Craft beer: six trends to watch out for in 2016

Craft beer is subject to a relentless pace of change, so here are six trends to stay on top of in the year ahead.

Wood you believe it?

A handful of brewers have championed beers aged in spirit casks for years, but the trend is about to go big, says Sean Clarke, owner of Sheffield beer shop Beer Central. He thinks moves into bigger bottles by brewers such as Weird Beard, with its tequila and bourbon barrels for special versions of beers such as its Sadako imperial stout, will be game changers.

“A lot of breweries are really pushing forward with 75cl bottles of barrel-aged beers with wax-finished tops,” says Clarke. “It’s a bit of non-stop bandwagon at the moment. From a retailing point of view it’s made a big difference in terms of attracting new customers who wouldn’t be interested in normal bottled beer.”

Purity Brewing managing director Paul Halsey said the Warwickshire brewer had seen lots of interest in recent 75cl limited editions – X, a rye IPA aged in bourbon barrels, and Gnarly, a Champagne yeast beer conditioned for six months in whisky casks. “Consumers are becoming more savvy and millennials in particular are doing all the research and seeking out big flavours,” says Halsey.

Can you dig it?

The advocacy of cans by craft brewers such as Fourpure and Beavertown saw them lift off in 2015 but the sector looks set to go into overdrive in the year ahead. Leigh Norwood, owner of Favourite Beers shop in Cheltenham, says: “We now have the likes of Moor, Magic Rock and Dark Star going into cans. More brewers that have a name and credibility have committed to them.”

Mobile canning units have made the format accessible to more brewers and the consumer benefits are many if the beers are canned properly: no light-strike, which affects the quality of bottled beer; less risk of oxidisation; ease of stacking in shops and fridges; lighter and cheaper to transport; and more portable for parties and outdoor events.

David Jones at Bier Huis in Ossett, West Yorkshire, lists Magic Rock cans. “The cans really stand out and the beers are at great price points,” he says.

IPA twists

Along with the near-ubiquitous golden ale, IPA has been the big thing of the past decade, but the style is increasingly being jazzed up to make it a bit more exciting by varying hop varieties or proportions.

“Double IPAs are big at the moment, such  as Thornbridge’s Jaipur X,” says David Jones at
Bier Huis. “We have one from Mexico’s Day of the Dead, which is exactly the same abv [6.8%] as its normal IPA, so it’s not just about strength but flavour, though most of the British ones do tend to bulk up the abv.”

Sylvia Kopp, craft beer ambassador of the US Brewers Association, suggests fruit-infused IPAs are a trend to look forward to and adds: “Innovations in the IPA world will come to the fore, such as those using new hop varieties and hop oils, and more variations on the style, such as session IPAs, barrel-aged IPAs and single hop variants.”

We are saline

Sour beers were the in thing last summer and the knock-on trend in 2016 looks like being “gose”, a sour and salty style associated with the German city of Leipzig.

The beer’s traditional recipe is wheat-heavy on the grain bill, with coriander and hops providing spice and salted water the saline quality, making seafood a natural food match. Dominant flavours include a lemon tartness.

The German Beer Institute says gose is “usually drunk straight in a cylindrical beer glass, but it may also be served with a shot of raspberry or woodruff-flavoured syrup”.

Liverpool brewer Mad Hatter has already produced a trio of gose beers and Brew By Numbers has just made its first beer in the style, with the name 19/01.

Leigh Norwood at Favourite Beers predicts it will hit big this year. “The sour beer thing is still going and will really take off this year,” says Norwood, “but I know many of the happening brewers are thinking of producing a gose.”

Gas in glass

Nitrogen-infused canned beers have been  around since 1989, when Guinness introduced its famous widget to deliver a creamier packaged version of the stout – a type of device subsequently adopted by ale brands such as Boddingtons and John Smith’s.

A brief attempt by Guinness to put the widget in bottles foundered and the notion of bottled nitro beers was forgotten for the next 20 years.

Things changed in 2011 when America’s Left Hand Brewing successfully launched Milk Stout Nitro, and others are now taking up the challenge.

“More stouts and porters have used nitro than IPAs because maltier beers carry nitrogen better,” says Sylvia Kopp of the US Brewers Association. “But in this golden brewing era of experimentation and change, anything is possible.”

The Belgians are back

Belgium has long provided famous names to any credible beer fixture, but the rise of US and UK craft beer and the arrival of beers from all over the world on retailers’ shelves put a dent in its dominance in recent year.

Now things are changing says Zak Avery, director of specialist beer wholesaler Beer Paradise. “Belgium went through a bit of a slump but it has seen a resurgence lately,” he says. “A lot of people who’ve gained a new interest in beer are now coming to those beers for the first time.”

David Jones at Bier Huis also recognises the uplift in Belgium’s fortunes. “We’re selling a lot more of late,” he says. “I’ve even started going over and importing direct from Belgium to bring some more exciting beers in. We brought in a lot of Belgian Christmas beers and they were all snapped up pretty quickly.

“There’s a lot of tourism to Belgium from this region because it’s relatively easy to get to the ferry to Zeebrugge. People are tasting Belgian beers when they are there, so they’re familiar with them.”

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