Thursday 28 January 2010

RateBeer Best Beers 2010

The results are in for this year’s RateBeer Bests. Based on almost 2.5million rates from last year, they show the highest ranked beers overall and then they are broken down in terms of style and place. Here are the lists.

In the Top 100 overall there is just one British beer, Old Chimney’s King Henry’s Special Reserve. It deserves to be there as it’s fantastic, but there are so many other great beers deserving of being in there too; it’s a little saddening to only find the solitary British entry. The UK list is interesting though and it’s great to see Thornbridge feature so well (13 of the Top 50 UK beers) and having Marble’s Dobber at number 5 is great. Punk IPA beats Jaipur by two places, which is an argument in itself, and there’s a spot for Gadds’ Black Pearl at 46. The list does lean towards big and strong with not many session beers making the top 50, which is a shame as that’s what our beer history is based around. What compounds this misery is that the Top 5 English Style Pale and Bitter is made up of four US beers and BrewDog’s How To Disappear Completely. Go figure.

The Best Bars list throws up a surprise to me: the Wellington in Birmingham being the 15th highest rated yet I hadn’t heard of it before this. The next highest UK pub is The Wenlock Arms, which truthfully, I think is a bit shit, unwelcoming and rough. The highest British breweries are Harviestoun, BrewDog and Sam Smith, followed by Thornbridge, which is a reflection on exported and ‘spoken about’ beers. Seeing Thornbridge there, as they hardly export, is a better indicator of the top British breweries as rated from ‘the inside’. Beermerchants make the Top 20 retailers in the world and that’s very cool and I think it reflects the ongoing determination to bring in different and interesting beers from around the world.

Whether you like or dislike rating sites and whether you trust them or not, it still reflects an interesting segment of drinkers and what was enjoyed, en mass, over the last year. The top beers have almost self-sustaining reputations, but to stay high up they still need to be damn good when it comes down to the taste experience (although rarity and hype do play a big part in the experience). For me, as it’s a collective opinion, it's largely a guide as to what geeky beer drinkers (you need to be a geek to want to rate – rating is hard work and takes real dedication!) like to find in their pint glass. It's not a list of the best beers to drink in a pub on a Sunday afternoon, it's a list of some of the most esoteric flavour experiences possible, dominated by imperial stouts, barrel aging, IPAs and sours.

What do you think about the lists? Anything else interesting in these lists? Do you trust them or not? Does it make you want to go out and find as many of these beers as possible and drink them? It certainly makes me want them a little bit more.

What this has also done is give me a ready-made list of beers to look for when I am in the US, because, yes, I do care about hyped-up beers, big beers and celebrated beers. I’m fickle like that. I’ve currently had 17 of the Top 100 and that’s just not good enough.


  1. I'm afraid that, as far as the UK is concerned, anyway, all this does is illustrate how irrelevant RateBeer really is. It's a list for beer geeks by beer geeks. The everyday drinker, or even the semi-serious, won't find much common ground here.

    Only one UK beer in the top 100? And not exactly the one that most UK drinkers would have guessed at. And the lack of session beers-some of which are amongst the best beers around-shows just how out of touch with reality they are.

    The Wenlock's high placing is another nod towards geekhood. I remember visiting it along with Tandleman when it first appeared on the scene. We were shocked how bad it was. Everyone, but everyone (apart from die-hard scoopers) knows the Wenlock is shit. It's simple as that.

    The Wellington, albeit much, much better than the Wenlock is another scooper favourite. It's worth a visit if you find yourself in Birmingham.

  2. Well basically what Tyson says. It's a lot of bollocks brought together by the sort of people that jump on the same bandwagon as the sort of people they think know about beer. It becomes self sustaining - that's why the lists change little. There is another set of rubbishy lists from Beer Advocate out at the moment too, which if anything is worse.

    Of course there are rare and interesting beers there and its use is probably for someone like you who desires such a thing and can actually make some use of it on a brief US visit, but it is as removed from best beer reality as it possibly could be. It just reflects geekery and a narrow number of imports in the British case.

