The craft beer industry seems to be a bit bipolar lately, and craft beer trends are getting a bit out of hand. It’s like they can’t make up their mind really. Every brewery focuses on simple, quality beers, while maintaining a barrel program along with a constantly rotating seasonal sour. This one has grapefruit! Back in the day, it was easy for a new brewery to stand out. Offer a Belgian in your line up of five IPAs and BAM! Instant notoriety. These days, not so much. The market is no longer starved for variety, but rather is flooded by it. Instead of happily lapping up whatever breweries produce, the customer now dictates what is made. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Eeeeeeeeh. *Shoulder shrug. Considering every other industry tells you what you’ll be buying next season and you’ll like it or else, it’s tough to say.
I definitely enjoy variety, but never wander too far from the classics. Craft beer trends can be amazing experiments with new styles, but chasing down the next big thing can be short sighted if it goes too far. Get consumed by the latest and greatest can cause quality to slip, and quality is key. Here are the latest trends that you’ve seen on the tap room chalkboard.
Sour all the beers
Do you have any sour beers? Shame on you if you go into your local taproom and ask this question. First, it means you didn’t bother to read the tap list on the giant chalkboard behind the bar. Second, if a brewery has a sour beer, these days they’re gonna fucking let you know. Kind of like vegans and people who do Crossfit. It’s possibly the king of the craft beer trends these days. Personally, I enjoy sours. I enjoy them a lot. The problem is that sour beers are more difficult and expensive to make, which therefore makes them more expensive to buy. There was a time when most beers were sour due to our flimsy understanding of sanitary technique. Modern brewing practices removed the germs that caused the sour flavor present in almost every beer, giving rise to beer as we know it today. Then one day, someone decided to through sanitary technique out the window, and the modern sour beer craze was born.
Keep it simple stupid
Okay, to be fair, I’m all for the latest craft beer trend of focusing on simplicity. What’s ridiculous is that more breweries aren’t doing it. It’s like a modern day Reinheitsgebot. Sometimes you want a simple, easy to drink beer. I’m tired, it’s been a long day, and I don’t feel like digging out my tasting notebook. Before you string me up by my toenails, let me clarify. Simple beers don’t mean just simple ingredients. SMaSH beers can be amazing, but a deliciously hoppy IPA with floral notes can be simple. A peanut butter imperial stout can be simple. A grapefruit, cherry sour can be simple. It’s not the ingredient list that makes something simple, in my opinion. It’s focus, repeatability, and a clear goal. Too many breweries are chasing the market, and a bold few have dug in their heels and said no more! They are focusing on only a few things, and they’re doing it well.
If it’s not sour, put fruit in it
The fastest growing segment of craft beer drinkers is women. They consume 15% of all craft beer sold and sure as shit breweries are trying to capture that market share. Of course women hate bitter beers and love fruity cocktails, right? So shove as much pineapple and mango as you can into your IPA then maybe, just maybe, they might like it. Be careful who you say that shit around. Besides being sexist and flat out wrong, it’s pretty short sighted. You can thank Bud-Lime for making this a thing. They did a damn good job at capturing the younger college crowd with their fruit beers and making it okay for craft brewers to throw creativity out the window and just fruit their base beer recipe. Working hard to develop a recipe with the perfect hop schedule to produce a floral, grapefruit flavor and aroma, fuck that noise, throw a shit ton of grapefruit in the kettle and call it a day. That single flavor is so overwhelming that nothing else can possible break through, but hey, you sold more units to the female 21-34 demographic, so call it a win.
Do you have a barrel program?
You know what would make this beer better? Bourbon. Or gin, or wine, or cat piss. Etsy shop owners and Pinterest crafters have got to be upset that craft breweries are snatching up all the used barrels for their own selfish needs. Now how are they gonna make that barrel stave coffee table? If you can’t sour it or shove fruit in it, then shove it in a barrel! Don’t make a stout that’s good enough to stand out on its own? No problem, use the flavors of someone else’s actually good alcohol to make yours less bad. Could it be possible that it’s a case of two great flavors tasting great together? Maybe, but I’m a bit on the fence. I’ve had some damn good barrel aged beers, but what am I enjoying? Take the barrel aged aspect away and my gut tells me I’d have a “meh” beer left in my glass.
All of the above!
Fuck it. Puree’ some pineapple, roll out that chardonnay barrel, and let’s dump it all in with that funky IPA we made. Shake the whole thing up and sell it for $20 a bomber. My god, it’s genius. Wait, that’s not exactly simple. Hmmmmm, we’ll say it goes down smooth and easy. Phew, that was close. I imagine if I were a fly on the wall in some craft breweries that I’d have overheard an eerily similar conversation taking place. Some beers lately are abominations of style. Made of so many different parts that they all are struggling for dominance, and ultimately they all lose. Can it be done and done well? Of course. There are loads of Belgian breweries out there that can produce a wonderfully tart yet fruity farmhouse barrel aged sour. You know what they have that almost all American craft breweries don’t? Experience.
You’d be forgiven if at this point in the article you thought I was completely against experimentation and pushing the boundary of what craft beer can be. I swear that’s not the case. What I’m against is the industry trying to sell me a sandwich that’s 97% shit, 3% ham, and trying to convince me it’s a ham sandwich. Experiment, try new things, go nuts, but don’t dare put it on the market unless it’s the best you have to offer. That being said, even someone’s best doesn’t always carry them across the finish line.