In predicting trends for this year, I think my friends and I hit the nail on the head: Big beer will continue to buy craft brewers, IPAs will continue to grow and change (according to the Brewer’s Association, IPA sales are up 33 percent this year), and sours, barrel aging, and alternative fermentation continue to grow. Little in 2016 was way out of left field that shocked or surprised the craft beer world. But even though we could see the changes in craft beer coming a mile away, there was a bit of a twist with each of them that wasn’t so apparent.
There were a lot of Big Beer sellouts in 2016: Karbach, Terrapin, Hop Valley, Revolver, Devil’s Backbone, etc. But there were other big-money ownership changes that weren’t necessarily “sellouts.” This year saw the rise of big venture capital. Oskar Blues, with backing from Fireman Capital, purchased Tampa Bay brewery Cigar City. Stone Brewing announced the creation of a venture capital fund, True Craft, which will have $100 million in funds available for growing craft beer brands to potentially tap into as an alternative to banks or Big Beer, though no breweries have been invested in yet. And most recently, Deep Ellum, a Dallas brewery, was purchased by Storied Craft Breweries, a capital fund started by the people behind Effen Vodka. The Deep Ellum deal is Storied Craft’s first purchase. This rise in venture capital was a huge huge part of 2016, and I can see it increasing in 2017, especially as a way for like-minded breweries to join forces without fully selling out.
I used the acronym, “IPA” 60-plus times in 2016, easily my most referenced style of beer. Its popularity continues to grow, thanks in part to the fruit-plus-IPA craze, but also the new obsession with haze and the New England-style IPA. New England or Vermont IPAs are a variation of the style that focuses on the juicy, fruit-forward flavors in hops. How popular this particular style of IPA has become is definitely something I didn’t see coming. There are breweries that are fully dedicated to the style and lines down the block or groups of people waiting for delivery trucks of the most popular brews. I experienced the craze first hand on a recent trip to Vermont ,and the beer is crazy good (when it’s fresh), but I still don’t understand the hysteria, mostly because I know haze does not equal flavor (unless you want to taste yeast). And if I hear the word juicy one more time I will effing kill someone.
The other big flavor coming out of the beer world is sours, and sours of all kinds. There have been divisions in craft beer world about kettle sours and traditional sours, but from a drinker’s perspective, it’s only good competition. I haven’t written about kettle sours, but they are a roughly two-day process, compared to traditional sours, which can take years. I’ve definitely seen and drank a lot of both of these beers in 2016, and I can’t complain about any of it. There are also a small group of breweries doing ONLY mixed or wild fermentations and I really hope I see more of that as well.
Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.