New Year, New Beer: 2016 Predictions
This year, like the last, I rang in the new year with a beer. Seriously, with the wealth and variety of beers available these days, who needs Champagne?!
For the last few years, I’ve been a keen outside observer of the beer world, but by the end of 2015, I can certainly say I’m firmly entrenched in it. From the bar side, as a bartender at Mother Kelly’s; the brewery side, in business development for Duvel Moortgat UK (I just joined the London-based team at the end of November); the beer tech side, as a freelance beer writer for Brewbot; and as a beer geek/ beer blogger – nearly 24/7, I’m thinking about beer (yes, even in my sleep).
Through my freelance work with Brewbot, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing some incredible craft brewers in the States. At the end of the interviews, I asked each brewer what they thought was coming next for the craft beer industry, and their answers inspired this series of posts.
First up, I’m going to put forward my prediction for the next-to-trend beer of the year. Hear me out on this one, ok?
Then, over the coming weeks, we’ll hear from brewers, bar owners, and beer-tech folks on what they think is coming down the line.
Finally, this time next year, we can see how right (or how wrong!) we may all have been.
So get ready to place your bets folks.
Here’s what I think will be this summer’s big seller…and more importantly, why.
Hops and yeast have certainly had their (well-deserved) time in the spotlight with beer geeks as they discuss, dissect, and devour their beverage of choice.
As for yeast, beer geeks talk about “Brett” like he’s an old friend, and Lactobacillus is no longer only brought up in conversations about Greek yogurt and probiotics. The use of these, and other, microbes in beer is widely distributed and well-defined.
But, when it comes to malt, the most voluminous ingredient used in brewing (besides water), all that’s often understood is surface level – specialty malts give color and flavor to darker beer styles like Porters and Stouts, oatmeal bulks up beer body and mouthfeel, and rye contributes a delicate, dry spice.
Beer geeks don’t (yet) talk about malt varietals like they do hop varietals.
Apart from brewers, it’s likely the homebrewing crowd that best understands various malt varietals because they’re able to see, smell, and taste them when they’re at their local homebrew shop sourcing for their next recipe.
You can’t fault beer drinkers, though – even the geeks. Most of us haven’t really had to think much about malt because the malt profiles of most popular beer styles these days are overpowered by the hop or yeast character.
That’s why – for malt to have its moment in the spotlight – a style that really let’s its malt bill shine is going to need to rise to prominence.
So this summer, my money* is on Blonde Ales making a comeback.
Often described as a “gateway craft beer”, a style many current beer drinkers might have even skipped over heading straight for Pale Ales or IPAs, Blonde Ales are more approachable than most craft beer styles.
Mild in hop flavor and aroma, this malt-oriented style has an occasional fruity character from the yeast and a sweet, dry finish. Overall, it’s clean, refreshing and super sessionable at around 3.8-5.5% abv. And, much like the latest styles to surge – think Berliner Weisse, Gose, and Session IPAs – it’s got summer written all over it.
I know, I know, it’s a bold assertion, but I’m calling this summer to be the summer of the Blonde Ale.
There is some on-the-ground evidence for this (potentially crazy) theory, too.
Firestone Walker’s 805, a “light, refreshing blonde ale” with “subtle malt sweetness… balanced by a touch of hops,” has taken California by storm following its introduction in 2012.
Initially sold only in Central California near where the Firestone Walker Brewery is located (within the 805 area code, hence the name), distribution quickly grew to encompass the entire state of California, where it stayed for the last few years. Then, just last week, Firestone Walker announced that they’ll begin distributing this beer in Arizona, Nevada, and Texas.
With a super sleek can design, the über-Californian tagline “Properly Chill”, and an incredible branding and marketing campaign, it may seem that it’s what’s on the outside that’s selling this beer… but, after trying it when I was home in California this Christmas, I have to say it’s one of the better Blonde Ales I’ve tasted in years.
Having years of research experience throughout undergraduate and graduate school, I know an n of 1 isn’t saying much – but just ask my girlfriends, I definitely called last year’s return of overalls and bucket hats (not to be worn together, of course) – and I’ve got a good feeling about this one, too.
Generally thought of as a basic bitch beer, Blonde Ales needn’t be boring.
Brewers can play with the malt bill (how does American pale malt compare to German or Belgian); experiment with different yeast strains, like English or Kölsch ale yeast; or throw in some spices, like the Earl Grey tea in Siren’s Love of Work or chamomile in Perennial’s Saison de Lis.
Just please, brewers, I beg of you, don’t make it hopped-to-fuck, spontaneously fermented, or tequila barrel-aged. Experiment with the basics and let the malt bill shine through; that still leaves plenty of room for play. And blondes have more fun, right?! 😉
If my prediction doesn’t play out? So be it! That just means some other beer style will come to prominence instead, and I’m sure I’ll happily be drinking it.
Now, go on, I’ve posted my prediction – what’s yours?
If you’re brave enough, leave me a note in the comments.
*Figuratively, of course.