Beer has been part of human culture for thousands of years. In that sense, things will change very little through the end of 2014 – we’re still beer lovers, and it’s still the drink of the masses. However, there are some changes looming on the horizon, and whether you’re a brewer, a would-be brewer or just someone who appreciates the time, dedication and talent required to brew real beer, it pays to know what’s coming down the pipe. Here’s a peak at the future for you.
Craft Beer Surges On
The craft beer industry has seen several banner years, and that trend is set to continue through 2014 and beyond. In 2011, craft beer commanded only 5.5% of the beer market. In 2013, that grew to 7%, which is a significant achievement, particularly considering that the overall demand for beer fell. Big beer took the hit, as more and more consumers woke up to the fact that beer can be so much more than what’s on tap from Bud or Miller. The US beer market fell by 1.4%, but craft beer grew by 9.6%. That’s a telling sign of what’s to come.
Trends in Brewing and Beer Styles
Given that big beer doesn’t really change (other than attempting to emulate craft breweries to recapture some lost attention), it’s natural that we focus on how the world of craft brewing is going to change in 2014. There are some significant trends that will affect not only what you buy at your local store, but what you’ll find available at your preferred watering hole as well.
Sessions Stick Around
Session beers grew in popularity from 2012 through 2013, and you can expect that popularity to continue. Even Dogfish Head, long known for producing some of the stronger craft beers in the country, is getting in on the craze by turning its seasonal Namaste into a year-round session beer offering. Other craft breweries are either following suit, or already have a defined session beer on offer. For those not familiar with them, session beers are brewed with to a lower strength than regular beer (this is relatively speaking – Dogfish Head’s Namaste comes in at 4.7% ABV, while New Belgium’s Snapshot is 5% ABV).
Session beers are designed to be consumed during a drinking “session” – multiple beers consumed over the course of several hours – without getting the drinker too drunk to function. It’s a nice change from the trend of ultra-high ABV beers that hit the market a few years back. Don’t expect those stronger beers to go away, but you’ll find more and more session options available.
It’s Getting Smoky in Here
Smoked beers aren’t particularly new, but most American drinkers aren’t all that familiar with them. Smoking malts is traditional when making German rauchbier, but some American breweries are cashing in on this smoky trend in different ways. Stone Brewing is probably the most visible of these with their Smoked Porter, but they’re not the only one. Others include Alaskan Brewing Company and The Bruery.
For those unfamiliar with the term, “smoking” actually occurs here. The malts are smoked over a specific type of wood in order to impart a different character to the brew. Beech is the traditional option in German brewing but American breweries use a range of different wood types, including cherry, oak, peat mats and even wood taken from decommissioned rye and bourbon barrels.
Barrel aging is normal for things like wine, bourbon and rye, and was once normal for beer. Big beer moved consumers away from that, but craft breweries have been bringing it back for several years now. Look for 2014 to see a marked rise in wood barrel aged brews, particularly sours. Some new barrels will be in use, especially oak, but more and more breweries are opting to utilize used barrels that once held whiskey or rye to impart additional flavor notes to the brew.
One of the most interesting aspects of this trend is the rise in cask brewing and conditioning. You’ll find a small number of cask beers available at some of the better brewpubs and bars out there, but the real gold is found at your local craft beer festivals. Look for the cask ale tent, and enjoy. You’re welcome.
More Local Options
Craft beer is a nationwide phenomenon, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve had many local breweries available in your local area. Look for that to change as more and more retailers focus on bringing consumers options from their region. This will result in a twofold shift. First, you’ll have more local options available at your package or grocery store. Second, it will spark the birth of even more local breweries, so you will have new options for touring and tasting rooms. You might even decide to open your own brewery. The time is right.
More Growler Stations
A few years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find a growler station anywhere outside some of the strongholds of brewing (think Colorado). Today, that’s far from the case. More and more enterprising bottle shops are opening their own growler stations, and even some grocery stores are cashing in on the trend. Both Kroger and Whole Foods have growler stations in select locations, and more of them are on their way.
If you’re not familiar with growlers, think of these as filling stations that give you beer to go. You choose a bottle, the barman fills it from the tap, and you take it home to enjoy it as you like. It’s one of the few ways to get true tap beer into your refrigerator, and it’s a lot of fun at the same time.
No matter how you cut it, 2014 is bound to be an awesome year for craft brewing. Make sure you get out and enjoy the fruits of these trends, and keep an eye open for emerging trends that will affect 2015.