With one year coming to a close and another about to begin, it’s as good a time as any to look at what trends we might see in craft beer in 2016.
Here’s an educated guess at what the next year has in store.
Right now there aren’t enough craft lagers. There should be more.
Outside of craft beer, lager is still the most widely consumed type of beer. And while beer drinking as a whole is declining, macros brews like VB and XXXX are still consumed in large quantities.
There’s a solid argument to say that if craft brewers can produce more high quality lagers, we may see some of these typically macro beer drinkers switch to craft.
People will always drink what they want but I stand in the camp that says the industry will benefit as more people discover good beer.
Among craft beer geeks, even hop heads sometimes crave a solid lager and I think we’re seeing the thirst for clean, refreshing lagers growing among beer enthusiasts.
It’s Starting Already
This year saw Akasha open up in Five Dock and Dave Padden, a brewer known for his US-inspired hop-forward style, brewed a lager for the launch.
While it is hoppy, it fits to a typical pale lager style. And it’s already on taps around Sydney.
We’ve already seen IPLs around such as the brilliant FUSAMI Victory and XPL Session IPL from Wayward, and we’ve also seen keller style beers like Young Henrys’ Natural Lager.
I think we’ll see more and more of these lagers. We might also see savvy craft breweries target taps at inner city and suburban pubs that traditionally offer the typical macro line up but perhaps want something local and different for a gentrified population.
The Challenges for Craft Lager
To successfully brew lagers you need time and space. Not all craft brewers have this at their disposal. However, if we continue to see breweries grow like we have in the last year, lagers become a reality. Especially if breweries already have a steady flow of income through a popular core lineup of ales.
Once they have this, as long as they’re meeting demand for existing core beers, they can turn their focus to getting a lager right.
Over the last couple of years we’ve seen breweries put down roots, expand and evolve. This sets up the conditions for brewers to experiment with various lager styles.
The Rise of Sours
There are plenty of great sours out there if you know where to look but might we see a rise in general popularity? Can sour beer as a vague and general style become a greater part of the public consciousness?
Firstly, I think we’ll still see more as more craft breweries experiment with various methods of fermentation.
Secondly, I think we’ll see them get into the hands of people who don’t necessarily know where to look for them now.
I’m thinking of beers like Wayward’s Sour Puss, a raspberry Berliner weisse. It’s a really accessible beer to non-craft beer geeks. It’s the type of beer that makes someone say “this doesn’t taste like beer”.
A rise in the popularity for sour beer will be a slow burner but this time next year we’ll look back and realise how the landscape has changed.
Who Will Drink Them?
The acidity of sours is something that wine drinkers can relate to and the agricultural tradition that sits alongside sour beers is something that fits in well with the slow food movement.
For this reason, I think we’ll see more experimental restaurants adding these to their beer lists. (As for the general standard of restaurant beer lists, we’re getting there very slowly but I don’t think 2016 will be a breakthrough year. Here’s hoping for 2017!)
I also think that sour or wild beers (and the definition is something worth discussing on its own) are the closest to where we’ll achieve terroir in beer, as microbacteria and wild yeasts can be so specific to an area and the conditions surrounding it.
With a bit of education and promotion of this fact, it’s sure to intrigue people who have an inclination towards good food and drink.
There are Always Challenges
Like lagers, sour beers require more space, time and capital. Fermenting with certain yeasts, or wild, uncontrolled bacteria, risks infecting other beers, so space is required. They also require time to ferment and age, as well as a reliable cash flow to offset any failed experiments.
As breweries grow, sour beers become more viable.
The next step is to get them into people’s glasses and I think we’re already seeing this happen in the right way. Not with any song or dance, but by offering sour beers as an interesting alternative.
Brewers and venues are working together to better explain sour beers to intrigued drinkers. Not everyone will have a taste for them but in 2016, I think we’ll see a wider variety of people delighted by the possibilities inherent in wild and sour beers.
Beer in Cans
It could be argued that 2015 saw a considerable rise in canning. With some high profile beer launches, designs getting better, and an increased awareness of the benefits of cans, it seems like they’re well on their way to becoming a very popular method of packaging.
Will we see an increase in 2016? I think so. Here are just a few of the events that have contributed to conditions being right for an increase in canning.
Availability and price:
- James Squire are canning their range. These beers are targeted at particular demographics. While perhaps not hardcore craft beer nerds, these are important consumers to target if the appeal of beer in cans is to broaden.
- Balmain have started canning their pilsner and it’s now available in Aldi. A high quality, locally branded, craft beer available in a can for a good price in a budget supermarket. Craft must have gone mainstream!
- Asahi bought Mountain Goat. Following three years of contract partnership and the popularity of Mountain Goat’s sessionable beers in cans, Asahi’s acquisition brings a potential boost to distribution and prevalence of cans, further embedding it in the beer drinker’s consciousness.
A number of craft breweries who are either well known or heavily marketed are canning there beer, with rumours of other brewing companies looking into canning too.
- Pirate Life canned all their beers from the start and, after some intense marketing, are going gangbusters. Oh and the beers are pretty phenomenal too!
- Young Henrys have stepped up their canning game, including canning local favourite Newtowner.
- 4 Pines have added a canned beer to their core range. Success for this beer over the summer will surely see them turn to canning some of their other core beers.
- Others such as Mornington Peninsula have started canning a wide range of beers, including limited release brews.
Household craft names committing to cans paves the way for others to follow suit.
What Stands in the Way of Cans Taking Over?
Recently I had an exchange on Twitter with Stone & Wood. They said they’d looked at canning but are concentrating on meeting demand for bottles.
It seems that their size versus the demand for their beer prohibits the investment in an adequate canning line. Simply, they’re too popular to forsake demand for bottles or start canning cheaply, but not cash rich enough to throw money at a serious commercial canning line.
Education is also an issue. People need to understand how canning is an excellent method of storing and transporting beer.
General awareness is improving thanks to great work from bottle shops, brewers and craft beer enthusiasts but there will still be people who associate canned beers with a cheap, metallic taste.
Perhaps the next step is to focus on how the beer stays fresher, as in it doesn’t get lightstruck, and the environmental benefits of cans.
More Predictions for Craft Beer in 2016
Lagers, sours and cans are the three big things I think we’ll see evolve in 2016. But craft beer is moving so fast, so there are plenty of other trends or growth areas we could see.
Buyouts. There’s a cloud on the horizon. I think we’ll see some tactical acquisitions from big companies. Guesses at who it’ll be can be nothing more than conjecture at the moment. Conditions seem right for it to happen though, especially as we look at how AB Inbev seem to be flexing their financial muscles in the US and Europe.
High Hopes For Craft Beer in 2016
Whatever trends we see in craft beer throughout 2016, it’s sure to be a good year. There’s a lot to be excited for, especially in Sydney. One thing is guaranteed, there will be good beer!
What can you see shaping the craft beer landscape in 2016? Leave a comment and let me know what we should be looking out for.