Whilst the RateBeer Best awards have their detractors – I’m quite the fan of them. In this age of social media and customer savvy – reviews from actual people, and award wins, are much more valuable for a business than any form of advertising. And the RateBeer Best awards have the double halo effect of combining both. I can tell you first hand that breweries take them very seriously; and perhaps no category more so than the Top 100 Breweries In The World.
As you’d expect, the list is heavily dominated by breweries from the US of A (where RateBeer is based and craft beer more established) and also features smatterings of European and Canadian stalwarts in the mix. But this year, breweries from the UK have really made their mark with 9 making it into the century. This is an absolutely fantastic achievement with the UK now the second most represented country on the list outside of the other half of “The Special Relationship”. For those who haven’t seen it yet, the summary below shows the home breweries that feature in the list.
If you were to pick the 9 best breweries in the UK at the moment, all of these names would be there or thereabouts. Each one of them puts out consistently excellent beer. And considering the quality of opposition they see from all four corners of the beery world it really shouldn’t be understated how fantastic it is for them to be rightfully recognised on this level.
You can probably tell from my waxing lyrical that I don’t want to downplay this achievement. But, I also think all fans of British beer know we have a great pool of untapped (pardon the pun) potential when it comes to breweries that could join this list. And whilst a whole host of them could do this on sheer passion and end product alone – there is a system to making the Top 100 that means certain breweries benefit due to (amongst other factors) the style of beers they specialise in or how diverse their range is. This takes nothing away from them, they deserve to be there. It’s just the way the system is. And from that, I reckon we can put together quite an interesting set of challengers from these shores who may just increase our offering in the Top 100 over the next few years.
First though, let’s get the boring bit out of the way and look at what RateBeer stipulates as the means of joining the 100. I warn you, the formula is as confusing as the FIFA ranking system when you lay it down in full, so I’ve put it into a more manageable chunk and added a TLDR:
The top 100 brewers in the world [IS CALCULATED] according to a summary score based on available reviews. The summarization is based on ten different weighted scales that place an emphasis on reviews of the past year and top performing beers but also includes historical all-around performance, a brewer’s range of performance across styles, and other factors to compare newer and older, larger and smaller brewers under a single method of processing. The members of this list reflect the top performing brewers of over 22,500 listed at RateBeer.
And here’s how they measure a beer’s rating (which has a massive impact on reaching the top 100).
We use the same true Bayesian estimate formula used by the Internet Movie Database for calculating average ratings.
weighted rank (WR) = (number of votes / (number of votes+minimum votes required)) * Rating + (minimum votes required / (number of votes+minimum votes required)) * midpoint of the scale.
In other words, if a particular beer has only a few votes above the minimum required votes to be listed in top 50 (m), the average score is decreased a little if it is above the mean, or increased a little if it is below the mean in accordance with the normal distribution rule of statistics.
Still with me? Good.
There are also a few little caveats about fake reviews, etc. – but (TLDR) it’s about your ratings, rate counts, making good beers in different styles and a historical performance impact, a la UEFA, which I hope isn’t taken as much into account as the other factors. (Case in point as to why I hope this a more minor metric, with UEFA club rankings, the likes of Hull City still feature in the top 130 teams despite having been nowhere any sort of European football for a very long time. Great team to watch, sure, but they really shouldn’t be that high in the pecking order on historical merit).
As previously mentioned, we also have to take into account the types of beers that are favoured by RateBeer raters (raters obviously gonna rate). Those being Imperial Stouts (by a long way), Imperial IPAs/DIPAs and, to a lesser extent, Sours. Each of which the above 9 breweries excel at least one of.
But who could join them? “Get to the point!” I hear you cry. So, without further prologue – here’s my top 5 predictions for who’s got the best chance from the UK of breaking into this prestigious pantheon.
Yorkshire’s Northern Monk are my opening shout in this listicle. They make a fine brew. The brewery are gaining a higher profile every month and their presence at beer festivals is always felt. Not just because they make great beer, but because of the way they expertly present themselves too. They have a knack of always standing out amongst the bigger boys of craft because of the unique opportunities their branding presents them – coupled with their creative wit (who could forget Indy Man 2015’s spooky monastery vibe or 2016’s Iron Throne?)
In terms of the highlighted styles, Strannik and its variations tick the awesome Impy Stout box massively. 822 and Double Heathen show they can more than hang in the DIPA market. Outside of the RateBeer favourites, the oh so epic Neopolitan Pale was one of the beers of 2016. Showcasing the ability to take what should be a novelty beer and turning it into something fantastic. Another quality much admired by the RateBeer faithful (but much harder to pinpoint for consistency) .
To show I practice what I preach (see what I did there). I’ve got a can of Northern Tropics in the fridge, currently awaiting the right moment to fill my beer glass. And if previous form is anything to go by, it’s going to be an absolute treat of biblical proportions.
This is a brewery developing a grand legion of fans for all the right reasons. And if you asked me what stood in the way of Northern Monk breaching the Top 100? I’d say nothing but time.