    And the Wenlock is a shocking dump. I could go on.

  3. I couldn't give a toss what a bunch of American geeks think is good. The high placing of Sam Smith's shows how useful the list is.

    The list is totally distorted by:

    - being based on beers available in the USA
    - the type of beers US geeks prefer: strong, hoppy and intense

    A beer being hyped by RateBeer or BeerAdvocate is more likely to put me off it rather than encourage me to drink it.

    As I realise my own tastes - and the beers available to me - are worlds apart from those of the people contributing to RateBeer the list is totally and utterly fucking useless.

  4. I have to agree with all the previous comments, RateBeer (and BeerAdvocate) are far too US centric for it too mean much to us in the UK. While it's interesting, and I would like to try a lot of the beers on there, I'll not be loosing any sleep over the fact that one one British beer make the top 100.

  5. Why all the excitement? Probably the only people who will place any importance on these results are the ratebeerians themselves. For others such as myself they can still be a useful guide (eg checking out the top 50 Italian beers prior to GBBF) I would then blend in my personal style preferences when choosing which beers to try.
    Regarding the Wenlock I am also surprised at the opprobrium. It is primarily a community local many of whose regulars call in in their working clothes so I would n't expect decor / fixtures & fittings to match those of City of London pubs / winebars. Beer is well kept & there is almost always Crouch Vale , Dark Star or similar as well as beers for the scooping community. Cheers, moleha4

  6. I usually try and limit my comments regarding this sort of thing, but am pretty stoked that people like our beer.

    Probably the interesting thing regarding peoples comments here is regarding ratings and reviews.

    It's okay for an expert book crtic to critique a book and say that it's great. It doesn't mean we'll all like it.

    It's okay for someone who spends their life reviewing films to say a film is great, it doesn't mean we'll all enjoy it.

    An acclaimed food writer may write that such and such food is wonderful... or rubbish, we may or may not agree.

    If we're gonna boohoo such lists, can we just stop at beer or do we have to moan and groan about every "Best of" list that's ever created.

    Something to ponder.

    And yay for us at Thornbridge, we love feedback, even the good stuff.

    Kelly Ryan
    Brewery Manager
    Thornbridge Brewery

  7. This kind of thing is the bad sex of craft beer. It's sad to see brewers playing along... ask James Watt what is was like to be gang-raped by 'BeerAdvocates' when he had to warn purchasers about the first batch of Tactical Nuclear Penguin.

    It's great when they love you, but they have a short attention span, and will turn like Glenn Close in that film. Beer bunny-boilers, the lot of 'em.

  8. Interesting comments so far!

    It's a beer geek list created by beer geeks, for beer geeks. This sort of thing won't appear in mainstream media because that's not the target market. It is largely self-perpetuating and insular, but so what? The highly rated beers all share a 'specialness', whatever it may be, and they are all esoteric. The fact that they are esoteric means that there is a marmite kind of thing to them. They are not everyday beers and shouldn't be treated that way, but at the same time they are rated alongside everyday beers using the same system (but let's not get in to a discussion on the actual rating system, etc), and that's where the difference between session and extreme beer rates comes. I see it like this: a barrel-aged, rare imperial stout can be like an amazing meal in a world famous restaurant whereas a session beer can be like a perfectly delicious pub meal; neither meal is necessarily more enjoyable but one has more of a special feeling to it.

    Personally, the list interests me a lot, regrdless of the pros and cons. To me this tells me some of the best beers in the world and I like that. It isn't gospel, it isn't something I'll drink from every day, but it's a list which informs me of special, interesting stuff. I also don't mind the US-centric distortion as it's primarily a US site.

    moleha4, I find the list a useful reference, as you say. But it is more of a reference than a bible. As for the Wenlock, it has its plus sides (the beer, of course) but it is defiantly a local which is taken over by unwanted beer tourists. I just don't enjoy drinking there, although their salt beef sandwiches are brilliant!

    Kelly, I agree about the list thing; there will always be those who question a 'best of' list. Look at the best restaurants in the world. To many it signifies nothing, to some it's the be-all and end-all, to others it's just interesting and perhaps aspriational.

