Aria Bendix is a frequent contributor to The Atlantic, and a former editorial fellow at CityLab. Her work has appeared on Bustle and The Harvard Crimson.
A new interactive map charts how beer choice varies by where we live.
Beer lovers are notoriously loyal to their favorite brews. Just think back to the social media frenzy following Budweiser’s attack on craft beer during this year’s Super Bowl. But just how much do our favorites vary by location?
A new interactive map from the digital cartographers at Floating Sheep charts the pattern by tracking beer-related tweets from across the country. The map allows you to select from a menu of major beer brands from Bud, Pabst, Sam Adams, and Dogfish to types of beer like lager and Belgian ale and compare them to one another by location.
The first map shows all beer tweets normalized by population. Darker blue indicates a higher probability of tweets.
It’s little surprise that major brands like Budweiser and Coors have the most extensive reach in terms of tweets, but even among these brands there are variations. Interestingly, most places seem to prefer Bud Light, but Americans in California, Oregon, and Washington tweet about Bud Light less. And although Bud Light outranks Coors Light overall, the map below finds that regions west of the Mississippi tend to prefer Coors Light. On the map, red and orange dots indicate a likelihood of users tweeting about Coors Light, while blue dots indicate a likelihood of users referencing Bud Light.
These patterns point to a distinct geography of beer. Certainly, what kind of beer is popular depends on what's readily accessible.
On the most basic level, Americans tend mention Corona in California, Dos Equis and Shiner Bock in Texas, IPAs in Seattle, Yuengling in Pennsylvania, Grain Belt in Minnesota, and Sam Adams in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. This doesn’t mean that these beers are more popular than other brands, but rather that they are more popular in these states than any other. Sam Adams, for instance, is tweeted about the most frequently in Massachusetts, but it only cracks the top 10 in one region.
Where exactly does craft beer trump the big-name brands? To find out, we used Bud Light as a control against which to measure other brews. Specialty labels like Brooklyn Lager appear to be referenced more than Bud Light in many parts of the country, especially west of the Mississippi, even though these brands sell far less. Oktoberfest-style beers trump Bud Light in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Guinness tops it in the New York and Boston areas. West Coast users also appear to prefer Blue Moon, at least according to their tweets. Finally, Twitter users reference IPAs more than Bud Light on the West Coast, and in Colorado and Vermont, as shown on the map below.
Based on this data, there’s reason to believe that beer reflects the cultural and economic divides that separate us as well. At least on a general level, regions that value certain things—whether it’s authenticity vs. luxury or big-name brands vs. small producers—in turn value, or at the very least discuss, certain beers over others.
Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR), for instance, is tweeted about the most near Boulder, Colorado. Heineken, on the other hand, is most frequently tweeted about in Florida and New York (specifically, New York City). While Corona is undoubtedly prevalent in California thanks to its proximity to Mexico, there’s also reason to believe that its popularity may be tied to its more eco-friendly profile. Corona drinkers are 91 percent more likely than average to buy recycled products.
Of course, it’s hard for smaller-name brands to match the visibility and marketing capacities of mega-brands like Budweiser and Coors. But just ask a Massachusetts native about his or her Sam Adams, and you’ll realize that geography and local culture can occasionally trump mass marketing.