The aftershock of the craft beer boom is still being felt, and not just the tremors. The explosion has been more like a night of fireworks than a single detonation. The do-it-yourself ethos of microbreweries has blown holes in Big Beer’s dominance of the U.S. market. New breweries and brewpubs are popping up all across America, and as distribution increases, more bars and restaurants have craft-minded beer lists. Regional beer markets have created new forms of tourism, and gives local beer geeks more ammunition to argue with in comment threads on blogs across the globe. With no signs of slowing, what trends should we expect to see in 2016?
European Influence and the Lager Reclaimed
The flag-bearer of American craft beer has long been the hop-heavy IPA. That big, bold, and bitter brew has been the flagship style for countless young breweries, especially in California and the Midwest. But as craft beer drinkers become a more varied demographic, the beers to expect from small brewers have taken on new characteristics. 2015 was the year of the craft lager. This only makes sense, as lagers are far and away the most commonly consumed beers in America. That’s thanks to the big three of Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. But the resurgence of the lager takes its cue from traditional European styles like German kölschs or Czech pilsners, with the added twists expected from a craft brewery. Look for a continued rise in craft lager option in 2016, as well as a broader European influence. As brewer’s take pointed steps to tone down hops, more mild styles like English ESB or German Berliner Weisse should find space on your tap and bottle lists. These beers are a great way to bridge the gap between craft and non-craft drinkers.
Beer gets Culinary
Beer is going culinary in two directions. Craft beer is being used in more kitchens as an ingredient for reductions, glazes, or in broths. But brewers are also taking ideas from the kitchen to add new flavors and profiles to well known styles. Vegetables, herbs, spices, and nuts are all being used to add new shades of depth in traditional styles. From Caramalized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter, to beers brewed with plaintains, black pepper, fresh ginger, or butternut squash. In Germany, the recipe for beer is simple: water, grain, yeast, and hops. But for the American craft drinker in 2016, look for beers made with ingredients you’d expect to find on a grocery list. This trend is part of a larger shift that is bridging the gap between food and beverage.
With culinary beer, it’s high-risk and high-reward. Sometimes cramming more ingredients into a beer doesn’t work, but when it does, you wind up with an amazing pint of perfection. And when listed on a menu, these beers are certainly eye-catching and intriguing to drinkers.
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Morning Brew for your Evening Buzz
Coffee and beer have been a common combination in craft beer. Traditionally, coffee-laced beers have been stouts and porters. The chocolate and malted flavors of dark beers pair well with roasted coffee notes, making a perfect cold-weather pick-me-up. But now, it’s not surprising to find coffee-infusions giving a caffeine kick to your pale ale or lager. Even a coffee-bean infused kolsch was tasted at the 2015 Great American Festival. Look for more coffee infused beer styles offered year-round in 2016.
Not Over the Barrel Yet
A bourbon barrel is a natural home for beers. The vanilla and caramel notes of American oak mixed with the lingering notes of bourbon can turn a good stout into a great one. Just ask the legions of beer drinkers willing to throw down double-digit dollars for a single bottle of Goose Island’s annual Bourbon County Stout series. But different styles of beer are now finding their way into non-bourbon barrels. From Yankee Swap 2015, Slumbrew’s Belgian Quad aged in rum barrels, to Spiteful’s Klutzy Buffoon aged in absinthe barrels, look for all types of spirit barrels finding their way into breweries in 2016. These innovative beers can be a great way to add variety to your menu.
More Beverage Trends to come
This was the third article to highlight Uncorkd’s Beverage Trend Forecast for 2016. Look for our next segment on restaurant technology trends for 2016.