One of the places I see a lot of flavor experimenting being done is in
One of my favorite things about craft beer is the desire to make new things or rediscover styles that have fallen out of popularity and revive them.
This does however end in some trend chasing. Over the ~7 years I've been drinking and following beer, I've seen ABV escalations, IBU arms races, and dark Porters and Stouts come in and out of fashion. The IPA scene exploded in the early 2010's (and continues to balloon.) You still see every West Coast ale brewer have 3 - 4 of IPAs of some kind on tap. I don't drink IPAs, but I definitely observe surges and declines in styles and love that we now have trends within trends.
One of my favorite parts of beer as a hobby is predicting and observing what things will be popular next.
As I saw NorCal breweries roll out more and more New England/Hazy IPAs, characterized by their unfiltered and cloudy appearance, mid to end of 2017 through the summer of 2018 it was obvious that it was going to be one of the next huge styles in IPAs. Sure enough the biggest boys in craft brewing are getting in on it now, like Sierra Nevada and Laguintas spreading Hazys past the West Coast. Obviously this is a style with its roots in New England, but beer tends to have mini trends that bubble up and then spread across the country. NorCal, where I live, in particular has a dense and rich brew scene, so I often see things before they blow up nationwide. (In this case, while Colorado is not coastal, their robust craft scene means they often work concurrently to CA, OR, & WA) I'm not an IPA drinker, but as a sucker for an unfiltered wheat: I get it. I understand the appeal of a thicker beer. There's an added heft and body to an unfiltered beer. (It's not exactly obvious what gives Hazys their cloudy appearance; yeast likely plays a role though.)
Since Hazy/New England IPAs have hit the big boys, I would not be surprised to see them fall out of fashion this year, ending in us seeing fewer of them than the last couple years. Beer trends in large part are created and led by brewers who want to create contrast with whatever is currently happening. Once the largest craft brewers start making something, smaller micro-brewers are incentivized to pivot into something completely different rather than trying to compete against brewers with vastly higher resource budgets. My money is on the next one being Milkshake IPAs. 2020 look out for Sam Adams's Milkshake IPA in their 12 pack samplers. Luckily for IPA lovers, even if you'll miss Hazys, we have another style on the come up that is just beginning to crest: Bruts!
The same way Hazys developed out of a desire to create something different (juicy and full rather than crisp and bitter), the other new big darling of IPAs has similar origins. Brut IPAs include dry champagne/sparkling wine yeasts in their brewing. These yeasts eat virtually all the remaining sugars out of the IPAs leaving a very crisp, very dry flavor. I can't help but think that this is in response to many of the fruitier IPAs of the last few years. Instead of adding extra sweetness, Bruts are intended to get something very dry. The dryness, like the sweetness, serves as a balance against the extreme hop flavor of an IPA. Since Bruts are just on their come up as far as nationwide distribution goes, keep an eye out for your local ale brewer to try one, or look out for Stone to put out another in their Enjoy By Series. Sierra Nevada has a sixer in rotation right now that's a pretty emblematic entry in the style. I am not an IPA drinker, but I've heard good things about the above Sierra Nevada Brut and great things about the Enjoy By 01.01.2019. I would expect to see Lagunitas and Sam Adams to start putting out a Brut by end of year.
There are usually 3 to 4 trends at a given time, each at various levels of maturity. Usually 1 or 2 of these are in the IPAs and the other 1 - 2 are in lagers and non pale ales. Right now the other big trend won't be a surprise if you've gone to a tap room or beer bar in the last 2 - 3 years: Sours
Sours are everywhere right now, and they broadly fall into 2 categories:
1. Funky Sours
2. Tart sours
Sours are my wheelhouse; allow me to share my bona fides:
Sours are something I try every time I see them offered in a beer bar or taproom, which shouldn't be surprising given that I had 71 unique sours last year! This is just the beers categorized as 'sour' beer styles by Untappd. Here they are if you want to see them all.
Sours, as I mentioned before, largely fall into 2 camps: funky and tart. Let's start with the funk! Funky sours tend to be things like Wild Ales or just generally called 'Sour Ales.' Other beers that have some share characteristics include Geuzes (not to be confused with Goses); some Lambics can get funky. Anything that tastes like your uncle's basement that occasionally floods is a funky sour. There's a musk and a funk in these sours that you only really find here and in just the rankest cheese you can think of (and some other fermented foods that I would rather not think about.) Funk sours, as you can probably gather, given my basement analogy, aren't really for me. The one style that can get in the same ballpark as funky sours are Saisons, which I do like. There's a 'barn' quality that people often pick up on in Saisons that feels like a sibling of the funk that happens here. The creator of these 'unconventional' flavors are the result of non-standard bacteria and yeast strains. Beer making is a strictly controlled chemical system under normal commercial brewing because the introduction of any bacteria or wayward yeast can dramatically change the flavor of the beer, and that is incredibly undesirable. Consistency and predictability is highly valued when you're working at high volume. There's a reason the macro brewers in the US dump more beer than many micro brewers even make in a year! In Wild Ales and other sours, those 'off' flavors are the expected and desired outcome. They will intentionally introduce yeast and bacteria strains that produce very strong sour and funky flavors. I admire and appreciate funky sours in a well rounded beer lineup. Absolute standouts in this genre are Psychokinesis by Grimm Artisan Ales and Horse Tongue by Anderson Valley. (Psychokinesis is one of those beers that made me say 'damn! I didn't know beer could do that!')
The other sour beer I referred to above were tart sours. These are styles like Berliner Weisses, Goses, and Kettle Sours. These are my current favorite kinds of beer. These are German style sours with little to no musty or funk flavors. They tend to be much tarter, similar to citric acid in their pucker worthiness. If you don't personally know my general beverage preferences, you should know that I tend toward candy-like drinks. I love pop, juice and when it comes to non-beer alcohol: the sweeter the better. I like sweet ciders, wine and mixed drinks. I am a big booster and fan of Peach Andre, the bottomest shelf cheap sparkling wine. It tastes exactly like peach rings and I am all about that. My other jams are Pink Moscato, screwdrivers, gin and orange juice, 20th Centuries, and Dirty Shirley Temples, just to give you an idea of my palate. All candy drinks. I promise this connects to tart sours. These styles of sours are not overwhelmingly sweet, but they do remind me of a candy: Warheads. The mega pucker of the coating with the fruit flavored inside tastes exactly like a delicious fruity Gose. Berliner Weisses, Kettle Sours & Goses also introduce non-standard yeasts and bacteria, but are specifically selected to only introduce very tart flavor with no 'off' flavors. My 2 favorite beers of all time are both in this family. I will dedicate whole posts to them in the future, but they are Berliner Style Weisse by Bayerischer Bahnhof Gasthaus & Gosebrauerei and the Framboise Rose Gose by Anderson Valley. Local brewery Sudwerk has a 'Funhouse' series of Kettle Sours they make that have included Apricot, Cherry, Peach, Raspberry, Blueberry + Boysenberry, & Passionfruit + Guava. Whenever they post that a new one is getting tapped I try to make sure to go to The Dock Store and try a pint of it!
I'm not sure where sours will go next. They seem very mature for a trend, so I am expecting to see fewer of them this year than last, but maybe they're the next IPA where they stick around but we get styles within styles! One of my friends guessed that maybe, like the Milkshake IPAs, we'll get lactose sours! I'm excited to go out and visit a bunch of taprooms this spring and summer and find out what's next!
What trends do you see? Do you also think Milkshake IPAs are the next huge thing in beer? Which trend are you ready to see put behind us? I for one want West Coast brewers to stop dry hopping everything!