Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My thoughts on Top 100 lists

So, obviously to those who know me at all and follow the beer web, this is going to be a post about BeerAdvocate's recent redo of their BA Top 100 list. But it's also about top 10, top 100 and top 1 billion lists in general, the purpose and benefits of them, as well as disservices they do.

First, a little background. hosts a list of the Top 100 beers rated on their site with some parameters ( For a long time, it was a normalized score of any beer with greater than 10 reviews, weighted by the total number of reviews. Westy 12 and Pliney the Younger were perennial tops. I liked this list, apart from I felt 10 reviews wasn't enough. 10 reviews could honestly be written by a group of people sharing one 22 oz bottle. Not that I thought that happened, but it meant the list was really relevant to a list of elites who could afford to go out of their way to experience these beers for the most part, except a few really, really exceptional brews. Not to mention, rare brews carry a bit of selection bias into their scores. About a week ago, the list went through some experimental changes. One was the minimum number of reviews was lifted to 1000 reviews. This meant all the beers were accessible, but also meant only breweries with the capacity to produce and distribute to a large population were included. Finally (it seems), the list was adjusted so that the minimum number of reviews was the mean number of reviews for the population, currently 105. So a beer must be of at least average availability and interest to get on the list. I like this, but I'm not here to talk about how to build a list.

I want to talk about why I like that the BA Top 100 even exists. Apply it as you will to restaurants, movies, whatever. Top 100 lists with the type of user input we see on BA (97,156 reviews between the 100 of them) indicate what the people who like beer see as good beer. Consistently and across the board, people like these beers, and if you want to try a really good beer, you can reliably do it. Especially with this new list, anyone can go out and find a few beers on that list to see if the y agree, to see if their taste buds are in the majority or not, and if they aren't, who cares? But at least this list isn't just compiled by a small group of editors or even a single author as we often see (RIP Mr. Jackson).

To me, this list or any other list like it is not a definitive, end all be all list of the best beers in the world. It's just a very good starting point for you to start looking for you personal top 100.

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