The Aleheads are officially declaring 2012 the Year of Craft Beer. Of course, we declare EVERY year to be the Year of Craft Beer, but I think that 2012 has a greater claim to that honor than almost any other year. Craft is growing exponentially, both in terms of volume output and reputation. This year will see that growth continue and craft will become even more mainstream than ever before.
While the year is only a few hours old, I’m going to throw out 21 bold predictions for 2012. They’re absolutely guaranteed…or your money back:
1. Legal obstacles will continue to fall: One of the key factors that has limited the growth of craft beer in certain states are the draconian, Prohibition-era alcohol laws that continue to rule the land. But over the past few years, a number of these laws have been altered or scrapped entirely thanks to the efforts of both grass-roots organizations AND job-promoting politicians. Most of the laws had been supported in the past by conservative elements (I use the term “conservative in its truest sense…not as it has been co-opted by the GOP). But as the propagation of craft beer has reached unparalleled levels, even the most hard-bitten teetotaler has come to see the economic benefits of removing the legal shackles that hampered breweries. Beyond the tax dollars and jobs created by the breweries themselves are the supporting industries like agriculture, shipping, retail, and the service industry (restaurants/taverns). In today’s economic climate, if an industry is growing, you do everything in your power to let it grow. I predict that 2012 will see an unprecedented number of new laws written (and old laws revoked) to allow craft beer to flourish.
2. Number of new breweries will taper off: Anyone who has followed the Brewers Association numbers over the past few years has been astounded by how many breweries are currently in operation and how many are in the planning stages. It seems like everywhere you turn, someone is scraping together funding to get a commercial brewery off the ground. And those numbers have shown no signs of slowing down!
Of course, they’ll have to slow down eventually. Like the Dot-Com and Real Estate bubbles, craft beer can’t continue to grow at its current breakneck pace. I don’t think 2012 will be our “peak” in terms of the number of operational or planned breweries…but I do think the percentage growth will begin tapering off this year. With regional breweries eating up market share and Big Beer starting to show serious interest in getting into the craft game, I don’t think the industry can continue to support hundreds of new breweries a year. Sure, there will be PLENTY of new breweries opening this year and beyond…but I think those numbers will start plateauing soon.
3. Arms race between regional breweries: Speaking of regional breweries, I predict the arms race between the big boys of the craft world will be one of the biggest stories of the year. New Belgium and Sierra Nevada should be selecting sites for their new East Coast HQs soon while smaller outfits like Bell’s and Oskar Blues have been growing like crazy over the past few years. As these regional powerhouses start battling it out in non-local markets, we could see some ugliness in terms of sales tactics, lawsuits, and distributor “incentives”.
4. New HQs for larger breweries: I doubt New Belgium and Sierra Nevada are the ONLY big breweries looking to expand operations beyond their local market. I think they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Opening multiple breweries across the country is what allowed Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors to dominate the landscape so thoroughly over the past few decades. It only makes sense when you’re dealing with a perishable product. For the macros, it was mostly a matter of reducing transportation and production costs, but fresher beer also tastes decidedly better. That’s less of an issue with a watery can of Miller Lite, but it makes a huge difference with a delicate, hop-forward American IPA. As the regional players grow larger and larger, I see more of them looking to add another base of operations (or two).
5. MillerCoors goes all-in: We’ve been talking about Tenth and Blake a lot at Aleheads, and 2012 will clearly be the year that MillerCoors’s “craft” division makes their move. They’re looking to achieve 60% growth over the next three years and I suspect they’re going to be putting their money where their mouth is VERY soon. Expect a LOT of Tenth and Blake stories over the next few months.
6. Anheuser-Busch continues to flail: Sure, they’re still the dominant force in the world of beer, but AB InBev has been MUCH slower to respond to the threat of craft than their competitors (though considering their market share, perhaps they simply don’t give a shit about a segment of the beer industry that constitutes less than 10% of sales). InBev’s focus has mostly been on entering new markets overseas while focusing on what they do best domestically…marketing and logistics. I suspect that in the coming years, AB InBev will eventually come to grips with what they are…a light beer manufacturer. Until then, they’re going to continue to come up with inane excuses for why their sales keep dropping and why more and more people are eschewing their products.
7. 2012 will be the year of hops: I don’t mean that breweries will try to “out-IBU” each other like we’ve seen over the past few years. I’m hoping those days are long gone. Rather, I think the development of new hop strains, creation of new technologies to best utilize hops in the brewing process, and the proliferation of new hop growing regions will be perhaps THE story in craft this year. The seeds have already been sown (pun definitely intended) over the past year or two, but with thousands of breweries clamoring for popular hop strains, hop shortages will be frequent this year. If you want a lesson in Commodities 101, keep your ear close to the hop-bine this year and see what happens.
8. Barrel-aging trend diminishes: While Doc’s “I Hate Bourbon Barrel-Aged Beers” may have been the most hypocritical piece we’ve ever written (and that’s saying something), I think he did touch on something important. Namely, that the barrel-aging trend has been done to death. Yes, some barrel-aged brews are delicious. And yes, it can be a great way to make a big, hot beer mellower and more complex. But I’m boldly predicting that we’ve seen the high water mark for barrel-aging and that the fad will be used more judiciously in 2012.
