Another year of mighty growth has come and gone for the craft beer industry, paving a path toward an even brighter future as breweries that opened during the first phase of the craft beer renaissance find their footing and expand their operations to new markets. There is no end to this story, but changes to the craft beer industry are sure to come. Here are my predictions for some of the beer trends I expect to see take further hold and flourish in 2015.
More and more people are discovering the spectrum of flavors offered by craft beer and beginning to look at it as more than an alcoholic beverage. As the concept of "drinking for flavor" resonates with more beer drinkers, breweries are finding a bigger market for flavorful, low-alcohol brews for people who want to drink more without the effect. Herein lies the explosive popularity of the session IPA. As palates grow fonder of new flavors, more sessionable (under 5% ABV) versions of other styles like milk stouts, Belgian ales and sours will likely begin to emerge.
I love a good, fresh IPA, but as my palate continues to expand, I'm beginning to crave new flavors in my hoppy beer. Many breweries are already pushing hoppy beer into new territory by using nontraditional ingredients, wild yeast strains, unconventional hopping techniques and barrel aging. The results are as varied as the ingredients brewers have at their disposal, and, as the feedback from experimental and one-off brews circles back to the mad scientists who created them, hopheads can hope to see new flavors find their way into their style of choice.
Sour Beer Revolution
Though there are many ways to make a sour ale, the most traditional approach involves years of aging beer in oak barrels while bacteria and wild yeast chomp through sugars to produce the signature flavors of sour beer. The best sour producers today have been at this for years, oftentimes blending beers from different years and batches and adding fruit to create acidic, rustic, funky and bright flavors that can shock the most cynical of palates. Anticipate seeing increasingly experimental sours entering the market as younger breweries establish and grow their barrel programs and reputable sour makers continue to innovate their practices.
As the nanobreweries of two or three years ago expand their production capacities to meet demand in home and away markets, many are stepping up to the big leagues with bottling and canning lines. Though bottles have classically been the preferred method of packaging single servings, cans are rapidly gaining traction as a more versatile, low cost and environmentally friendly option. As more consumers come to realize that beer tastes the same whether it's served from a bottle or can (remember, you should be pouring it into a glass regardless), expect to see canned craft beer taking over more space on retailer shelves.
Complacency rarely breeds long-term success. With more breweries open today than during any time in the twentieth century, there is more competition than ever to stand out from the crowd. Yesterday's new breweries will be forced more than ever to push their quality to new heights. Those unable to innovate will be left behind as educated beer drinkers pursue better beer regardless of its source.
Though many beer trends are here to stay, there is still plenty of space for progress as craft beer moves into its next chapter and brewers and drinkers alike continue their search for new flavor experiences. As long as the consumers and producers that have helped build this industry hold their ground and refuse to compromise with the subversive influence of big beer, I do not believe the craft beer bubble will ever truly burst.