-3.89 3.90-5
Sour 517 3.70 4th of 45 0.28 0-3.27 3.28-3.55 3.56-3.83 3.84-4.11 4.12-5
Specialty Grain 153 3.35 34th of 45 0.36 0-2.80 2.81-3.16 3.17-3.52 3.53-3.87 3.88-5
Steam Beer 175 3.39 30th of 45 0.22 0-3.05 3.06-3.27 3.28-3.50 3.51-3.72 3.73-5
Stout 6,394 3.72 3rd of 45 0.31 0-3.25 3.26-3.55 3.56-3.86 3.87-4.17 4.18-5
Strong Ale 593 3.58 7th of 45 0.27 0-3.16 3.17-3.43 3.44-3.71 3.72-3.98 3.99-5
Wheat Beer 4,698 3.41 26th of 45 0.24 0-3.05 3.06-3.28 3.29-3.52 3.53-3.76 3.77-5
Winter Ale 1,008 3.45 20th of 45 0.26 0-3.05 3.06-3.31 3.32-3.57 3.58-3.83 3.84-5

Want to see each style’s individual histogram? But, of course!

Mouseover for details, select the dropdown menu to change style.

Master grade curve. Mean: 3.46. σ: 0.36

  1. 4.01-5
  2. 3.64-4.00
  3. 3.28-3.63
  4. 2.91-3.27
  5. 0-2.90


What’s next?

You mean, other than “field research?”  One interesting idea is how this has changed over time.  Untapped and other social drinking rating systems have only been around a few years, but if one pulls this data every so often (and filters for date), then it should be a pretty simple matter to see beer fads come and go, such as the current obsession with hazy IPAs.

About The Author

Architeuthis Rex, a man of (little) wealth and (questionable) taste. Historian and anthropologist interested in identity, regionalism / nationalism, mass culture, and the social and political contexts in which they exist. Earned Ph.D. in social and cultural History with a concentration in anthropology from Carnegie Mellon University and then (mostly) fled academia to write things that more than 10 other people will actually read. Driven to pursue a doctorate to try and answer the question, "Why do they all hate each other?" — still working on it. Plays beer-league hockey, softball, and soccer. Professional toddler wrangler. Likes dogs, good booze, food, and horribly awesome kung-fu movies.

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