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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Blue Moon Probably Isn't America's Most Searched Beer: A Close Read of Google's Trend Data

Posted By on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 5:35 PM

(The seasonal rise and fall of Bud Light Lime)

In our modern times, the search engine is the keeper of our collective dirty secrets, our obsessions, our embarrassing gaps in knowledge. And Google has released its annual trend report, capturing the top searches for celebrities, brands, symptoms, sports teams, song lyrics, gadgets, TV series, stocks, and food categories like beer, cocktails, and recipes.

It's easy to take the data at face value -- Google is, after all, omniscent -- but as with any data there are outliers that need to be thrown out. Let's examine the beer list, which contains the depressing fact that Blue Moon was the world's most trending beer search term in 2013:

But consider the fact that the search term had an uncharacteristic peak in August 2013 -- right around the time there was an actual blue moon in the sky -- and the list becomes remarkably different.

Kingfisher, the fourth item on the list, is surprising since I only ever encounter the beer at Indian restaurants. Indians do make up almost a fifth of the world's population, so maybe it's not that surprising after all. But there's also a bird called the Kingfisher, there's a town in Oklahoma called Kingfisher, there's an airline called Kingfisher, and searches for those things are all being lumped in with the beer data.

In cocktails, it's nice to see so many classic drinks on the top 10 list -- in addition to the Aviation there's the Vesper, Moscow Mule, and Ramos Gin Fizz along with college favorites like the Kamikaze:

Why all this sudden interest in the Aviation, though, a tasty pre-Prohibition blend of gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, and lemon juice, and why did it peak in early October?

Could it have anything to do with the Aviation Cocktail film that premiered around that time?

My favorite category to dig into, however, is recipes, because the searches have such a seasonal bent:

It's fun to see, say, guacamole spiking during the Super Bowl, Cinco de Mayo, and the Fourth of July:

Or the Cronut's steady rise -- and fall -- since its release in May:

Or the jump that apple pie gets right around Thanksgiving:

The point is, data isn't infallible. It's like words -- it can be used to tell many narratives, and doesn't always equal truth. Just remember that Google is always watching the next time you're searching for the definition of lupus or how to flirt.

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About The Author

Anna Roth

Anna Roth

Anna Roth is SF Weekly's former Food & Drink Editor and author of West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food From San Diego to the Canadian Border.


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