Beer trends

Industry experts give us the inside scoop on what 2012 holds for beer.

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  • Photograph: Jolie Ruben

    Garrett Oliver
    Brewmaster, Brooklyn Brewery; editor-in-chief, The Oxford Companion to Beer

    What do you think the breakout beer trends will be in 2012?
    The word for 2012 is sessionability, a British term that refers to a beer that's flavorful, but not too heavy---something you want to drink all evening. A lot of brewers that have been making massive beers [like extra-hoppy, high-alcohol double IPAs] are saying, "Hey, how about three or four pints of something that's light but really tasty?" The most interesting mini trend is the rise of small breweries specializing in sour beers.

    What up-and-coming regions should beer enthusiasts look out for?
    Florida is finally joining the party! Breweries like Cigar City and Saint Somewhere are leading the way towards a new, much more exciting Floridian beer culture. Even the casual dining places [in Florida] are starting to carry craft beer. Who knows? Florida might be the next Southern California, which went from a craft-beer wasteland to a mecca within only a few years.

    Any other predictions for beer in 2012?
    In most of the country, 2012 will see the end of the "regular bar" as a [viable] business. Every bar now looks like a "beer bar" did ten years ago because craft beer is the new normal. You can't open a bar today and put just mass-market beer on draft. You'll go out of business.

  • Photograph: Lizz Kuehl

    Justin Philips
    Owner, Beer Table and Beer Table Pantry

    What do you think the breakout beer trends will be in 2012?
    I don't have a strong prediction, but we have seen a slow, steady trend towards more lean, lower-alcohol drinking styles. I also think we're starting to see a lot of folks paying more attention to all of the ingredients [used in] beer, rather than just being hop-obsessed.

    What up-and-coming regions should beer enthusiasts look out for?
    Denmark and Italy have really held our attention for the last few years and show no signs of slowing down. You'd think we'd see more coming from Spain, given their close proximity to Italy and rich culinary traditions.

    Any other predictions for beer in 2012?
    I'm really hoping that the canning trend will continue to grow like crazy and that beer drinkers will continue to embrace the diversity of what's available rather than fixating on a certain brand or style. I hope more restaurants, bars and retailers will help consumers focus on quality and knowledge rather than branding and style.

  • B.R. Rolya
    New York manager, Shelton Brothers Importers

    What do you think the breakout beer trends will be this year?
    Extreme, high-alcohol and super-hoppy beers will be challenged by lower ABV [alcohol by volume] beers that are balanced and full of flavor and character. We've been preaching this trend for several years now, and it finally looks like a few others have jumped on the bandwagon.

    What up-and-coming regions should beer enthusiasts look out for?
    Countries that aren't considered traditional brewing regions are quickly making up for lost time. New Zealand, Scandinavia and Spain are several places that are either rediscovering their brewing heritage or introducing a wide range of flavorful beers to local beer drinkers, often with a twist of terroir from locally grown ingredients.

    Any other predictions for beer in 2012?
    Good beer is becoming a must-have at bars and restaurants instead of an afterthought, and many of the new breweries realize that they have to put out good beer as opposed to making something mediocre and calling it "craft."

  • Jon Lundbom
    Division Manager, B. United International

    What do you think the breakout beer trends will be in 2012?
    I expect to see a veritable flood of small---if not absolutely tiny---breweries opening across the U.S. and a rise in smaller-scale contract brewing [when brands produce beer in someone else's facility]. Style-wise, I would love to see a continued movement towards maltier and more sessionable, lower-alcohol styles. It's been happening gradually for many years, and there's no time like the present.

    What up-and-coming regions should beer enthusiasts look out for?
    Italy is hands-down the most exciting place in the world for beer right now. There are more than 300 progressive young breweries and brewpubs all across the boot making truly new, wonderful and spectacular products. The best of these tend to be tied more closely to Slow Food [a movement toward promoting local, sustainable food] than the British, German or Belgian brewing traditions. I am also very excited about the development of craft-beer culture in Great Britain. There are maybe a dozen breweries in England and Scotland [like] Harviestoun, Thornbridge, Meantime. [They are] shifting and expanding the real-ale tradition into a culture more akin to what Americans call "craft."

  • Wendy Littlefield
    Cofounder, Vanberg & DeWulf; cofounder of Brewery Ommegang; and the first American woman inducted into the 500-year-old Belgian Brewers Guild

    What do you think the breakout beer trends will be in 2012?
    The three things we see in our crystal ball are sours, Scandinavian beers and Italian beers, all [taking their inspiration] from the Belgians.

    Any other predictions for beer in 2012?
    There were 52 breweries operating in the U.S. when we started importing in 1982. [That number has grown significantly, and I think it] can double to 4,000 without the market becoming saturated; however, we'll see greater emphasis on [regional] specialization, with an emphasis on local (200 mile or less) and imported. Also, women will continue to get more respect as discerning [beer drinkers].

  • Mike Lovullo
    Specialty brands manager, Union Beer Distributors

    What will the breakout beer trends be this year?
    I saw an abundance of black IPAs in 2011, [and] I think the specialized IPA category will continue to grow---we will probably continue to see single-hopped [highlighting one hop varietal] pale ales and IPAs, as well as [other alternative] IPAs, [like those] using a percentage of rye or wheat malts. Breweries are also getting more keen on using local ingredients. We will probably start seeing copies of lambics [traditional Belgian beers sometimes aged with fruit] using locally grown cherries, raspberries, peaches, apples and herbs.

    What up-and-coming regions should beer enthusiasts look out for?
    A lot of breweries in Denmark, Norway and other Scandinavian countries have been pushing the bounds of experimental beer. Xbeeriment Black Force One is a dry-hopped imperial smoked stout and Mikkeller Sur Monk is a Belgian quad with a sour-ale yeast. [New] beers from this region will probably see continued success. Traditional styles from Scandinavia haven't been given much attention, [but] I think breweries such as Haandbryggeriet and Beer Here will get more [notice]. Haandbryggeriet uses traditional Norwegian brewing methods such as kindling the malt over an open flame to give a slightly smoky flavor, while Beer Here employs rye malts in some of their styles.

    Any other predictions for beer in 2012?
    With more and more sour ales hitting the market, I think there should be more of an effort by aficionados to discern what a good sourness is, what is off and why. We will probably start seeing [an increase in] very small-batch breweries, such as Hill Farmstead and Maine Beer Company, popping up too.

Photograph: Jolie Ruben

Garrett Oliver
Brewmaster, Brooklyn Brewery; editor-in-chief, The Oxford Companion to Beer

What do you think the breakout beer trends will be in 2012?
The word for 2012 is sessionability, a British term that refers to a beer that's flavorful, but not too heavy---something you want to drink all evening. A lot of brewers that have been making massive beers [like extra-hoppy, high-alcohol double IPAs] are saying, "Hey, how about three or four pints of something that's light but really tasty?" The most interesting mini trend is the rise of small breweries specializing in sour beers.

What up-and-coming regions should beer enthusiasts look out for?
Florida is finally joining the party! Breweries like Cigar City and Saint Somewhere are leading the way towards a new, much more exciting Floridian beer culture. Even the casual dining places [in Florida] are starting to carry craft beer. Who knows? Florida might be the next Southern California, which went from a craft-beer wasteland to a mecca within only a few years.

Any other predictions for beer in 2012?
In most of the country, 2012 will see the end of the "regular bar" as a [viable] business. Every bar now looks like a "beer bar" did ten years ago because craft beer is the new normal. You can't open a bar today and put just mass-market beer on draft. You'll go out of business.

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