    Bery interesting to see what people think!

  9. As a Brit beer geek over here in the States, it is partly these kind of sites that do much to convince me that I don't fit in with beer geekery in the States.

  10. OK - I'm a member of ratebeer.

    Ratebeer isn't aimed at the everyday drinker. They may have geeks who are members. Some couldn't be trusted to sit the right way around on a toilet, never mind understand beer. Some are offensive, opinionated, undereducated and make ill-judged statements about over-hyped beer.

    Just like bloggers, then ;-)

    The raters do know something about beer - it's called having an opinion. You don't have to agree with it. You don't have to agree with any beer writers opinion . But it's still an opinion, so it's still valid.

    Most raters are USA based. So most beers reviewed are USA based. So most of the highest rated beers are USA based.

    To dismiss ratebeer as irrelevant to the UK is woefully shortsighted. The England raters share valuable gen about beers and breweries, arrange festival and brewery visits and promote UK beer to a worldwide audience.

    To be sure, ratebeer doesn't do itself any favours by calling the Top 50 "the biggest beer competition in the world". And Joe starts to take the piss by claiming that rates are "largely placed on tasting commercial samples - not special batches prepared for festivals. Additionally, most beers were not tasted in large flights". Clearly he's never seen UK raters knock back 80+ beers in a day between them.

    But I like the list for one reason, pure and simple. When I entertain non-UK raters, I know I can show them beers way better than Sam Smiths (one of the few UK brewers to have wide bottle distribution stateside). They love to try what they can rarely buy in the US - properly conditioned UK cask ale. And I know which US bottled beers to blag out of them in return.

  11. Haddonsman: it's not their relevance to a market, it's their relevance to BEER I have a problem with. They're locusts - chasing ticks and 'rates' and reducing them to a bunch of numbers. You can't appreciate (and rank) beers 1oz at a time...

  12. From the top UK beers; numbers 3, 4 7 and 11 am a big fan of. J.W Lees Harvest and Tornbridge alliance are also quality. But your right it lacks the session brews. Fullers Chiswick or Mighty oak oscar wilde mild needs to be up there

  13. Give me the old scoopers/tickers any day. At least they understood that it was supposed to be fun. BeerTwat and TickBeer do more damage to beer culture than good. BeerTwat currently has a thread bemoaning beer snobbery. What a bloody joke. People on that site invented beer snobbery in the first place.

  14. Why not look at what people actually drink that what geeks vote for on the t'internet.

    Not a pongy ale in the top 20 beers sold in the UK.

    But of course the public are wrong and a few geeks are right.

  15. Rob - Only one out of the three Lees Harvest Ale variants is available in this country - the original.

  16. I think there are three things going on here, one is the social side of rating beer, i.e. the forumns and meetups where people can shoot the shit. Secondly, there are the tickers who want to log everything and try everything and thirdly, there are those who may use these lists as a guide to what's trending and what to look out for.

    The main beef I have and the reason these lists aren't that useful to to the UK drinker, especially the main top 100, is that that vast majority of the beers just aren't available on this side of the pond.

    Secondly, I can't see how you can rate something on one taste or two tastes. We all know that there are so many things that can affect the way beer tastes, that nay rating have to be taken with a massive pinch of salt.

    At best these lists can be used as a starting point for your own experiences, but they certainly don't represent the best when the top rated beer clearly isn't the best.

    Anyway, beer like modern art is subjective, we're never going to all agree, which makes life all the more intresting.

  17. Haddonsman, a balanced voice!

    Sid, 'locusts chasing ticks and rates' is a little extreme. Some do chase to get the highest numbers, some do not. I completely agree that 1oz is not enough to rate and the aggressive raters who manage to get huge numbers is just silly and they are largely irrelevant. I have no time for high raters as beer enjoyment is surely lost, and what's the point of drinking if you can't enjoy it for what it is.

    I have the same reservations about wine and don't trust wine people who can take a mouthful, gargle, spit it out and then know how it is - bullshit.

