What's the next big thing in beer?
Wow, that's a big vague question. Someone asked it recently on r/beer and it got me thinking. Here's a list of the next big things...that are mostly already sort of big things!
- Session IPAs - These are just such great beers. You get all the hop aroma and flavor without the high abv, which means you can actually have a couple pints. The concept has been around for a minute, pioneered largely by homebrewers, as many new styles are. It's great to see all the big guys cranking them out now.
- Sours - This is hardly a new trend, but many people are very new-ish to good beer and sours are a revelation to them. That has continued to make sours more and more sought after. Relevant: What's the Next IPA? by Bart Watson for the BA.
- Lots of little brewpubs popping up in every town - This is definitely happening in San Francisco and I see it going on all over the US. Are they quality joints? Some are and some aren't...see the #4 "next big thing" below for my thoughts on that.
- Entrepreneurs who don't know sh1t about beer but think it's a "sure bet" business open lots of breweries and brew pubs with mediocre beer - Sorry, but it's true. I recently read a LOL-worthy article titled: "Is Craft Beer as Close to a Sure Thing as an Entrepreneur Can Get?" Well guess what...that's what all the businesspeople who destroyed the "microbrew" movement of the 1990's thought, too. They jumped onboard the trend and then lost their shirts because people decided microbrew sucked and stopped buying their crappy beer. Oh, there were some great breweries around then and some eventually made it big, such as Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas, but the microbrew business was generally swamped by mediocre beer makers that killed the whole trend off. That won't happen this time because we're too far into the "craft beer" trend, but the general quality of craft beer will probably fall as businesspeople and entrepreneurs who don't know or care about beer get into the business. Here's a clue for those folks: there's been talk for a couple years already of a potential bubble in the craft beer industry, so you may have missed the boat if you're just now thinking about getting in on it. I know, I know, I hear you saying: "but Chris, just look at the data, there's no end in sight for the rise of craft beer, blah blah blah." Not true, the industry is changing rapidly. Also, if you don't love good beer, don't waste consumer's time or your money, we already have great beer that's being made by people who got into the business because they're passionate and knowledgable about it. Those people will out compete you every time.
- Large and medium sized craft breweries being bought up by giant breweries and private equity firms - This trend will definitely continue. If you built something worth millions (or tens or hundreds of millions) you'd sell it, too. The big guys are looking to shore up their beer portfolios by adding craft brands to the mix and they have the money to make it happen. Even the 50% Lagunitas purchase by Heineken, estimated to be around $500 million, was described as a number that for Heineken is "a rounding error." So yeah, it will definitely continue. Oh, and if you think Magee of Lagunitas gives a sh1t about anyone calling him a "sell out," just consider the fact that he's currently on his mega-yacht en route to check out the private island he just bought on a whim. He may have set himself up to be a hypocrite by talking all that trash in the past about brewery owners who sell, but he's laughing about it all the way to the bank right now. You'll always have smaller artisanal beer options if you prefer, so don't freak out about the fact that craft has gone mainstream and corporate, just be educated about the market, support the small local folks whenever possible, and drink what you love! This thought continues into #6...
- A differentiation between "craft breweries" that make good beer and a yet-to-be-named category of brewery that actually takes a real artisanal approach to beer making - It's inevitable that this will happen. The bigger craft breweries hold themselves out to be "artisanal" makers for the cool factor effect, but they aren't (FYI that doesn't mean for one second that their beer isn't excellent, so don't get all judge-y and holier than thou about it). How can Boston Beer Co, Lagunitas, Boulevard, and Goose Island all be in the same "craft beer" category as truly artisanal beer makers like Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, Hill Farmstead, or Cellarmaker? These companies aren't in the same category AT ALL, we just don't have a name yet for the smaller breweries. We're certainly not going to stop calling the big ones "craft," many of them have defined the "craft" genre for the last decade and will likely forever be called "craft brewers." In any case, the term "craft" has always been silly, meaningless, and more recently it's been totally perverted by big money companies...as almost everything with any subcultural cool-factor or positive descriptive marketing power inevitably is (see: "natural," "cage free," "organic," "small batch," "homemade," etc, etc, etc, etc). Nothing against the big guys, congrats to them for making it big, but they're making beer in semi robotic lights-out factory breweries, there's nothing artisanal about it and that's a fact. Why do I keep using the term "artisanal?" I don't know, it seems like it still means what it's supposed to mean, so maybe it's the correct term here. You tell me, what should the meaningful marketing-friendly name be for those tiny hand's on artisanal breweries?
- Good beer in cans will get even more common - Cans have already been a trend for awhile now in part thanks to brewers like 21st Amendment and Oskar Blues. It's a great trend! Cans are better for the environment, ship more cheaply and efficiently than glass, and they keep beer out of sight of light that skunks bottled beer. It's a no-brainer.
- New hop varieties - Everyone is always looking for the next big thing. Hops are already big. New and exciting hops are even bigger! Hits like Simcoe and Citra point the way forward. Listen up scientists and farmers: we'd like more great new hops, please!
- Great beer will start coming into the U.S. from Central and South American brewers - There is some serious ramping up of the brewing culture in Central and South America. Also, they have cheaper labor and material prices. Fresh beer is the best beer, but shipping is pretty quick these days. I've already been seeing more beer from down there and I suspect that's a trend that will grow.
OK, I think that's enough for now. Please discuss!
Oh, one addition that is probably more of a personal dream than a real trend: how about if media coverage of beer raises it's game, currently it's mostly pitiful!
Additional trends (added 9/28/2015):
The Pat's Pints blog has some really interesting info (http://patspints.com/2015/09/28/breaking-down-the-2015-gabf-medalists/) about the changes in categories and medaling. Definitely the most interesting GABF wrap up I've seen so far.
DraftMag points out a few more trends gleaned from 2015 GABF (http://draftmag.com/gabf-beer-festival-2015-trends/): lagers are becoming big; hoppy sours and hoppy Brett beers are big; using local ingredients for beer is trendy; brewers are putting coffee in everything.
In a similar piece (http://fortune.com/2015/09/27/craft-beer-gabf-trends/), Fortune Mag says the trends are: still IPA but lighter Session IPAs are the trend; lighter session and "gateway" beers such as Pils and Kolsch are becoming very popular, sour beers are in (duh). Not much new there.