Why Brewers Make So Many Strong Beers

This is almost too easy.

The list of ratebeer.com’s Best Beers 2011, counting the top rated beers in the world, is out, and as usual, it is just a wee bit big beer-centric. How much so? In the style listing of the top 50 beers, the word “Imperial” appears 39 times!

The word pilsner? Zero times, in the entire 100.



Filed under "extreme" beer

27 responses to “Why Brewers Make So Many Strong Beers

  1. Yet, thankfully, neither does appear the word “pizza”.

  2. Is there a way to correct that trend? Can you launch a worldwide Pilsner appreciation society? Are the people doing the ratings demonstrably wrong for enjoying the things they enjoy? Are they just caught up in the hype of big releases, or is it symptomatic of a larger issue within craft brewing?

    • stephenbeaumont

      The issue is not pilsner, Jordan, or any other style, big or small, for that matter. It’s like Max (Pivni) notes below, the judging of a tap on the shoulder and a punch in the face with the same set of criteria, plus the unmistakable allure of the rare and sacred (Westvleteren, Pliny the Younger, Cable Car, Canadian Breakfast et al).

      Don’t get me wrong, most of the top 100 are tremendous beers, to be sure, including many I’ve rhapsodized over myself. My issue is the complete absence of subtle complexity from the list.

      • Jeremy

        “My issue is the complete absence of subtle complexity from the list.”
        By which you pre-suppose both that subtlety is a desirable quality in a beer, and that a “big” beer cannot have as much complexity as a smaller one. Which only really serves to show your own preferences. Similarly, I am inherently biased towards the flavour profile of Cascade hops vs. Noble hops, and thus an average US pale ale will score more highly with me than the best pilsener in all of Europe.

      • stephenbeaumont

        “Complexity” as a noun, Jeremy, and “subtle” as an adjective. Big beers can and often are extremely complex — certainly many of the top 100 are — and subtlety is not necessarily an element I want in my beer all the time, or else I would surely favour the big brewers. My point is that a pilsner, kolsch or ordinary bitter — bearers of subtle complexity all — can provide as much hedonistic value as can a barley wine or Imperial whatever, depending on the circumstances. Not the ideal illustration of its style or the “highest jumping dog,” but a beer that is simply excellent without being a massive and aggressive.

      • Jeremy

        “My point is that a pilsner, kolsch or ordinary bitter — bearers of subtle complexity all — can provide as much hedonistic value as can a barley wine or Imperial whatever, depending on the circumstances.
        I don’t disagree with you on that. That said, half the point of RB is that a variety of people tried a variety of beers in a variety of formats and settings and rated these the highest.

        Perhaps I am tilting at windmills a bit but this conversation happens EVERY year when they release the RB Best… with little or no context of how the scores are derived. (Akin to the debate over nominations for almost every awards show?)

        No one pays attention to the Customizable Top 50, or the Best Beers by Style lists. Interestingly, using the Customizable Top 50 limiting it beers <6% abv., the list is dominated by lambics. At <5% we see a handful of pilseners, but still no kolschs and no bitters.

        I suppose in a way that proves your point though. In the absence of high alcohol content, the beer geeks still tend toward full flavoured beers. That said, I'd bet small amounts of money that there is not a pilsener in the world with the complexity of Girardin Black Label 🙂

      • stephenbeaumont

        If I made a list of the top 100 songs of all time and populated it almost exclusively with heavy metal tunes, wouldn’t you think that its contents were at least somewhat skewed? Even if i had a “customizable” list that included only jazz or blues?

      • Jeremy

        Stephen, is your list called “Stephen Beaumont’s Favorite Songs” or “The Definitive List of the Best Songs Ever as Judged by a Universally Agreed Upon Standard “? I think that the RB Best is in the former category, but people react to it as if its in the latter.

        I know I am being pedantic (and possibly beating the point to death.. and killing time…), but anyways. Ultimately being part of the Ratebeer Best doesn’t make a beer “the best” any more than winning an election makes our current crop of politicians the “best” people for the job. Rather, they are the top choices as voted on by a small subset of the general population. Whether we agree that they voted well or not doesn’t change the result.

  3. And they keep on asking me why I consider those rankings irrelevant.

  4. Jordan,
    I think the problem is in many of the raters who will measure with the same bar something like Kout na Šumavě 12º or St. Peter’s Mild with something like Russian River Pliny the Younger.

  5. So beer drinkers lack the context to be able to appreciate things by style as opposed to appreciating them on an overall sliding scale of cumulative lifetime experience.

  6. Jeremy

    “I think the problem is in many of the raters who will measure with the same bar something like Kout na Šumavě 12º or St. Peter’s Mild with something like Russian River Pliny the Younger.”

    That is not a “problem” so much as a function of the design and stated goals of the site…

    Ratebeer FAQ:
    “While RateBeer encourages its members to learn as much as they can about beer and beer styles, RateBeer uses a Hedonic Scale to judge a beer according to how much it pleases the nose, eyes and tongue… we think our hedonic scale is more interesting for both everyday consumers and beer lovers in particular. We’re not interested in poodles that look exactly like poodles. We’re interested in the smartest dog, the highest jumping dog, the meanest dog, the biggest dog, the fastest dog, the strangest dog, the most amusing dog. We don’t care what the hair looks like or what color it is — we want dogs that thrill us… Simply put, we recognize great beer regardless of definitions. So please, learn about classic styles, learn about beer history, learn about the great brewers but when you rate put style aside and tell us how GOOD the beer is. “

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  8. This is a weird response. I see Mr. B’s point as screamingly obvious. The raters / tickers / advocates lack a sense of breadth and have ignored the small and subtle in favour of the big and brassy. Who can deny this?

    • Joe McPhee

      @alan – These are aggregate ratings – you ‘ll find loads of people on Ratebeer (myself included) who love a well made pilsner, a fresh cask bitter, or a kellerbier from the barrel, but these are somewhat reduced when you average my tastes againt the thousands of other people out there. The numbers are simply the numbers – I don’t know why people get so exorcized about them. If you have your own favourite beers, great – by all means, shout them from the rooftops, but to disparage a group of people with these blanket statements about how stupid or unrefined we are is awfully ignorant of you.

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  10. Ghost Drinker

    Goose Island get a good look in don’t they!

  11. Ghost Drinker

    Zak Avery to make a top 100 list!!!!

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  14. What, no imperial pilsner?!

  15. stephenbeaumont

    Curious that the style designations now seem to have disappeared from the RateBeer list. (Thanks, Martyn.)

  16. isn’t it quite obvious that as beer evolves and new beers see the light of day, older “classics” take a step down. what I’ve heard quite a few imply, is that since it’s new it isn’t as good as what we know. but one of the main reasons for some of the young brewers to be in the business, is to make the best beer possible. therefore it’s important to try new stuff, be extreme etc. they all have respect for history and that’s why they take it elsewhere and do different things.

    • stephenbeaumont

      I disagree completely with the notion that older classics must take a step down in the presence of newer or so-called innovative beers, Martin. A great kolsch like Malzmuhle, for example, can certainly co-exist alongside something like Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout, conditioned in bourbon barrels that have also held maple syrup. In fact, the whole point of this post is that there is no reason, other than myopia, to exclude older, weaker or more subtle kinds of beer in favour of a raft of high potency one-offs.

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