DULUTH — Another year has come and gone, and it was a real roller coaster of a ride in the craft beer world.
Some of the largest and most-beloved craft breweries, including New Belgian, Anchor, Brooklyn, Boulevard, Kona, Founders, Firestone Walker and many others, are now owned by foreign companies. Sales slowed a bit overall while IPAs, especially hazy versions of these much-loved hoppy ales, ruled the market. In Duluth, we saw innovation, growth and a glut of great beer.
Each year I try to predict how the winds of brewing will blow. Let’s touch base on a few of last year's guesses.
New Ingredients. Grade: A. Yep, new hops and hop products to help escalate flavor and aroma are everywhere. Also, new grain varieties and many more ingredient choices were available to brewers.
Sour Beers. Grade: A. Without a doubt, this is a huge trend in brewing. It’s also evolving. Traditional sours that usually take 2-3 years to produced have diminished and are being replaced by kettle or overnight sours that can be produced in weeks. These are also less risky to produce in terms of possibly infecting non-sour beers in the brewery production.
Keg and Cask Infusions. Grade: A+. Nearly all breweries now produce some infusion varieties.
Destination Beer Drinking. Grade: D. … not so much.
Dry Easy Drinking Beers. Grade: C. The jury is still out on this one.
A look ahead
Now, let’s look at 2020 (drumroll please).
Low and no ABV options. A sure thing. Lower alcohol with flavor will be big, and Seltzer is here to stay. In my opinion, the macro brewers are more affected by this trend because craft beer drinkers are all about beer. We will see more tasty NA beers and sweeter, food friendly, lighter alcohol beers. A whole new generation of beer drinkers will expect these as staples.
Stranger the better. Brewers are pushing the flavor envelopes to heights never before seen. As a bit of a traditionalist, I’m a little uncomfortable by some of the beers I’ve tried and read about. Along with this, current consumer trend is to reach for shiny, well packaged, totally uniquely flavored beer. For example I’ve seen a Doughnut Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ale, and beers made with whale or bull testicles (I’m not kidding).
Return of clear IPAs and Pale Ales. Don’t get me wrong: hazy beers are no fad and now are sure fixtures in the market. But I think the classic IPA — crisp, fruity, dry and crushable — will make a comeback.
Law changes. I’m very confident that we’ll finally get some needed changes to the tougher laws, like growler sales limits on larger craft breweries and fewer restrictions on collaboration beers between breweries.
Beer festivals will reinvent. There are so many beer fests that a craft beer lover could pretty much go each week 10 months a year. Festivals will have to find a way to separate themselves, possibly re-defining the experience or some may fade away.
The large gap between brewery openings and closings will shrink. For the last decade the openings have outweighed closings by over 100%. The salad days are over, and last year it was closer to 80/20. Our industry is healthy, but there are a lot of breweries. Lack of quality, imagination, and a need to "grow to live" are real issues facing many breweries. The end result will be better beer.
A major motion picture will be made with a brewery and brewer being a main character. The closest example to date is 2013’s "Drinking Buddies," which was a flop. Classics such as the much-loved 1983 Canadian comedy "Strange Brew" and 2006's "Beerfest" don’t count. So, there’s certainly room for expansion there.
Finally, here are a few trends I personally enjoy that I hope to see continue to take off.
• Wheat beers will become in more demand.
• New ways to use hops — mash hopping, hop grinding and hop oils will push the hoppy beer envelope even further.
• Collaborations between breweries to make outlier beers.
The industry will recognize and separate sour-beer categories, traditional vs. new school, and this will help consumers understand the market better.
Happy New Year to everyone! I love getting your emails, and I read them all. Keep them coming. Thanks, and enjoy a good beer this year.
Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at email@example.com.