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Hindsight IS 2020: Craft Beer Trends in the New Year

2019 was a quirky and complicated year for the beer industry, filled primarily with trends we’ve seen in years past that continue to grow, but also a few surprises. Interest in big flavors, as well as a revitalization of classic styles, resulted in a complex market that’s doing it’s best to pique the interest of younger drinkers and mature palates alike.

As the Milkshake IPA trend has ebbed a bit, in it’s wake came a new interest in Sour IPAs with lactose, Slushie beers or over-fruited Berliners, continued interest in Pastry Stouts, and beers of all styles packed with various adjuncts, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and other flavorings. Though these offerings primarily reside in the Realm of Beer Nerd-dom, their popularity hasn’t been lost on more traditional brewers, some of which have taken notice and begun to slip these ideas into the mix.

Ruse Brewing Shadow
Ruse Brewing, Phantom Shore – Pale Ale

For those not living that “on-site” life, aka the general public, it’s been quite a different story when perusing the beer aisle at grocery stores, visiting local bottle shops, and eyeing taplists around town. The beer industry’s elephant in the room for 2019 was the Rise of Seltzer, with some breweries and cideries already joining the fray – some quite successfully touting their Hard Seltzers and Rosé beers featuring locally sourced fruit.

What crossed over, from the front-lines of the line sitters to the everyday grocery store shoppers, more than anything last year, was the hazy phenomenon. Yes, the style’s been around for more than a few years now, but you know it’s a thing when after only 2 years, it’s set to become Sierra Nevada’s second largest packaged offering – Hazy Little Thing’s not so little anymore.

Last year also saw a resurgence in classic German and English styles, seemingly in counterbalance to the popularity of hazy and sweeter styles. A wider variety of seasonal Lagers (i.e. Festbier, Vienna, Dark Lager, etc.), specialty Pilsners (especially Italian and Czech styles), barrel/wood conditioned Lagers, and West Coast or bright IPAs definitely flourished on draft and are more widely available in 16oz 4-pack options.

Baerlic OktoBAERfestbier
Baerlic Brewing’s Fresh Hop OktoBAERfestbier

Last but not least, Fresh Hop beers certainly hit the market with full force in the Pacific Northwest and seem to be more abundant and diverse each year. The popularity of the category is evidenced by GABF which showcased two medal winners who weren’t from the PNW, further proof that the phenomenon is growing. The most interesting result of this seasonal specialty is how it’s spilled over into the Oktoberfest/Festbier style, which has also grown, all potentially impacting the continued decline of Pumpkin styles.

It’s a lot to absorb being that America’s craft beer industry is more diverse than ever before. As the number of breweries continues to grow (America has 8,000+ breweries in operation and over 11,000 active brewery permits) beer drinkers have more choice than ever with most brewery taprooms offering anywhere from 8 to 30 options. It’s this diversification and ability to cater to a variety of tastes that makes prognostications about the year ahead all the more difficult.

National Beer Sales Production Data Brewers Association
Over the past decade, microbreweries in America have increased from 620 to 4522 – courtesy Brewers Association

In reflecting upon what happened last year we’ve been given a sneak peek of what’s to come. Breweries that are known for and have built a following around hazy and pastry styles are beginning to have the fermentation space for lagering. Conversely, breweries known for more traditional styles have started brewing Hazy IPAs or at least more sessionable versions for the masses.

Already released this year in cans you’ll find low calorie hazy beers from Firestone Walker (Flyjack, a 4% “Hazy IPA” with 96 calories) and Deschutes (WOWZA!, a 4% Hazy Pale with 100 calories). Later this year, Deschutes is planning to package Teensy, a low ABV/calorie beer which should land somewhere between 2 and 3%. I’ve tried both Deschutes beers, with WOWZA! coming up a bit short of it’s punctuation mark billing, though I was pleasantly surprised by Teensy when I tried it on draft 8 months ago.

Deschutes Wowza! Low-Cal Hazy Pale Ale - Brewbound
Deschutes Brewery, WOWZA! Hazy Pale Ale – Courtesy Brewbound

Even more interesting, it appears that the popularity of non-alcoholic beers in Europe is pushing the category to our shoresbrewers in America. Last year, Brooklyn Brewery’s Special Effects, and Lagunitas’ Hop Water found strong response, and Deschutes is already developing NA beers in partnership with Denver-based Sustainable Beverage Technologies. So don’t be surprised if low-cal, low-ABV and no-cal, no-ABV beverages become a regular option in the craft space.

In the end, this phenomena of lighter options, right in line with the explosion of Hard Selzer, Kombucha, Cider, and other low-carb options, appear to be what’s in vogue for 2020. In the same vein, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brut IPAs, which represent a lower calorie, full flavored option, are resurgent after a down year in 2019.

And for all the beer nerds out there, I don’t foresee those popular hazy, fruited, barrel-aged, and pastry-inspired beers going anywhere. While I do expect to see Lagers and traditional IPAs remaining fashionable, a focus on diversity of styles at most breweries and more niche breweries dialed into specific styles will continue.

2020 looks like more of the same of what defined 2019, for now, but who knows what unexpected fad could come down the pike before we complete our next trip around the sun.

Ex Novo Paler Swift Pale Ale
Ex Novo Brewing, Paler Swift – Pale Ale

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