Back to basics
There was a time when craft beer seemed to be all about the wildest, weirdest or craziest brews you could make or find. Today, demand has grown for beers that some might call boring, yet others consider stylish, well-balanced and high-quality. Finding a stable of pale ales, dry stouts, pilsners, brown ales and others that are both true to style and exceptional in quality is no small task. While change is good, and variety may be the spice of life, every now and then, you just want to relax with a well-made classic (or three).
IPA won’t go away. . .but it speaks softer
While they’ve largely mellowed from the days of palate-assaulting bitterness, IPAs are still red-hot. According to the Brewers Association, IPAs were the most popular beer style produced in 2016, accounting for 25.4 percent of sales, and had the largest growth rate (22.6 percent). The experimentation and variety within the American IPA subcategory continues, while session offerings showed fast sales growth. These statistics suggest that consumers are seeking IPAs with low to moderate alcohol levels, supported by growth in English, white and fruited styles.
Malts are the new hops
We’ve seen much focus placed on hops: new varieties, types prominently listed on product labels, dry vs. wet, whole vs. powder and more. But, like oak’s influence in wine, hops are used in varying techniques and degrees. Perhaps even more crucial to beer production are the malts. Malts, along with water, yeast and hops, form the foundation of a beer, lending color, flavor, protein (for head retention), dextrins (for mouthfeel) and maltose (fermentable sugars). Watch for brewers that recognize the potential of specialty malts, like heirloom wheat and rye varieties, ancient grains and barley strains.
Cheers to your own beer!
Homebrewing continues to grow in popularity, and if you haven’t made the jump yet, it’s easier than ever before. Similar to a pod-based coffee maker, PicoBrew’s new Model C offers convenience, delicious results and is ideal for beginners. The pods, called PicoPaks, are available from respected brewers like Rogue, Coronado, Oakshire and Tallgrass. Ready to be bold? The PicoBrew Freestyle tool lets you customize your own beer recipes.
Fruit beers have endured a so-so reputation in the past, but consumers have increasingly moved beyond such misgivings. In terms of style, fruit beers can be just about anything: a lager, pale ale, or bolder styles like stout, sour ale or IPA. The best examples strike a balance between the base beer’s profile and natural fruit flavors, either in dried, peel, purée or whole form (like berries). Check out breweries that work with local fruit, like New Glarus’s Wisconsin Belgian Red, Bruery Terreux’s Pommereux or Captain Lawrence’s Hudson Valley Harvest Sour lineup.
A question of loyalty
At the beginning of the current craft-beer boom, a few savvy, fun-loving brewers stood out by creating personality and stories for their brands. That marketing approach resonated with consumers. As these trailblazers and the overall market have grown, such impact has lessened. With so many options to choose, thirsty consumers will often taste across a favorite brand’s portfolio and move on to the next new thing. The result is a decline in brand loyalty. Look for breweries (and brewers) to return to their storytelling roots with emphasis on commitment to local markets, passion for products and devotion to the craft-beer community.