Just last week we celebrated the beginning of the 80th year of uninterrupted beer consumption. Prohibition has been out of our lives for eight decades and the American craft beer scene has reached all time levels. Now with over 2,100 breweries in the U.S., the largest amount in U.S. History, we’re seeing more regional specialization, experimentation in American craft beer, and the rise of the nano brewer. It’s an exciting time to be a beer nerd. We saw flourishes of new ideas in 2012 and I believe they will really find a home in our pints in 2013. Here are my top four 2013 craft beer predictions for the new year in beer.
The American Session Ale
Terrapin Easy Rider, Founders All Day IPA, Lagunitas DayTime IPA, and 21st Amendment Bitter American all either made their debut this year or at least scaled to full distribution for their respective breweries. This is just the beginning.
For years the American craft beer industry has seen rising alcohol levels throughout styles: India pale ales have risen from the 5% range to 7% or more. Lee Chase, brewing consultant and former brewer at Stone, recently mentioned on The Brewing Network that he felt he couldn’t call a beer an IPA unless it was at least 7% abv, “…at least not in San Diego.” Consumers in America love the big flavors, but aren’t necessarily married to the booze. Consequently, we’re seeing the birth of the American session ale–a robust malt forward bitter ale with a strong hop presence. Next year we’ll see more of the ESB-like American counterparts, most likely labeled as india pale ales, but with the booze bite of the traditionally lower bitters. When it starts warming up we’ll want ales that provide great flavor, but let us make it through the entire picnic, and for that reason look to late Spring for these to start filling the shelves at your local shop.
White Whales Everywhere!
Limited release hype machines reached all time highs in 2012. One-off, lottery ticket allocated, super ales proved quite profitable for a growing number of breweries this past year. There is no reason this trend shouldn’t continue into 2013. With astronomical profits per ounce and self imposed scarcity, why wouldn’t they? These white whales not only produce profits, but are amazing marketing tools that quickly elevate a brewery’s klout, internet hype, and trickle down elitism to even the more simple brand offerings. Unfortunately, it almost seems like a must marketing tool in the new brewery handbook. Hopefully it doesn’t just push brand value and continues to push brewers into complex brewing techniques and experimentation in 2013.
Mo’ Betta Bretta… for real
2012 was the year of brettanomyces for brewers… kind of. While we started seeing 100% brett beers in a much more prevelant light with releases from craft tycoons New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, and the addition of brett to nearly every style imaginable, not all of these turned out so well (I usually love Mikkeller but this one was a drain pour for me). I attribute this to our lack of understanding brett. 2012 initiated more studying under the microscope, smaller brewers getting their hands on big boy tools like a GC/MS, and pure dedication to understanding the strains of brettanomyces through brewing trials and failures. All that learning and practice is going to make 2013 the real year of brett. Well executed brett beers are going to saturate the market, most likely late summer to fall. The sour nut in me can’t wait. It’s gonna get funky.
Dogfish Head has been conjuring up hypothesized recipes for their ancient ale series for a few years now. The mind-bending blend of archaeology and zymurgy has proven entertaining and enlightening if nothing else. However, in 2013 we’re not just going to ancient pottery for recipes. Brewers in the U.S. have began digging up classic, nearly-forgotten regional styles from Europe and will continue to do so next year. Gose, gratzer, broyhan, kotbusser are all coming back.
John Laffler, brewer of Goose Island barrel aging program fame, left the AB-InBev “craft” house to start up his own brewery with a few buddies. Current launch beers: a gose and a kotbusser. Both are nearly-forgotten styles that saw a small comeback in 2012, but will certainly have more prevelance in 2013–and not just with Laffler’s help. Similarly to the american session ales, more educated consumers are excited about lower alcohol levels in increasingly complex ales. These old styles that include souring, interesting additions of adjuncts like molasses and honey, or rarely used malts like oak-smoked wheat provide the depth and character the industry is starting to demand without all of the abv punch. 2013 will be a dive forward into the past.