In this age of online listification and struggle for superlatives “Best Of” list are commonplace – in part because they are inherently fun. A good “Best Of” list is ripe for enjoyable debate. But a good debate also requires common ground. For example, think of ranking the best Star Wars movies. You only have seven (debatably!) to choose from, and a large number of people have seen all of them. That creates a spirited discussion that lots of people can participate in. However, in a world closer to home, the beer world, we’re seeing less common ground than we ever have before.
When I first got involved with beer, my favorite beverage lent itself pretty well to a “Best Of” classification: Beers were a relatively small pool to pull from and they were drinks almost everyone could relate to. But as craft beer has evolved, especially over the past decade, things have changed: The number of commercially available beers has grown at an explosive clip. Though this growth has been amazing for beer diehards (myself included), knowledge of what’s actually available at any given moment has been diluted, and many casual drinkers feel more intimidated by what was once an everyman’s drink. As a result, modern “Best Beer” lists feel far less fulfilling than the more authoritative lists of yore. Maybe it’s time we let them die with dignity.
- The 25 Most Important American Craft Beers Ever Brewed
- When Craft Brewers Sell Out, Who Gets Hurt?
- One Lucky Brewer Can Own Russian River’s Original Production Brewery
The biggest obstacle to compiling a truly authoritative beer list these days is the sheer number of breweries and beers. I started drinking craft beer in 1997. That year, the first craft beer boom was reaching its peak with the number of US breweries approaching a then-record 1,400. From 2000 to 2005, the number of breweries in America actually declined, hovering around 1,500 before exploding again around 2009 – the second craft beer boom. Today, over 5,300 breweries are in operation, nearly four times as many as when I first started drinking hoppy pale ales and Hefeweizens back in ’97 at the wide-eyed age of… uh… let’s say 21.