Happy New Year, everyone. For the last few years, I've been writing this piece about brewing trends to watch for in the upcoming year. It's one of my favorite features because I get to research and review ideas I want to try in the brewery and also look at new ideas and hot topics in the brewing world. The U.S. Brewing industry is riding a 10-year growth spurt that has increased the number of breweries to more than 6,000, with still more to come. Today, according to the Brewers Association, 87 percent (up 4 percent from last year) of drinking-aged Americans now live within 10 miles of a brewery, so it's not difficult to conduct some fun research on your own.
I'll start by mentioning a couple trends I forecasted last year. With a year's hindsight, let's see how I did in terms of accuracy.
• Retro beers will be big. Well, not exactly, IPA and sour beers are still leading categories, but I'm still hopeful old classics will make a come back.
• Diversification by the Big Beer giants will continue. Yep - very much so. Another dozen regional breweries have joined the ranks of selling to bigger breweries.
• Craft lager beers. After predicting this trend for the last 10 years (my own hopeful bias), this has happened, and we are seeing wonderful lager beers readily available.
• Special release beers will decline a bit. The jury is out on this prediction. I feel that all our beers are special - again, my own bias - and it's a very crowded market to try to push one beer ahead of the other great beers your brewery is making.
So, I'll give myself a B on last year's thoughts, and we'll move on to 2019 and what's happening.
The brewers' quiver has never been more stocked with experimental hops, new malt choices and overall excellent opportunities to source ingredients from all over the world. The availability of rediscovered as well as brand new yeast strains makes creating new beer styles very possible. Neil Caron, head pilot brewer at Bent Paddle in Duluth, mentioned a wonderfully unique Norwegian farmstead "kveik" yeast that likes to be fermented very warm bringing out pleasant fruit ester notes like pineapple, mango and clementine, while balancing fruit-forward hops like Citra to brew a Willy Wonka-type IPA.
Sour beer has sported a fast-growing niche for a number of years. Historically, the beers were taking quite a long time to produce - one to three years was common. In the past five years, fast-acting "kettle sour" brewed beers have become a huge beer category, essentially allowing a brewer to produce sours in weeks instead of years. This trend is very much here to stay. Look for Berliner Weiss and Gose beers, German styles that have made a great return to the market helped by this brewing process.
Keg and cask infusions
Brewers everywhere are making single kegs of beer adding fruit or spices at the time of the keg filling. Many fun beers can be created by adding tea, coffee, fruits or vegetables to a base beer. The smaller ingredient load makes sourcing affordable, and the exclusivity of the beer, often served only at the tap room, makes being a beer hunter more fun.
Destination beer drinking
With all the choices, available to enjoy great beer, heading out on a day, weekend or beer vacation trip has become a very viable option for the beer enthusiast. The Twin Ports have close to a dozen breweries, and I often hear folks tell me they come to Duluth to enjoy the great scenery, tourist options and the BEER!
This trend is exploding; a simple internet search will provide options and destination ideas for almost anyone.
Dry, easy-drinking beers
Lighter beers with lower carb and alcohol loads are in demand, and new styles like Brut IPA packs the punch a full-bodied beer in a low-intensity version. Similar to the popular "session" offerings, beer drinkers will see many styles over the next year supporting the "drink less, drink better" mantra.
As is my tradition for the annual forecast, I like to close with a couple of trends I personally enjoy that I hope to see continue to take off.
• Wheat beers will be brewed year-round and understood as a great beer category.
• Locally sourced raw materials, hop farms, farm grown barley, fruits and vegetables.
• Beer cocktails that mix soda, or fruit juices with beer for a lighter taste and some fun combinations of flavors.