Washington breweries recently brought home 13 medals from the Great American Beer Festival, the most prestigious beer awards in North America. (Check it out.) Oregon scored 19 medals, Texas 15, Colorado 38, and so on. So what’s that mean? There is really only one question people want answered: which state brews the best beer in America?
The GABF results may never be able answer such a nebulous question, but we can use the results to help gain some insight beyond the simple medal count. Let’s see what happens when we use objective data to answer an entirely subjective question.
This year saw 6,647 beers enter the competition from 1,552 breweries. All 50 states plus Washington, DC were represented. In all, 275 medals were awarded in 165 different beer style categories. I suppose that gives us a pretty good sampling with which to work.
It’s not just about medal count. That would be too easy. Any state’s medal total is relative to the total number of beers submitted. Colorado won 38 medals but entered 827 beers. Because the event is in Denver, it is very easy for Colorado breweries to submit beer. Washington won 13 medals from 239 entries. Maine won 3 medals and only entered 14 beers. You tell me which is most impressive.
Then there’s the question of style categories. Which category you enter impacts your chances of winning. American-Style Indian Pale Ale was by far the most difficult category to win because it saw the highest number of entries, 336. (This year’s gold medal IPA was Revolver IPA, from BNS Brewing & Distilling Co. of Santee, California.)
As far as the stats geeks are concerned, that makes IPA the “hardest” category. Other categories that saw fewer entries, like American-Style Dark Lager (21 entries), were deemed to be “easier.” So the categories are weighted and considered in the analysis. If you enter beers in easier categories the expectation that you’ll win a medal is higher, and vice versa.
Armed with this information and more, Bart Watson set out to analyze the data. Bart is the economics analyst for the Brewers Association and loves to crunch numbers like this. According to Bart, “If you’re going to spend a huge chunk of your time looking at 1’s and 0’s, it really helps when you can remember that those numbers are representative of the best beers in the world.”
Key data points:
- The number of medals won as it relates to total number of beers entered
- The difficulty of the categories in which the beers were submitted
For each state, Bart used the data points above, and some others, to determine numbers for each state: “Expected Medals Won” to measure against “Actual Medals Won” and “Expected Rate” to measure against “Actual Rate.”
That’s all very scientific, but we cannot ignore the total number of medals won. Period. It’s a super-simple data point that demands attention. In other words, unless you brought home a bunch of medals we probably shouldn’t even be talking about you. I suppose you could argue that Colorado enjoys an unfair home field advantage and should be eliminated from consideration, but whatcha you gonna do? They make good beer in Colorado. This is not a perfect system and any conclusions are far from absolute.
So let’s look at the top five medal-winning states and how they did as far as Bart’s geeky analysis is concerned.
- California: expected medals 49.1, actual medals 67
- Colorado: expected medals 35.0, actual medals 38
- Texas: expected medals 15.3, actual medals 15
- Oregon: expected medals 14.9, actual medals 19
- Washington: expected medals 10.2, actual medals 13
In the end, California did the best job of exceeding expectations (exceeding the expected rate by 1.5 percent). Oregon and Washington are basically tied for second place (exceeding the expected rate by 1.2 percent and 1.1 percent respectively).
Does that mean California, Oregon and Washington produce the best beer? I don’t know if that’s a fair conclusion to draw, but would you be surprised? If that actually was the answer, I could live with it.
Whatever the case, Washington can be proud of the beer it produces. Although we are often excluded from such conversations, we still brew and consume some of the best craft beer in the nation. Washington breweries prove it every year at the GABF.
When people drink with their eyes and taste a brewery’s national reputation, Washington is often ignored. But with the blinders on, in a purely objective tasting format, Washington brought home more medals than 45 other states, and did a better job of exceeding expectation than all but two states. I’m going to let myself believe that’s good news.
I should note that Bart Watson did not perform his analysis to determine which state makes the best beer. After all, he works for the Brewers Association, which represents all of America’s 4,000 breweries. I’m the one who took his conclusions and tried to make that giant leap. You can read his report here.
You can see the Brewers Association’s wrap up of the GABF competition here.