Rough Draft of Beer Trends

Monday, September 24th, 2018

The UK is currently moving away from the traditional pales and bitters of old and moving into a trend of producing highly sessionable hazy IPAs, lagers and sours as well as pushing the boundaries of brewing with high ABV DIPAs and barrel-aged imperials. A recount by Fabian Clark, NPD Brewing Technologist (New Product Development) from Muntons.

The growth of craft lager has surprised many a craft drinker. The thought of light lager being a thing of the past is being challenged by more and more craft brewers. The increase in lager production has multiple roots, one of them being brewers seeing lager production as a challenge to tackle head-on. The process of achieving a clean and crisp flavour profile is unforgiving to brewers. Thus, this leads to brewers priding themselves on making a lager and thus showing that they have mastered the craft.

Further to this, lager generally has become the go-to drink for brewers. Most brewers tend to drink their easy drinking styles such as low ABV pales and sours and increasingly Lagers. The high drinkability of lager styles also carries over to the consumer. The style may not appear on Untappd or Ratebeer as the most popular, but the style is built for consumers that would like to enjoy more than one beer and is an easy gateway for macro lager drinkers to get into craft beer. But lager has one further aspect that is helping it grow, craft beer growing faster than the demand for it, breweries are outgrowing their sales volume. More and more brewers have invested in scaling their brewery up to the next level and then realised that there are almost more brewers than available taphandles. This is where the increased production time of lagers helps the brewer by being able to produce less beer while still keeping the brewery running. All in all, craft lager is still very much the little brother to the IPA that dominates the market, but it is picking up the pace.

In the US on the other hand, IPAs and barrel ageing is already part of the day-to-day. American Brewers are beginning to venture into more complex realms of brewing. Most of the breweries I visited on my latest travels had a substantial barrel ageing program that is split into a classic and a wild side. Most also produce a variety of hazy IPAs, farmhouse ales and at least one lager style.

When it comes to barrel ageing, US brewers are playing on a different level. The classics where Imperial stouts, Double IPAs and Double Bocks are conditioned in bourbon barrels for at least three months, is now a standard operation in almost every brewery. This is done in a clean environment and the beer takes on the character of the spirit and wood that it sits in. Most of the programs are quite long with the beer being conditioned for up to two years—this aspect of the craft scene is becoming more and more similar to the single malt whiskey market, with beers only being available once. After which, the beers become “White Wales” and brewers do all they can to try and recreate the unique flavours they created before.

On the other side of barrel ageing, the Wild side, brewers are inoculating fresh wort or sometimes partially fermented beer with all sorts of little critters by letting the product sit in barrels that have a wide variety of—sometimes unknown—microorganisms. These are gathered by collecting bottle dregs of classic wild fermentations and using local brewery flora. These concoctions will then sit in wooden barrels waiting to munch on the next batch of specialty beer.

These wild fermentations create unique and complex beers that are lightyears away from the lagers and pale ales that punters are used to. The fermentation takes between 4-18 months and is not complete until the brewer is happy with the flavour of the product. Most of the brewers running wild fermentations will regularly taste the beers after a certain period of time and blend the older, more mature beers that have developed intense flavours with younger beers that have a distinct sweetness. This allows the Brewmaster to balance out some of the more extreme flavours, thus turning the industrial and mechanised process of beermaking into an artisanal art form.

This kind of brewing requires a lot of time and patience, but brewers must also produce beers with reasonable turnaround times. In this category, that has been and still is dominated by the west coast style IPA—a fruity, clean and (very) hoppy beer style. There have been a number of newcomers that are beginning to chip away at the IPA market share.

The big three newcomers are the New England or Hazy IPA, the Farmhouse Saison or Farmhouse Ale, as well as the kettle sour. All three of these have two things in common: they can be produced in a short period of time and have very strong but moreish flavour profiles that leave the drinker watering at the mouth for more of the same.

Starting with the Hazy IPA—which has been a controversial topic for some time due to the myths and legends of how it is made—these beers are becoming more and more flavourful with brewers using upwards of 2.5 kg of hops per hectolitre when dryhopping. The style has come to be renowned for its low bitterness and immense hop flavours, especially citrus and berry notes. Due to the low bitterness and the slightly lower ABV, the style has become a staple session beer.

In contrast to the overwhelming hoppines of the New England Style, the Kettle sour is a very different flavour. This style revolves around the balancing of acidity against the hops and malt flavours. There are some dry hopped sours and some fruited sours but the majority plays off the refreshing tang that comes from the sour fermentation and the high carbonation that goes with it. This style is slowly moving into the position that Lagers and Pale IPAs held in the heat of summer.

The Farmhouse Ale is the new kid on the block—this is a beer that can be fermented in roughly 24 hours and, if forced, could be in the pub five days after it was merely Malt, Hops and Water. This style’s rise is probably not only due to the nuanced flavour profile that it can generate and the moreishness of the beer itself, but the speed at which brewers can make more of it. This style again is very dry and can be done in a session or rocketfuel version.

Looking at all of the styles mentioned above, consumers and subsequently brewers are moving toward drier styles with less residual sweetness, especially when it comes to sessionable beers. On the other hand, the super-premium styles that traditionally were very dry are becoming more and more balanced as brewers perfect the art of using the sugars and tannins in wooden barrels and fruit combined with traditional Belgian blending techniques to create a smoother and more drinkable product.

Overall, craft brewing is splitting into two distinct areas, highly sessionable low ABV bread and butter beers that pay the bills and generate the income to then pay for the super-premium high ABV “white wales” that generate word of mouth on social media and boost the name of the brewery.


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