    Barm, I love reading the forums of ratebeer and beeradvocate - they are hugely entertaining! I know a few ratebeerians and they are good chaps who you could share a beer with any time. A minority few, combined with the prominent standing BA and RB have in online beer, leaves a bad impression to some. I think BA is funny and I read it to see how quickly a thread deteriorates from a simple question into a cock-measuring competition about who has had the rarest/strongest/most hyped beers EVER!

    Cooking, if this list was going in something like the Observer Food Monthly then it would be massively different. If it was going in a whisky/wine magazine then it'd be different again; it suits its own audience. Give that list to Mr Bud Weiser down the pub and it'll be a foreign language to him; give Mr Rate Beerer a list of the Top 20 beers sold in the UK and he'll scoff with horror.

    fatboab, well put. Subjectivity is key here, but combine that with sips to take a rate, variability of condition, etc, and the ratings are flawed, anyone can see that. It's also really difficult to actually rate a beer - i've started doing it myself to see what happens and it's tough! The UK list is an interesting one, but even that is scewed with strong bottles that raters manage to get. And yes, it can be a starting point and is useful as that, I think. It's like looking at the BFI's Best Film list. Some I loved, some I didn't, but I could sit down with mates and argue the list for days or weeks - that's part of the fun of it, I think!

  18. Ron.
    OK so the lists are irrelevant to you. I could spend my whole life slagging off stuff that is irrelevant to me as fucking useless. I could proclaim that your uber-geeky obsession with old brewing records is irrelevant to me, hence fucking useless. But I don't. Actually,I love that stuff, however irrelevant it might be to my everyday existence. Perhaps I'm just too geeky for my own good? And I don't see why some people get so agitated by others giving vent to their enthusiasms in different ways.

  19. Chriso, if I remember correctly, the post asked us our opinions of such lists. I gave my honest opinion.

    A list full of beers I can't buy and which I probably wouldn't like even if I could buy them seems like a pretty good definition of useless to me.

  20. It's a list. A list built on opinion. If you put five moaning bastards into a snug, they all voted for shit bitter as the best beer in the world and then announced that result on the tinterweb, that'd be an opinion too.

    It's not fucking gospel. It's an opinion.

    Ratebeer is what you want it to be. For me, it was a way of finding out about beers. Then it became a way of keeping track of what I'd tried, what I thought of them and what I could look out for. Now I use it to shoot the shit on the forums and continue to meet up with some of the funniest, intelligent and generous beer lovers in the world.

    And I have a huge cock. My wife says so, and she's seen a fair few in her time.

  21. Fair point Ron. I was just highlighting what seemed to me an unnecessary level of vitriol in some of the comments. But, since you mention it, the issue of accessibility is surely a question of degree. I suppose I could have spent the last 30 odd years propping up the bar at my local, drinking nothing but London Pride. And if someone had told me that there was an amazing smoked beer called Schlenkerla, I could have said that information was fucking useless to me as they don't serve it in my local. Or I could have made an effort to try it. Over the years I've put a load of time, mileage and effort into this little hobby and, unless I'm very much mistaken, so have you. Of course, had I stuck to bar-propping at the local, I doubtless would have said that I probably wouldn't like a beer that tasted of bacon anyway and wouldn't have bothered to make the effort.

  22. Chriso, vitriol is one of my middle names.

    My son just asked me "Why are you so negative, dad?" "Because most of the world is crap." was my reply.

    The reason I get so annoyed about these lists is simple. Until RateBeer declared Westvleteren 12 the best beer in the world a couple of summers ago, I had fairly regular access to it at a reasonable price.

    There's more to the beer world than Imperial Stout and IPA. The top 100 list represents beer's diversity really poorly. Yes, I'll travel to track down rare and weird beers. The ones that I think are interesting.

    Number 35. In the list of best Dutch beers. That's sort of mine. And it's classified as an Imperial Stout. Life's full of contradictions.

  23. Come off it haddon - it's 2.5 million ticks - yer man over there said so. Hardly 5 locals in the snug, and we've seen the carnage this kind of tickerific crap causes - see Ron Pattinson's comments on Westy.