2016 was a big year for craft beer in many ways, from an increasing number of buyouts by Big Beer to the ongoing growth of the industry and even more craft breweries operating in every state of the nation. We’ve seen the rise of interesting new beer styles (New England IPA, anyone?) and more. Where will the industry be heading in 2017, though? Actually, there are quite a few trends emerging that will dominate the year for craft breweries large and small. Below, we’ll look at some of the most important for you to know.
Let’s get this one out of the way up front. Yes, the growth of the craft beer industry is slowing. However, that’s at least somewhat unavoidable. As more and more small breweries enter operation, competition increases for the limited shelf space at grocery stores and bottle shops. Distributors are having to become even pickier in areas with high concentrations of craft breweries. Does that mean that craft beer is dying? Of course not. Does it mean that growth might not be in the double digits in 2017? Maybe.
The Growth of Crowlers
Yes, crowlers have been around for some time, but they haven’t become quite “mainstream” yet. Look for that to change in 2017 as more and more small breweries catch on to the good things that come when you combine cans and traditional growlers. If you’re not familiar with the term, a crowler is nothing more than a large can of beer. Using a crowler machine, a brewery will custom-fill those cans for drinkers right at the brewery.
The benefits here are considerable. Cans let in no light, are completely airtight, and there’s no worry about them shattering if dropped. Plus, buying a crowler means that you can sample new beers without having to pony up for a full six-pack. Breweries also benefit because there’s no need to wash out glass growlers, and virtually no chance that the beer purchased will go flat before the buyer can drink it.
One interesting trend that started in 2015, grew in 2016 and will become more and more apparent in 2017 is the number of craft breweries getting into the distilling act. Specifically, we’re talking about whiskey. Quite a few breweries have added a craft whiskey line to their offerings, and that trend looks like its increasing.
The Future Looks Juicy
All of you bitter IPA lovers out there should be prepared for something of a disappointment. While your tongue curling brews won’t be going away, the explosion of “juicy” IPAs will not abate and most experts predict it to increase. The 2016 GABF was definitely a sign of things to come, with an unprecedented number of juicy IPAs on offer. Look for more and more beers with citrus flavors (mostly from hops, but sometimes derived from actual citrus fruits) including orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit and the like. Even seemingly stodgy brands like Sam Adams are getting in on the act with their Rebel Juiced beer.
Fewer Pumpkin Beers
If 2016 showed us one thing, it’s that more and more people are opting not to enjoy a pumpkin beer when the weather gets cold. Brewers are reacting to this the only way they can – by pulling or limiting the pumpkin flavored brews they offer. Does this mean the end of “pumpkin all the things”? Probably not, but you can look for some interesting alternatives to pumpkin beer coming for 2017. Some brewers are focusing more on lagers, while others are going for fall-related flavors that haven’t been overused, such as smoked porters, maple syrup flavored beer and more.
Sours Rise in Popularity
Sour beer has been gaining more traction lately, and you can expect that to continue into 2017 and beyond. You’ll find a host of new-to-you styles like gose (pronounced goes-uh), as well as a number of others. While some breweries follow the traditional path of brewing sours by using wild yeast, more of them are using lactobacillus to turn beer sour. They then flavor those brews with a dizzying range of fruits, herbs and even vegetables. Think cucumber lime, or strawberry and orange. Sours tend to be crisp, light and low-ABV, which makes them perfect for just about any time of year, too.
As mentioned, most breweries are using lactobacillus to sour beers that would otherwise be sweet. However, some are bucking that trend and going the more traditional route of using wild yeast to create sours. Most of these breweries either have an in-house yeast program to isolate and develop wild yeast that will do what they want, or they partner with a nearby university to achieve that goal (The Southern Brewing Company in Athens, Georgia, is a prime example of a brewery achieving great things using wild, local yeasts).
Fruit-flavored beers are nothing new. They’ve been around for quite a while now. However, brewers are going another route these days and introducing veggies to their drinkers. There are some that sound downright enjoyable, like carrot tart beer, but there are also some that will require a certain spirit of exploration to crack open and enjoy, like the mushroom and oyster beer brewed by Scratch Brewing.
These are just some of the trends that will dominate 2017 and beyond. There are many others, including dry hopping sour beers, a return to popularity for pilsner, and the ongoing love for coffee-infused brews. What about you? Is there a particular style you’d like to see rise in popularity? A style you’d like to see go the way of the dodo? Chime in and let us know your thoughts on where you’d like to see the industry as a whole go.