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Forecasting craft beer trends for 2017

Dave Hoops is the head brewer at Fitger's Brewhouse in Duluth. Clint Austin / Forum News Service

At the start of each new year, I think about what's coming next in the beer world. I do this to stay ahead on trends, mull over ideas I like and plan what I want to focus on. Here are my thoughts and predictions for 2017 in the beer world.

Re-inventing classic beer styles

With the influx of sour beers and the IPA and hop explosion, some older styles have been slightly out of the public's eye. These include extra special bitter, porter, Scotch ale, brown and mild ale and especially old school pale ale and stout. Many of these wonderful beers are being left by the wayside as brewers try to push the envelope and stretch the boundaries (not a bad thing, at all). We should see a comeback this year as more beer drinkers seek a return to these easy drinking classics. I personally feel like the search for a great pale ale will be high on my list this year.

Diversification by the big beer giants will continue

The largest brewer in the U.S., Budweiser, which is owned by Belgium-based InBev, recently purchased MillerCoors. They also purchased 15 small craft breweries throughout the world. Foreign brewing giants like Heineken, San Miguel and Duvel, along with U.S.-based North American Breweries have purchased strong craft breweries including Lagunitas, Ommegang, Boulevard, Firestone Walker, Widmer Brothers, Founders and more. This trend will continue in the crowded beer market. The consumer is the ultimate winner because more brands have a stronger distribution and marketing network to increase availability. It will be difficult to separate independent from national and international without some research.

Craft lager beers

Every year, I add this category to my list, and each year more and more lager beer is sold. I can now say that craft lager beers are indeed a big deal. Lager beers are a bit more challenging to brew and take longer to age, so production costs are higher. The beers taste so good though! Breweries are finding it worth the extra effort and cost, and consumers are really starting to seek great Pilsners and Helles' as opposed to the better-known Oktoberfest beers folks drink in the fall.

Seasonal new brands and rotating hop beers

Seasonal beer, as a category, has exploded in the past two years, and brewers have listened. Beer drinkers can count on new beers monthly in the market under all kinds of "seasonal" branding. I also see brewers making the same beer, changing the hops each time and using it as a way to show beer drinkers new hop flavors.

Not-hoppy beer

Malty and Belgian styles will continue to climb in sales, as not all beer drinkers are in love with the latest hop grenade beer to hit the market.

Barrel aging and blended beers

Beers aged on wood have become a craft beer standard. Oak barrels from bourbon distilleries are very common. Kentucky law states that bourbon distilled in that state — where 95 percent of all American bourbon is produced — can only use the barrel once. That means a bounty for the brewers. We buy them up and age many styles of beer in the wood gaining deep vanilla notes and complex flavors from the bourbon-soaked wood. What I think we'll see moving forward is brewers trying an increasing range of distillery barrels — not just bourbon. I've brewed with tequila barrels, sherry casks, port casks, red and white wine barrels, Chambord liqueur barrels, brandy and cognac barrels. These beers will be blended or added to young beer to create new flavors and exciting characters.

Keg and cask infusions

Brewers will start making single kegs of beer, adding fruit or spices at the time of the keg filling. Many fun beers can be created by adding tea, coffee, fruits and vegetables to a base beer for a fun one-off keg. Duluth beer drinkers should see this trend often in 2017.

Here are a couple of trends I hope continue to take off.

• Wheat beers

• Session everything — lower alcohol versions of all beer styles

• Collaborations between local breweries to make unique beers

• Locally sourced raw materials

Happy New Year.

Dave Hoops lives in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at dave@hoopsbrewing.com.

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