9. Breweries get web/event savvy: Kid Carboy has shown our readers just how bad some breweries are at on-line communications and special events. 2012 is the year that craft breweries see the error of their ways and start to get serious about designing usable, attractive websites and hosting well-run, efficient special events. There’s simply no reason a successful brewery should fail at these kinds of things in this day and age.
10. Growth of private labels: Whole Foods, Costco, and Traders Joe’s have all started selling their own private label brews (produced by World Brews, Gordon-Biersch, and Unibroue respectively). Expect this trend to continue unabated. Don’t be surprised when McDonald’s and Burger King have their own private label brews on tap in 2012.
11. Lawsuits abound: With sue-happy breweries like Bell’s around, you just know that 2012 is going to see a plethora of intra-craft lawsuits. And since this year will likely see over 2,000 breweries in operation in the US, you can bet there is going to be a LOT of head-butting over naming rights of breweries and beers. The C&D letters will be flying so fast, the copyright lawyers will be the happiest people on Earth.
12. Collaborations abound: On the flipside, I predict 2012 will see a resurgence of craft beer camaraderie as breweries continue to team up and crank out collaborative brews. While many of the Aleheads have been left disappointed by these multi-brewery operations in the past, I think this year will put an end to that. Expect some GREAT collaboration beers on your package store shelves this year.
13. CANNING!: 2012 will be the tipping point of the craft can movement. This is the year that every brewery and their mother begins drifting away from bottles and towards the more economical, environmentally-friendly and, dammit…SUPERIOR packaging method!
14. Renewed focus on “standard” styles: If the past few years have been the years of extreme brewing, 2012 will see breweries returning to their roots and start putting bold twists on classic styles. Now that craft beer is no longer the realm of an obsessive minority, brewers will begin focusing on session beers and basic, drinkable styles. That’s not to say they won’t do incredible things WITH said styles…I just predict that you’re going to see quite a few more Pale Ales, Browns, Ambers, and a lot more Lagers around with perhaps a little less focus on big DIPAs and Imperial Stouts.
15. Proliferation of craft beer media stories: This is already happening, but 2012 will be the year that every media outlet begins reporting on craft. Reputable newspapers will begin hiring beer writers. Beer blogging will actually gain an audience other than fellow beer bloggers. Beer writers other than the late Michael Jackson will become household names (sort of). You’re going to see craft beer EVERYWHERE. Speaking of which…
16. Craft beer product placement: Slouch touched on this one earlier this year, but 2012 is going to see craft beer product placement in an insane number of movies, TV shows, print ads, etc. Creative folks are always sniffing out the latest trends and they’ll be clamoring to add a few bottles of craft brew to movie or television scenes to add a layer of “authenticity” to the proceedings. And with regional craft breweries actually having some decent-sized marketing budgets, expect some high-end craft advertisements this year.
17. Massive growth in beer bars and brewpubs: I may be predicting a slowdown in the growth of new breweries, but I think one area where that growth will continue unabated is with new brewpubs. Everyone loves having a local brewpub nearby where you can get a fresh-from-the-bright-tank pint with a side of nachos. 2012 will also see the development of hundreds of new beer bars. They’re going to become the new wine/cigar/oxygen bars. Every hip neighborhood will have one…and the Aleheads will try to visit them all.
18. BrewDog will do something stupid: I’m not sure what yet. Maybe a 90% ABV bottle of eisbock wrapped in the Shroud of Turin? Or a 1,000 IBU DIPA served out of a Calfornia Condor egg? Whatever it is, it will ignite the beer blogosphere and then be forgotten immediately until the next time the BrewDog brain trust realizes that we’ve all stopped paying attention.
19. Increase in craft beer paraphenalia: Any time an industry hits the big-time, there are parasite industries looking to capitalize. Look at the amount of sheer crap that is now being sold to oenophiles. Aerators, custom-built wine cellars, ridiculously over-designed corkscrews…the list is endless. 2012 is when the beer industry gets some parasites of its own. I predict that glassware will be the first casualty. Come on Riedel…you know you want to start selling a different glass for every single beer style.
20. “Hopster” backlash: I tried to come up with a term for “beer hipster” and “hopster” was the best I could do. 2012 is when the old-school, “I was drinking craft before it was popular” folks start making some noise about the Hoppy-come-latelies (sorry) and how much better it was back in the day. Of course, they’re wrong…it’s never been as good as it is right now. But still, there’s always a sense that you’ve “lost” something when your somewhat obscure hobby hits the mainstream. So when the hopster in your life starts grumbling into his pint at the way-too-trendy new beer bar in your town, give him some sympathy. Remember…he was there when craft was just a dream. You could only whisper it.
21. Hard-to-find beers become harder-to-find: It started happening this year, but 2012 is when the so-called “prestige” beers become veritable white whales. With SO many people interested in craft, the number of folks with money to burn has also increased. That’s jacked up the price of rarities and one-offs in the secondary markets and has turned special-release events into armaggedon. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse this year. Expect outrageous prices for big-name beers and lots of stories about a special release “selling out in minutes”. That’s the price you pay for popularity…
Alehead Nation, what are YOUR predictions for the New Year? What will 2012 be like in the craft beer world? Let us know!