Last year was a big year for Chicago beer, especially as notable brewpubs and breweries like Band of Bohemia joined Chicago's robust scene. Changing taste preferences brought us Revolution Brewing's Fist City, a Chicago pale ale that's a highly drinkable year-round IPA alternative, and Forbidden Root's Heavy Petal, the first in the brewery's Divine Mud series, which adds pecans and magnolia flowers to an imperial stout. What's next? Based on what we've seen in 2015, here's what we'd love to drink in 2016.
Even more low-ABV beers. Sours, wild ales and session beers were popular in 2015, and with that, alcohol percentages are going down. Breweries are barrel-aging varieties we wouldn’t normally peg for barrel-aging and keeping the percentages low (like Half Acre’s Gin Pony at six percent). This year, the “Classic Beer Styles” category at the Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers 2015 boasted 26 beers that all clocked in at seven percent or under, proving that not every barrel-aged beer has to be a high-gravity chocolate-coffee bourbon monster (but a few of those can certainly stay). Plus, the lower the gravity, the more beer you can drink.
Backing off of double IPAs and beers that have been hopped to hell. Don’t get us wrong, we love a good IPA, but it’s gotta be a good IPA. They’re the quickest beers on the shelf to go from good to horrendous, and no one wants to drink an old or bad IPA. Give us your juiciest, most refreshing, citrusy and slightly bitter IPAs and leave the rest behind.
Sour and wild ales continue to be popular. We love fruity, funky sour beers with a lacto taste and weird fermentation techniques, like Penrose Brewing's Wild XVIII, a collaboration with 18th Street Brewery. Along those lines, let’s hope that more ciders are on their way. Farm Bar offers four to six ciders on draft at all times, and with more and more creeping onto menus, it’s time to start looking at ciders as a real accompaniment to craft beer (especially for those who are gluten-free).
Let's get crazy. Sometimes we want to take hops out of beer altogether. It’s a style called gruit, and it involves using spices and herbs instead of hops in beer. Traditionally, beer is made with water, hops, malt and yeast, but we'll let hops slide if it brings out more interesting flavors. At Beer Under Glass and FoBAB, Scratch Brewing Company made a splash with its Single Tree Hickory. Next year, Forbidden Root, a brewery known for low-hopped beers like Sublime Ginger, will open a brewpub. Other breweries are already onto the trend or lessening the prevalence of hops in their beer—Band of Bohemia offers herbal and spice-forward flavors in its beers, like Orange Chicory Rye, and Owen & Engine’s Bixi will be doing the same.
Speaking of brewpubs, we should be seeing even more. Band of Bohemia, Breakroom Brewery and Corridor Brewery & Provisions opened in 2015, and 2016 will bring Bixi, Cruz Blanca, Forbidden Root and Like Minds Brewery (and that’s just what what’s been announced so far). Let’s hope the trend of upscale food with fantastic beer to go with it continues—we’ll take all we can get.