Celebrate U.S. National Beer Day with Open Beer Data!

Let's celebrate National Beer Day with some Open Beer Data

In honor of U.S. National Beer Day — cheers! — we decided to put some open beer data on tap (and on maps as well!) to see what kind of story might be hidden in the suds. Read on and discover our Tale of the Joys of Fresh Beer, and the Challenges of Fresh Data.

We loaded the Open Beer DB (you can access the data here, and the API there) into the OpenDataSoft Open Data portal and generated a quick dashboard. One fact immediately leaped out: the U.S. offers beer lovers an astonishing variety of beers, blowing away even venerable hop havens like Belgium and Germany!

A map of 🍺 breweries around the 🌍. Source: The Open Beer Data Dashboard


What’s Going on in the U.S.?

As is often the case when you get hold of Open Data and layer some visualizations on it, an intriguing fact, trend or correlation will pop out that entices you to dig deeper to understand the why behind the stats.

In our quest, we first stopped by the Brewers Association site and learned it hasn’t always been a beer drinker’s delight in the U.S. Back in 1873, there were 4131 breweries in the U.S. But with the rise of the modern industrial economy, large companies squeezed the little breweries out (with a temporary wipe-out for all during Prohibition, of course). By 1980, the number stood at just 92 (primarily large) brewers.


Source: the Brewers Association

Most of what could be found on the shelves then fell under the guise of the “light beer” style … that is, bland, pale lager beers that lacked hop character or rich flavors or, to be honest, innovation.

Beer categories FTW. Source: The Open Beer Data Dashboard


Open Beer Data: Crazy for Craft Beer!

And then, against the backdrop of the nascent maker movement, the quest for unique, flavorful beer in the U.S. took flight. What began with home-brewing hobbyists blossomed into a full-fledged craft brewing industry. As of 2015, the U.S. is home 4269 brewers, of whom 99% are craft beer producers, with the majority of Americans living within 10 miles of a brewery.

So now, the reason for the beer diversity in the U.S. is clear, but let’s revisit the data behind this tale of fresh, local beer and ponder its relation to the challenge of fresh data.

Make sure to memorize this chart if you want to win the next Trivial Pursuit Beer Edition tournament. Source: The Open Beer Data Dashboard


Fresh Beer, Stale Data

The craft beer story is there in the Open Beer DB charts and graphs, but that data set lists only 829 U.S. breweries. Why the gap? Because it’s an inactive data set that hasn’t been updated in at least 5 years.

At some point, someone decided it would be great to have a free public database and API for global beer and brewery information. They gathered available data, and then solicited additions from beer makers and aficionados, but for one reason or another, the project ran out of steam.

The Rising “Open-More-or-Less” Data Zone

Enter BreweryDB. The folks there took the original Open Beer database, and began to solicit contributions in earnest. It is now an impressively comprehensive data set that receives regular contributions. And, they provide free API access to that data, in line with their stated mission is to “make BreweryDB the best, most comprehensive collection of data surrounding the beer and brewing community, then make that data available for free to developers all over the world.”

However, the free API access is available only for noncommercial use. There’s a paid API for commercial use, and there is not an option to download the complete data set. Accordingly, BreweryDB sits in an increasingly common zone: the 50 shades of gray “open-more-or-less” data zone.

It’s logical to assume, however, that BreweryDB has succeeded in expanding and maintaining the original Open Beer DB precisely because their freemium model enabled them to devote the resources necessary to do so.

As the Open Data movement grows and evolves, we are seeing more clients, including cities and their ecosystem partners, exploring similar options for their Open Data projects. They are increasingly considering freemium-style data monetization as a funding strategy to make sure the maximum amount of data sources are made available as Open Data, to make the data as comprehensive as possible, and to keep it fresh.

We’re Curious: What’s Your Open Data Strategy?

If you’re involved in an Open Data project, we’d love to learn about similar Open Data challenges and strategies you’ve encountered. Have you worked with a cool Open Data set that’s been archived for a lack of resources? What strategies have you used to achieve data comprehensiveness and freshness? Have you experimented with different and perhaps not-so-open licenses to achieve your goals? And most importantly on this special occasion, what’s your favorite brew?

While awaiting your response, let’s all raise a glass in honor of the fine artisans who have made the U.S. the beer variety capital of the world. Thank you, and bottoms up!


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