Fun with Google Trends: The Popularity of Hazy / New England IPAs is nothing like Black IPAs

It’s easy for people like me to get addicted to Google Trends. It’s a website devoted to the frequency of search terms people “Googling” to find information online and the geographical locations of these search. It turns out to be a pretty handy way to find out what things are popular and where, and test out some of the conventional beer wisdom.

For example, some people claim the cloudy, unfiltered “Hazy” or “New England style” IPA is just a fleeting beer fad like the Black IPA was back in the day. Could Google Trends provide some insight into the validity of those claims? I thought I’d give it a try.  If I enter “Black IPA” into Google Trends, it will report the frequency over time and the geographical locations of a statistical significant sample of searches with “Black IPA” in it.

Anyone who’s asked Google “Where can a find a Black IPA?”, or “Black IPA home brew recipe” will be reflected in the Google Trends under “black ipa”.  (Google Trends aren’t case sensitive.) Of course, searches like “Where can I find black market IPA” will also be included in the frequency count, so the data isn’t perfect.  While there are certainly limitations to using this data, plenty of social scientists and market analysts have come up with all sorts of interesting, and at times counter-intuitive conclusions using Google Trends.  (A great read for those interested in that is Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.)

I’m started using Google Trends to investigate the following question:  Are Hazy/New England IPA’s just a flash in the pan style like Black IPAs?  But in the process, I discovered something interesting about where in the United States names like “Black IPA”, “Hazy IPA” and “New England IPA” are actually used.

Let’s start by comparing search terms for “black ipa” wiith  “hazy ipa”, “new england ipa”, “ne ipa”, and “neipa”.  (Other plausibly related search terms like “cloudy IPA” or “juicy IPA” yield significantly less searches, but I’m just going to simplify things and leave those search terms out of the analysis.) Below is a plot of the frequency of each search term from April 8, 2006-April 8th, 2018. (You can view the plot in Google Trends yourself at this link.) I limited the search geography to the United States.

NE IPA Graph1

Searches for “Black IPA”, the yellow line, emerge from the noise starting in early 2010, and hit their first peak in February 2011.  They continue to grow gradually, hitting their overall peak in April 2014, and then start a slow decline afterwards. Searches for “black ipa” actually show rather surprising durability for the style, contradicting claims that Black IPAs were a short lived fad. Even by early 2017, there were far more searches for “black ipa” than the Hazy/New England variants. By contrast, the Hazy/New England search terms don’t emerge from the noise until late 2016, but then really take off, especially searches for “hazy ipa” and “new england ipa”.  OK, no big surprise here.  Interest in Black IPAs has existed for almost ten years, while interest in Hazy/New England IPAs has skyrocketed in just the past few months.

But start looking at where across the country these searches have been conducted and  things start to get interesting. For example, according to Google Trends, Black IPA’s are almost an exclusively California thing.

black IPA Ca Thang
Google searches for Black IPA predominately originate in California

Note, the map above doesn’t mean there haven’t been any searches for “Black IPA” outside of California. It’s just that these searches are overwhelming made inside of California, indicating Black IPAs are of interest to Californians, but hardly anyone else. This is why I suspect some people living outside may have perceived Black IPAs as a fad. They may have heard about them, but rarely saw any of them, or Black IPAs released outside California had little staying power.

On the other hand, searches for “new england ipa” or its abbreviation “neipa” show a much more broader geographical interest.

New England IPA Sub-regions
States with the highest proportion of searches for “new england ipa”.
NEIPA Sub-regions
States with the highest proportion of searches of “neipa”

What’s interesting is that search term “Hazy IPA”, is dominated from searches from the West Coast states of Oregon and California.

hazy IPA sub-regions
Searches for “Hazy IPA” originate primarily from Oregon and California

We can zoom into the metro areas and find that “hazy ipa” searches originate all over the West Coast, with San Diego, Sacramento, Portland as the major metropolitan areas having the highest proportions of searches for “hazy ipa”.  The larger metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco have significantly less searches.

Hzy IPA Metro Areas

Note that the strength of search frequency chart at the rate measures a higher proportion of queries, not a larger overall number.  As Google Trends explains, “A higher value means a higher proportion of all queries, not a higher absolute query count. So a tiny country where 80% of the queries are for “bananas” will get twice the score of a giant country where only 40% of the queries are for “bananas”.”

For grins, we can also look at the Metro areas for “new england ipa”.

New England IPA Metro
US metro regions with the highest proportional searches for “new england ipa”

By far, the metro area for with the highest proportion of searches for this term is (surprise!) Boston. But the Midwestern cities of Detroit and Chicago figure prominently, too. If we look at leading metro areas for the search “neipa”, we find pockets of interest all over the country.

neipa metro areas
US metro regions with the highest proportional searches for “neipa”

Again, lots of usage for the term “neipa” in New England, but the term extends all the way to the West Coast. It’s not apparent from this graphic but the San Francisco Bay is way down this list, as the 12th leading metro area for this search term, third from last.  That splotch you see in Southern California? That’s Los Angeles, not San Diego.  There aren’t a lot of searches for  “neipa” from San Diego, but plenty for “hazy ipa”.  Just like Portland.

And by the way, I Googled the term “neipa” to double check that “neipa” doesn’t also stand for something like “New England Independent Pediatricians Association” or something like that which would skew the data. It doesn’t.

OK, I could keep playing around with the data, but it’s time to wrap this up. I’ll concede the data has some limitations, so I hesitate to jump to conclusions from any of its subtleties.  However, three things strongly emerge from the analysis which are unmistakable.

Black IPAs aren’t so much fad, but a slowly declining beer style confined largely to California:  Google searches for “black ipa” are largely confined to the state of California.  Unfortunately, there aren’t enough searches for Google Trends to perform a metro area geographical analysis of the term.

Hazy / New England IPAs have enjoyed a fast growing popularity all over the country.  In no way does the growth of this style mimic Black IPAs.  They are popular all over the country, rather than confined to a single state.  In addition, their growth is far sharper than Black IPAs were, at least from the search term data.

On the West Coast, it’s mostly “Hazy IPA”.  Everywhere else, its “New England IPA”.  It’s telling that California’s Sierra Nevada released Hazy Little Thing IPA about the same time Boston Beer released New England IPA.  I’ll note that some places in California, they are called  “NEIPA” by a few. Seattle seems to favor “NEIPA” over “Hazy IPA”.  I think it’s significant both in Portland and in San Diego, the two cities where the IPA style are arguably most strongly tied to local identity, there is resistance adopting the “New England” name, and instead these beers as “Hazy”.

As you might have guessed, I’ve been playing around with all sorts of Google Trends searches the past couple weeks and found some other interesting beery things right there in the data.  Hope you liked this post because you’ll be seeing a few more like it.

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