Craft beer continues to grow, with the number of breweries in the United States increasing each year, and the volume of craft beer sales increasing as well. What does the future hold? Let’s gaze into the crystal ball…
First, the obvious questions: is the market getting over-saturated, and will the bubble burst? Of course, but let’s not get worried. First, a statistic I love to trot out whenever this subject comes up…in Virginia, the percentage of craft beer sales reached the highest level yet over the summer, at 6% of market share. In Oregon, it is 38%. There’s plenty of room to grow in a lot of states. Second, some breweries may lose some market share, but overall, the industry will probably keep growing. My prediction is that as more great local breweries in the east start popping up, you’ll probably see less taps with west coast IPA’s as there will be some fresher local alternatives. Breweries will also need to work harder to differentiate themselves and create a unique identity.
So if the industry continues to grow, what can we expect to see? For years, craft beer has been dominated by IPA–the style has been ubiquitous on the scene since the beginning of the craft beer explosion. One of the reasons for this has been that brewing an IPA was a great way to differentiate yourself from BMC. IPA’s are high in alcohol and IBU’s, two things that BMC is not. IPA has been the figurehead of the ship, and has lent itself well to the bold attitude of American craft brewers and consumers.
I really think that savvy brewers would do well to explore new areas in brewing, though. I believe that the way the industry is headed, you aren’t going to do yourself any favors if you go the typical brew-pub line-up with a pale ale, IPA, wheat, and porter. Does this mean it’s time to get crazier? I hope not. I think a better idea would be to explore some of the many traditional styles that have been neglected in the bigger-is-better craft beer movement. How about a nice helles lager or altbier as a flagship? What about making a nice, malty American blonde? I would absolutely love to see a classic American pilsner as a brewery flagship.
Breweries have to meet their sales goals, though. However, look at the success Devil’s Backbone has had with Vienna Lager in Virginia. Over last summer, Vienna Lager actually outsold BMC for a brief period! That is pretty incredible. I am a big fan of this beer: a nice, malty lager that really hits the spot. Craft beer is undoubtedly becoming more mainstream, and I am sure that there are plenty of drinkers who would much rather throw back some bottles of a flavorful session ale or lager than Bud Light or Coors.
I also hear this every so often: “Sours are the next big thing. In two or three years they will be as popular as IPA’s.” Well, I heard that three years ago, but sour and brett beers are definitely gaining popularity. I do a 100% brett brux beer called Free Yourself that has gotten such good feedback I recently did a double batch of it. I also have a great recipe that I developed for a sour brown that is a great introduction to sours: lightly tart, with a nice malt sweetness and no ascetic acid. I think most people would like a sour beer if they tried it and kept an open mind.
Right now, it seems like big, barrel-aged beers continue to create the most buzz in the beer-drinking world. These beers appeal to beer geeks, and some well-crafted offerings can be a hit with casual beer drinkers as well. There’s nothing wrong with pushing the envelope, but my hope is that brewers and consumers alike will stop letting the Ratebeer community be the tail that wags the dog and take a more balanced approach to beer. Even with traditional styles, you can still do something really different. How about a black American pale ale, or a session basil saison? There really are limitless possibilities, and one thing is certain. It’s a great time to be a beer drinker!