Tracking Beer Trends

29 04 2010

The thing about beer is that it takes a while to make. The most basic of ales will take about three days from mash in to kegging. More complex beers can take weeks, months or even years to fully condition. For that reason, brewers are always thinking ahead in the calendar. Brewers are always trying to think ahead of the curve, trying to figure out what will be the new hot trend in beer culture. In many ways, a brewer has to think a lot like a clothing designer or film producer. Today, we look and see what we believe are going to be the new hot beer trends by seeing what Was Hot, Is Hot, and Will Be the Next Hot Thing.

Aging Techinques:
Lately, the craft brew seen is thinking beyond just what goes into the kettle or the fermenter, but also what goes on after fermentation. Much like wine, beer ages to make a more complex product. Beers over 6 or 7% ABV can age very well. And American barleywine-style ales are notorious for being too harsh when young and should be aged to mellow out their hops and alcohol. Bottle conditioning on yeast was big for some time. But that is now fairly common for many craft brewers. Lately, oak aged beers have been all the rage. Stone has an Arrogant Bastard that is aged on fresh American oak barrels. While many cutting edge breweries such as Founders have begun aging their beers on used bourbon barrels. But we predict that the next big hot trend for aging a beer will be in traditional British style casks. The aging on live yeast gives a subtle carbonation. And slightly chilling at cellar temperature allows the subtle aromas and esters to shine. The Seattle Cask Festival last month sold out for the first time ever. And more and more beer bars are offering cask conditioned beers. It seems like Real Ale is about to hit it big here in the States.
Was Hot: Bottle Conditioned
Is Hot: Oak and Bourbon Barrel Aged
The Next Hot Thing: Cask Conditioned

Extreme Beer:
Sam Caliogne of Dogfish Head Brewery wrote a homebrew book called “Extreme Brewing.” In it, he talks about continuous hopping, dry hopping, the use of fruit, spices, and wild yeasts. That all seems relatively tame now considering the current “extreme beer” wars going on. When Samuel Adams released its first extreme beer, Utopias, a few years ago, people were amazed. A beer over 20%ABV was unheard of. Now with Brew Dog’s icebock- Sink the Bismark- at 41%ABV, Utopias seems down right balanced. Founders released a beer with 200 IBUs but has been outdone by a British brewery that claims 323 IBUs to take the title for the hoppiest beer in the world. It is hard to tell when this is all going to stop. Furthermore, how much more the beer community will tolerate. It seems that some people are claiming that brewing a big beer and then concentrating it through icing should be considered cheating. Likewise, having 323 IBUS through concentrated alpha acid solutions should not count either. We believe that the pendulum is going to swing back to the likes of Dog Fish Head, Russian River, and Lost Abbey. After people get tired of seeing what outrageous beer the Brew Dogs will attempt to do next after a while, they will go back to well balanced and interesting beers. We believe the use of “hop varietals” such as Oskar Blues using only Summit for the Gubna and Harpoon only using Delta will allow beer geeks to really get to know a hop without being distracted by anything else.
Was Hot: Big Hops, Interesting fruit, and Wild Yeast
Is Hot: Bigger Hops, Bigger Alcohol, Outrageous Claims
The Next Big Thing: Hop Varietals

Sour Beers:
As America’s palate becomes more adventurous, people have been looking to traditional styles to try different things. Sour ales from Belgium offer a new flavor sensation. Fruit lambics are especially interesting for people who don’t really care for English or German style ales or people who are just bored of them. But as people try all the Lindeman’s and all the St. Louis lambics, they are wanting to try more. Saison, the spicy cousin of lambics have become very popular in the past few months. Omegang’s flagship beer, Hennipin, is a very delicious Saison with notes of peppercorn and fresh grass. New Holland recently released a Saison called Golden Cap which sold out at The Brickskeller within a week. And many smaller breweries have tried the style as a less energy intensive way to have a Belgian in their rotation. Berlinerweiss is a sour wheat ale from Germany that is served with a shot of raspberry or Woodruff syrup. More and more, people have been interested in trying this particular type of beer as it becomes more popular in Europe. We predict that Berlinerweiss will soon leave the hardcore beer nerd community, just as lambics did and will start becoming more main stream. But we aren’t sure if the sour ale Gose from Germany will be catching on anytime soon.
Was Hot: Lambics
Is Hot: Saisons
The Next Hot Thing: Berlinerweisses

Next Hipster Beer:
Whether we like it or not, there will always be hipsters. There have always been hipsters. And no amount of wishing will make them go away. The only way to beat them is to play their game better than they do. Urban Outfitters has made a fortune by “courting the youth market.” And Pabst Blue Ribbon was saved from the brink of extinction by tricking the hipsters into drinking them. (Cue record scratch) “What is that?” you may ask me. “Hipsters were tricked into drinking PBR?!” Yes! PBR was bought out by  MillerSAB a few years ago. And instead of folding the brand, they decided to exploit it. PBR already had a reputation as a cheap and nonthreatening beer. It was the beer for the working class. And something your dad may have drank when he was a kid. A beer rich with retro nostalgia and irony (two things hipsters consume like water). A very well placed and well time advertising campaign involving NPR, indie rock shows and dive bars put PBR on the forefronts of hipster everywhere. After listening to PBR ads on Wait…Wait…Don’t Tell Me! and All Things Considered and then going to the Flaming Lips Show and seeing the PBR shirts and half off specials at the local drive bar, it all fell into place. And MillerSAB reaped the profits. But as PBR becomes the “old thing” and cast aside (much like Yuengling before it), breweries are trying to cash in on the Hipster Market. Schlitz has been doing an admirable job. And they might just get it, too. But don’t underestimate the work of F.X. Matt and Utica Club. They might just be the next big thing.

Was Hot: Pabst Blue Ribbon
Is Hot: Schlitz
The Next Hot Thing: Utica Club

The Next Big Hops:
This is the sort of thing the average beer drinker does not think about. Afterall, hops is hops, right? Wrong! (kind of). We know that hops give beer bitterness, flavor and aroma. But what we probably don’t know is that different hops do different things. Zeus, for instance, is popular as a bittering hop for its high alpha acids. While Centennial is known for its citrus flavors. And Northern Brewer is known for its earthy aromas. You have the Noble Hops from the Czech Republic and Germany with its funny names like Hallertauer and Saaz. Then there are English Hops with similarly funny names like Fuggles and Kent Goldings. For the most part, caring which hops is which is something that only brewers and true beer nerds care about. But guess what! Brewers are the ones who make these decisions. For a while, it looked like Amarillo hops was going to be the new big thing. It creates the backbone for both Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Dogfish Head’s flagship 60 Minute IPA. But the Hop Crisis of ’07-’08 helped push the Amarillo to the back burner for more of the traditional hops like Saaz and Centennial. Summit Hops have received a big boost by being the hop Varietal for Oskar Blues Gubna Imperial IPA. Likewise, Delta was used for Harpoon’s single hop ESB batch 31. However, while Oskar Blues is seen as a trend setter, Harpoon hasn’t. We predict Summit to be the next big hop trend.
Was Hot: Amarillo
Is Hot: Anything you can get your hands on!
The Next Hot Thing: Summit

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