Predicting what’s going to be big in craft beer is fun, though it does seem like it might be repetitive, especially because I don’t see much change from last year’s predictions: Sellouts, continued evolution of the IPA, and continued exploration of sours and alternative fermentation. In addition to these beyond obvious predictions, I will go out on a limb to predict some surprises and I’ve asked a few people to help me out with 2017’s trends.
Looking at the trends from last year, I think most of them are going to carry over. The biggest trend, New England IPA, didn’t really penetrate Colorado (at least I don’t know of any big production breweries making one), even though it’s all over the East Coast, Southern California, and the Pacific Northwest. Even though the buyouts in Colorado have been limited, Oskar Blues has venture capital money, so look for them to buy or build another brewery this year (they’ve already got the South and East Coast with breweries in Austin, Texas, and Brevard, North Carolina, so don’t be surprised if they go Northeast or West with their next acquisition/merger (in fact, Fireman Capital Partners, Oskar Blues big venture capital fund, is based in Boston)). Don’t be surprised if venture capital makes more moves than Big Beer this year. After all, there is a big hangover from all the mergers last year. And yes, sours and alternative fermentation are going to continue their rise. A lot of big breweries put out a sour or tart of some kind last year, and more and more new breweries are opening that focus on that aspect of flavor.
The trends that I’m seeing and hearing on the low down are much more tenuous, but I think will play an important role in the coming year. I know a lot of younger breweries that are open fewer than three years that are gaining a lot of steam and seeing a lot of success, breweries like Ratio Beerworks, Little Machine Beer, Central State, and The Rare Barrel. These are breweries with young staffs doing incredible work and seeing the rewards pay off big time. These types of breweries are all over the country, pushing the envelope of good beer.
Being political for a brewery is nothing new (the Heavy Metal E.P.A. from Ska last year is a good example), but seeing as how Donald J. Trump got elected president, I think we’ll see a lot of breweries using their beer as a form of activism. A group of awesome lady brewers recently collabed on a beer in protest of The Donald’s inauguration, and specifically his history with and opinion of women. It’s called “Making a Noise: A Pussy Riot Beer” and it’s not the first to protest Mr. Drumpf. That honor belongs to 5 Rabbit Cerveceria in Chicago (their beer was named, “Chinga Tu Pelo” in honor of Donald’s excellent hair). Beer activism will solidly be an important part of craft beer in 2017.
The last big trend for craft beer will be a move to have more ideological coalitions, and less cohesion by geography. Craft beer is growing so fast that there are a lot of breweries that have totally different views from each other, even though they’re part of the same regional or state-wide craft beer guild. Look for breweries to form guilds that look at process, ethos, or style as a way of supporting each other. I really wouldn’t be surprised if there is a “Sour Beer Guild” or “New England IPA” guild or association by the end of the year.
Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.