The Aleheads have labeled 2012 as the Year of Craft Beer, and at this point in the year, we see no reason to change that statement. Pro-Craft legislation is being pushed in many states. This year will likely see the opening of the 2,000th (!) brewery in the US. And, perhaps most importantly, the media has taken a shine to the craft beer revolution. Stories about the growth of the industry have appeared in newspapers and in blogs far and wide.
As craft continues its meteoric rise, trends have come and gone. We’ve seen the growth of barrel-aging, extreme-hopped beers, private labels, wild ales, and sours. Black IPAs had their moment in the sun…as did hefeweizens. The birth of high-end, beer-centric gastropubs has been a welcome development as has the replacement of macro taps with local crafts at dive bars throughout the country. It’s certainly a heady time to be a craft beer enthusiast.
While we’d love to stay in this Golden Age forever, we know that craft, like every other industry on Earth, must evolve. In the coming years, new trends will develop which will shake the very foundation of craft beer. Predicting those future trends is a challenge for all but the most prescient of Aleheads. Fortunately, I’ve always had a gift for seeing the future. I remember telling my peers way back in 1998 that Michael Jordan “might be one of the Top 100 NBA players EVER!” And I boldly proclaimed in 2007 that the Internet was going to be “a really big deal”. My point is, when Brother Barley makes predictions, you best listen.
And so I give you the 10 Craft Beer Trends to Watch For in the coming years. If you find yourself in Vegas and have some cash to spend on the “craft beer futures” section at the Sports Book, you can take these to the bank:
1. Russian Doll Barrel Aging: With the public seemingly bored by simple, bourbon barrel-aged beers, craft breweries begin nesting barrels within barrels within barrels. The best example of the trend is the Founders Turducken which sees their classic Breakfast Stout aged inside of a bourbon barrel inside of a scotch barrel inside of a cognac barrel inside of a port barrel inside of a turkey.
2. Blind Collaborations: Craft brewers decide to ratchet up the difficulty level by engaging in “blind” collaborations. One brewer begins the process by adding some specialty malts and hops to the boil. They then run away and hide in an empty fermenter while another brewer jumps in and adds their own ingredients to the batch. This is repeated until something resembling beer is produced. The finest example of this trend is the Three Floyds/Half Acre Collaborative Clusterfuck.
3. One-Bottle Limited Series: As prestige beers become more and more popular every year, some brewers begin getting upset at the black market that develops around their finest creations. Fed up with the outrageous sums on the secondary market, a few rebel brewers begin producing one, single, solitary bottle of their prestige offerings every year. Russian River’s Pliny the Lonely is the first such solitary beer. It’s given to Vinnie Cilurzo’s best friend who then sells it on eBay for $420,000.
4. Salt Beer: After extreme bitter, sweet, and sour beer trends begin fading, some brewers desperately search for the next big “flavor”. They quickly realize that the fourth major taste, “saltiness”, hasn’t been exploited enough in the world of craft beer and they start racheting up the salinity in their offerings. Oskar Blues makes the most popular salty brew, the Dale’s Dehydrator, which is brewed with pickling brine, potato chips, and Ritz crackers.
5. Big Beer Label Swapping: After the public wises up to Big Beer’s ridiculous “faux-craft” beer scam, MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch get petty and send their distributors out to package stores in the middle of the night to glue Bud Light and Miller Lite beer labels directly on top of popular craft beer brands. Their hope is that beer drinkers will think the macros have actually figured out how to brew good beer overnight. Unfortunately, the adhesive they use is rice-based and watery so the labels will all have fallen on the floor by the morning.
6. Rectal Brews: After vortex bottles, widemouth cans, and double-vented cans fail to win over new customers, Big Beer decides to take an even more direct approach to getting their consumers intoxicated by introducing the “Rectal Bottle”. The tapered, pre-lubricated beer bottle is inserted directly into the anus and when the cap is popped, beer is squirted into the colon where the alcohol is immediately absorbed into the blood stream. The innovation never really catches on except, inexplicably, amongst members of the Catholic clergy.
7. XXX Labels: Marge Simpson once noted that “Fox turned into a hardcore sex channel so gradually, I didn’t even notice.” The same will eventually be true for beer labels. The names and graphic on beer bottles will go from bawdy, to titillating, to explicit, to full-on, no-question porn. Sweetwater’s Donkey Punch (a real beer, by the way), leads the way when they replace their standard fish logo with a full-color image of an actual donkey punch.
8. Ultra Session Beers: Fed up with session beers that get you drunk after a mere 9 or 10 pints, a few iconoclastic brewers develop ultra-session beers which you can drink forever without becoming intoxicated. They achieve this seemingly impossible goal by eliminating yeast from all their recipes. The most popular ultra-session brew is Notch Brewing’s Wort Ale.
9. Truly Indigenous Beers: After the Sahti, Chicha and Kvass trends peak and fall, some brewers begin searching for completely indigenous beers, untouched by the sullying power of modern civilization. Deep in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, Sam Calagione discovers a tribe that has somehow never sampled his 60 Minute IPA. He steals their recipe for Long Yam Lager and wins Gold at the GABF in the “Colonialist” category.
10. Private Brewers: As the Occupy movement gains steam following the election of the Koch brothers as President and Vice-President in 2016, the elite begin retreating ever further into their gated communities. Fearful of venturing out to package stores and bars where the unwashed masses might touch them, the wealthy begin hiring personal, private brewers. Garrett Oliver never again has to brew a beer for someone who dresses in children’s clothing.
It’s a brave, new beer world we live in, Alehead Nation. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…