In theory, people who make their own beer – especially those who are dedicated enough to read a homebrewers magazine – should know beer better than most. So for the past 15 years, the annual list of Best Beers in America as voted on by the readers of Zymurgy Magazine, the official magazine of the American Homebrewers Association, has provided an interesting snapshot of where different beers and breweries stand – at least in the mind of brewing hobbyists. This year, the biggest news is at the top of the list: After eight straight years of leading the pack, Pliny the Elder has been pushed aside to number two – with Bell’s Two Hearted Ale taking the top ranking.
To compile the list, Zymurgy asks readers “to choose up to 20 of their favorite commercial beers available for purchase in the United States in an online voting system,” according to a press release. From there, the magazine compiles a number of lists including “Top-Ranked Beers,” “Top Breweries,” “Top Imports” and “Best Portfolio,” as well as “Best Breweries & Beer By State.” Though the number of votes received this year wasn’t listed, last year’s poll received over 18,000 votes.
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Speaking of last year’s poll, despite Two Hearted Ale taking the top spot, the shakeup wasn’t a total surprise: The Bell’s Brewery IPA was number two in 2016. The bigger changes happened in the three, four and five positions. Last year, they were The Alchemist Heady Topper, Ballast Point Sculpin IPA and Ballast Point Grapefruit IPA respectively. This year, those dropped to six, ten and not ranked in the top 25, respectively. Meanwhile, Founders Breakfast Stout, Three Floyds Zombie Dust and Bell’s Hopslam swooped in to take their place, jumping up from the six, seven and eight spots.
As might be expected with two beers in the top five, Bell’s took Top Brewery honors while Stone Brewing was given the title of Top-Ranked Beer Portfolio with 31 different beers being represented in the voting.
Needless to say, no perfect way exists to rank the wide number and variety of beers currently being produced by the over 5,000 commercial breweries operating in the US. By asking voters to provide the name of as many as 20 beers, Zymurgy’s method skews towards beers that have wide distribution or national recognition that are capable of landing on a lot of people’s lists. For instance, as the SF Gate points out, Bell’s has steady ramped up its distribution territory in recent years, including adding major markets like California, whereas Russian River only sells Pliny the Elder in California, Oregon, Colorado, and Philadelphia. It’s possible this helped push Bell’s to the top. Though the change was probably inevitable: Even in ancient Roman times, Pliny the Elder was eventually followed by Pliny the Younger.