Next up, Somerset’s Wild Beer Co. If I had to put a life savings style bet on just one of my picks to make it into the Top 100, my money would be here. Brewing with all things wild,the South West’s finest have treated us to such beery delights as a Salted Caramel Milk Stout (Millionaire), Lemon Meringue Pie in beer form (Sleeping Lemons) and a parody of the influx of East Coast IPAs (Trendy Juice), which actually topped for taste many of the beers its name set out to poke fun at. And all this before we even get to the likes of Ninkasi (Apple Juice and Champagne yeast together in a beer) and Breakfast of Champignons (Beer with mushrooms in it. Enough said.).
Wild Beer Co. have such a variety of differing and unique beer styles, that they’ve become impossible to ignore as a brewery. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I can’t wait to see what crazy concoction is coming up next and making sure it goes into my beer fridge.
What makes them stand above many other breweries from the home nations though, is that every single one of these insane sounding beers does not fail to absolutely hit the spot. They just don’t make bad beer.
One of the criteria for making it into the Top 100 is good ratings across a range of styles. And Wild Beer Co. are nailing this with consistently above the majority of breweries in the UK.
Finally, on the “Beers RateBeer Loves” criteria – Brett Brett, Wildebeest and Billionaire really showcase what epic stuff that the brewery can do with high ABV beers. This is before we even mention their extensive range of sours which are, in my opinion, the best produced in the UK. If there’s any sense left in this “alternative facts” world, this combination of ingenuity, daring and sheer brewing know how should see them smash through into the Top 100 sooner rather than later.
3. Tiny Rebel
The Welsh wizards are the third brewery I’m tipping to possibly break into the international top flight. Their Red Ale, Cwtch, winning Champion Beer of Britain 2015 really shone the spotlight on Tiny Rebel – and they haven’t failed to live up to the hype thus far.
Whilst they don’t have the “Imperial Stout/DIPA/Sours pedigree” that I’ve been highlighting so far; what they do have is an incredible core range (Clwb Tropicana, FUBAR, Hadouken, Cali, et al never fail to liven up any beer glass), supplemented with fantastic small batch releases throughout the year (if you didn’t get a chance to try In And Around The Mouth, you really missed out). Couple this with eye-catching branding and puntastic beer names – it’s hard to argue you aren’t onto a winner.
The installation of a canning line – meaning Cali, Cwtch and Clwb Tropicana will be getting suits of aluminium armour – should see Tiny Rebel brews reach the glasses of a lot more beer fans. One hopes that this will help them get the recognition that they deserve nationwide as well as further afield. With all this going for them, they’d be my top shout outside of England for a UK brewery to grab themselves another place in the Top 100.
Now to London Town. For those of you unfamiliar with Weird Beard – their “No Gimmicks, No Crap and Never Knowingly Under Hopped” mentality, coupled with distinctive branding, has seen them become a staple of the London beer scene. Rarely will you walk into a craft beer bar in the capital without seeing a hop-eyed skull staring back at you from the fonts. This (as you can imagine from the fact that they feature in this list), is no bad thing.
Back again to that all-important Impys and DIPAs and Sours (oh my) metric. Weird Beard absolutely excel at massive Stouts, with Something Something Dark Side, Double Perle and Sadako amongst the best regularly available big dark beers in the current UK market. Their DIPA game isn’t lacking by any means either. As anyone who’s tried Sorachi Face Plant can attest to. This gives them a great base of strong contenders on the crucial RateBeer styles, massively strengthening their shout at making it into the Top 100.
It’s not only about their big Stouts and DIPAs though. Whether you’re inside or outside of The Big Smoke, I can’t emphasise enough how much you need to pick up a bottle or glass of one of Weird Beard’s beers if you see them. Whether it’s one of the brews mentioned above; the irrepressible hop bomb, Mariana Trench; the mind blowing Coffee IPA, Out of Office or really anything that comes out of this West London hop haven – I can pretty much guarantee you that you won’t be disappointed.
Finally, we come to Cornwall. Which is the base of my final contender. Verdant have really come into their own in the last few months. Picking up a can or two in my nearest bottleshop is always an absolute treat, and it’s great to see other’s starting to notice the beery brilliance these guys are putting out there. Clean and simple branding may not make it stand out as much as some others in the fridges. But those in the know are ensuring they got hold of juicy bangers such as Bloom, Pulp and Headband whenever they get the chance.
This aside. The absolute X-factor that puts Verdant on this list is winning Best New Brewer for England in this year’s RateBeer Best awards. Looking at who was in the same position as them in 2016 (Cloudwater), it’s fair to assume that this recognition could and should be their springboard into the Top 100 at some point in the near future. They evidently have the brewing know-how. So all Verdant need is for the wind to blow in the right direction for them in 2017 and then who knows what we’ll be saying about them this time next year.
So there you have it. Five contenders that I reckon have what it takes to climb the hoppy ladder. There are definitely other breweries out there that I think should make this Top 100 list due to the incredible work they do (Burning Sky, Elusive Brewing and Fyne amongst them). But unfortunately, factors such as lack of availability or the advantages that specialising in certain styles has for garnering more positive reviews on RateBeer mean I feel they may not be as likely to get there unless something changes.
Will any of these guys make it into the table? I damn sure think so. And I’m sure you’ll agree that the near future is looking bright for UK breweries making their mark on the international level via the RateBeer Best.