Creativity and Quarantine: The 2020 Beer Year in Review

2020 beer year in review
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The long-term ramifications that the novel coronavirus pandemic will have on the beer industry is yet to be determined. However, amid uncertainty and worry, brewers have found time for innovation, creativity and ways to connect with consumers.

They’ve coaxed flavors out of specialty ingredients, supported farmers, perfected classic styles and thought about an aging population and those who seek sober options. Across the country, beer makers remained focused and still managed to have fun.

Ingredient Innovation

Each year, hop growers release new varieties that excite brewers and customers alike. The Talus hop is a descendent of the popular hop Sabro. It offers aromas of pink grapefruit, citrus rinds, dried roses, pine resin, tropical fruits and sage.

A Fresh Guide to Hops in Beer

Earlier this year, Dogfish Head Brewery released a small batch of Re-Gen-Ale, a saison brewed with regeneratively farmed wheat from a Kansas farm. Brewery cofounder Sam Calagione says that he hopes to use more of the crop and help other farmers institute similar practices for use in future beers.

Drink it in: Clown Shoes Rainbows are Real Hazy India Pale Ale, High Hops Habanero Hunny

Hold the Alcohol

While it seems that the novel coronavirus pandemic has encouraged some drinkers to finally enjoy all the fruits of their cellars, and sales data shows that larger beer packs are selling well in stores, others have cut back on consumption or looked for nonalcoholic options. Emerging technologies and processes have introduced new entrants, while familiar big brewers have made a renewed push into the category.

Athletic Brewing Co. of Connecticut, which exclusively brews nonalcoholic beers, announced this year that it would be opening up a West Coast brewery to keep up with demand.

Athletic Brewing Co.
Connecticut-based Athletic Brewing Co. brews exclusively nonalcoholic beers / Photo courtesy Athletic Brewing Co.

German brewer Clausthaler has gotten into the seasonal act with Santa Clausthaler, a nonalcoholic holiday offering with cranberry and cinnamon flavorings. With the arrival of so-called “Dry January,” look for new nonalcoholic beers from breweries like Lagunitas and Samuel Adams.

Drink it in: Athletic Brewing AfterShift IPA, Point 5 Brewing Pilsner

The Home Bar

As the coronavirus disrupted everyday life, bars closed and taprooms were severely impacted. Breweries needed ways to connect with consumers without the face-to-face interactions that had made craft beer a tight-knit community.

Across the country, beer makers remained focused and still managed to have fun.

The beer check-in app Untappd added an “at home” feature that allowed users to share what beers they were enjoying and interact with others. Zoom happy hours have become popular. Brewers would virtually beam into home bars to talk about new recipes and old favorites. Others now host regular video events or package beers once only offered on tap.

Many states lifted restrictions to allow breweries to deliver or ship direct to consumers, something that many hope will continue. Numerous local brewery guilds are working hard to achieve this.

Drink it in: Springdale Quarantined N’ You?! 2X Hazy IPA, Hopewell Great News Saison

Creativity Abounds

On social media, it seems that every week there’s at least one beer released with off-beat ingredients, made to taste like a food, or sporting an unusual color.

In a year that many would soon like to forget, a beer was released in collaboration with French’s Mustard, while another was modeled after hot wing sauce. Some even contained a small amount of gelatin to give the beer a jelly-like wiggle when released from a can.

Speciation Laurentian Series
Michigan’s Speciation Laurentian Series is named after the Great Lakes watershed, and each batch is brewed and cooled near one of the bodies of water. / Photo by Mitch Ermatinger

Still, it’s not all bad. Brewers also coaxed nuanced flavors out of complex ingredients, tried new forms of hopping that yielded more vibrant results, and reminded us that beer can offer both fun and great quality.

In the Haiku Series from Community Beer Works in Buffalo, the three beer names together form the poem:

Irony is Dead
Hyperbole is Useless
This is Normal Beer

In order, the Haiku Series beer styles are a pale stout; a “beer that’s been LandSharked, fruited with pineapple and mango, bruted, double-dry hopped, and lightly sweetened with lactose, finished by aging on vanilla beans, toasted coconut, and rum oak staves,” and a Kölsch.

Together, they sum up so much of what’s happening in beer today.

Drink it in: New Realm Reserve Rum Barrel Quadrupel, Speciation Laurentian Series: Lake Michigan Spontaneously Fermented Sour Ale

Published on December 17, 2020
Topics: Beer