RateBeer’s “Top Beers in the World” as it applies to Upstate NY.

A side note: While I love beer traveling for New England craft beer and beyond, I feel like there could be better coverage of craft beer in the Capital District and Upstate New York. I’ve decided in 2014 to do my part to advocate beer in Upstate NY, cover more local events, and try to speak to current discussions in the beer world from the perspective of someone living in the Capital District, rather than someone who can do a 17 hour long beer run on a moment’s notice. I’m floating around the idea of a new website. Stay tuned.

RateBeer released their annual “Top Beers in the World” list today and sadly, New York does not have any representation. (Evil Twin has moved their head office to Brooklyn, NY, but until they start contracting their beer here I cannot consider them a New York Brewery.) Concerned by this, I had to take a look back to the past lists to see which, if any, New York beers have appeared on this list.

Honestly, the results are pretty grim. Only four NY breweries have ever been on the list with Southern Tier taking the most spots overall.

  • Captain Lawrence Cuvee de Castleton (2008, 2009, 2010)
  • Ommegang Rouge Grand Cru (2010)
  • Southampton Imperial Stout (2006, 2007, 2009, 2011)
  • Southern Tier Choklat (2009, 2012, 2013)
  • Southern Tier Jah-Va (2008)
  • Southern Tier Oat (2008)

Personally, Ommegang’s beer shouldn’t be considered given that it was brewed by Bockor in Belgium and the recipe would eventually be tweaked, becoming Bockor’s acclaimed Cuvée Des Jacobins Rouge as a result. Captain Lawrence’s Cuvée de Castleton hasn’t been released since 2011 and has no indication that it will make an appearance again any time soon. And both Southern Tier’s Oat and Jah-Va have presumably been discontinued.

That leaves us with Southampton’s Imperial Stout, slated for release this weekend albeit under new brewer Evan Addario. And Southern Tier’s Choklat is ancient at this point when it comes to the craft beer world and as I’ve said before, it’s something I serve to people who do not like the taste of beer.

That’s pretty… bleak for NY Craft beer in general. The story over at BeerAdvocate is not much better. There are zero New York beers in their Top 50, and the first New York beer does not appear until #187 with Captain Lawrence’s Cuvée de Castleton. And with the same caveat mentioned above it brings us to again sadly to #213, Choklat.

All is not lost as some of the breweries that did make the list are seeing regular distribution in Upstate NY. AleSmith, Bell’s, Firestone Walker and Founder’s have exploded in our area recently and we even see some of their limited beers making it our way as well (even if acquiring them is not that easy).

Vermont beer dominates the list much like last year. And while getting your hands on any of the beers from The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, or Lawson’s that appear on the list requires a three to four hour drive from the Capital District, it’s absolutely worth it. Anyone into craft beer around here who hasn’t taken the trip shouldn’t be taken seriously.

As for our lack of representation for NY breweries, this isn’t good, and I don’t think there’s much we as craft beer drinkers can do about it. The best thing we can do is demand the best from the breweries we have here, encourage them to continuously perfect their craft and to never settle.

5 Comments

  1. A while back I looked into RateBeer’s rankings (http://bit.ly/1iiRbcq) and among the many things I found, saw that imperials and big IPAs dominated. No surprise, right?

    I think as a relatively young brewing region – still newborn or toddler if you want to talk the Finger Lakes – those styles aren’t off the ground yet. Southern Tier broke through with their big, malty brews, but Captain Lawrence and Ommegang offer up something of a “specialty” when you compare their picks with other “top” brews on the lists.

    That said, I expect the drought won’t last forever, especially with Upstate’s slowly growing hop business and state laws that emphasize local biz-to-biz sales of agriculture. Everyone wants to have a big IPA these days, so I’d suspect it’s just a matter of time.

  2. Looking at RateBeer’s method of ranking from year to year, I see it’s heavily grounded in social buzz. Looking at the beers on the list and the clumping of breweries from year to year, I see these lists as nothing more than hype aggregators.

    Yes, there are some damn fine beers on that list, but they are by and large a lot of the “ZOMGWTFBBQ” beers being blasted around social media in a “you gotta hit this, bro” manner.

    Given RateBeer is widely known as the spawning pool of newborn beer snobs (complete with ironic facial hairstyles), I see this list not as a “top 100 beers” list but a “100 most hyped” list. It’s not a list based on a beer’s merit so much as it is a list of beers whose online reviews prove that hype is the new industry norm.

    1. That’s one way to think of it. Another way to think of it is that something like RB’s list or BeerAdvocate’s list puts you in competition with all of the other breweries in the country. There are plenty of beers that are hyped for no reason (Hopslam is the most recent example to date) but there are just as many that are hyped for being genuinely that good. And until New York is making a “en vogue” beers that compete on that level, we’re never even going to be on the map. And yes, whether the New York beer industry likes it or not, craft beer has it’s trends and fads and beers styles that are fashionable and change as do the palates of beer drinkers around the country. Yes, you need a DIPA with Citra or Mosaic or Nelson Sauvin or whatever the hop of the moment it, yes you need a barrel aged RIS, yes you need a berliner or some other sour in the works, yes you need a rustic farmhouse ale. If they aren’t making the beers that craft beer drinkers want, there’s no way we’ll ever get on the map.

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