What a year 2015 was for craft beer. Here in Phoenix, brewers won a hard-fought legislative battle with the signing of SB 1030, several new breweries opened, and one big purchase had everyone losing their minds. The changes were even greater nationally. Craft brewers continued to eat into big beer’s share of the marketplace, expanding production by more than 20 percent. While there were some consolidations — Green Flash bought Alpine, Duvel bought Firestone Walker, and Anheuser-Busch InBev bought pretty much everybody else — new brewery openings surged to more than two every day. Fifteen states are now home to more than 100 breweries, and there are now more breweries operating in the U.S. than at any point in history.
So, yeah: a good year. But what does the next one hold for the average beer geek? After reading the dregs at the bottom of our glasses of Westvleteren 12 like tea leaves, here’s what we foresee for the next year in beer.
India Pale Ale will continue its dominance of craft beer. While there exist around 80 different beer styles (depending on whom you ask), IPA — one single, solitary beer style — accounts for more than 25 percent of retail sales. Crazy, right? Sales of IPAs are growing at an even greater rate than craft beer as a whole, which is growing pretty damn quickly. So no: there won’t be a beer style that knocks IPA off its pedestal in 2016. However...
“Easy” sours will become more popular among craft brewers. While not as impressive as that of IPA, sour beer styles experienced tremendous growth in 2015 — gose, in particular, went from being a common mispronunciation of gueuze to gaining regard and renown all its own. It seemed, this year, that every brewery was making a gose or a Berliner Weisse, and there’s a reason for that: These beers are sour in flavor but require a fraction of the time and labor commitment of lambic, Flanders ale, or the aforementioned gueuze. Gose and Berliner Weisse will likely continue to be popular choices for brewers who want to produce sour beers but don’t have the ability to commit to the extended aging time of more complex wild ales.
You’ll also see more SMASH beers. The explosion of breweries, compounded by poor hop and malt harvests in 2015, means fresh, high-quality ingredients will be more difficult to come by. Brewers will likely respond by crafting new beers with fewer ingredients. SMASH, which stands for Single Malt And Single Hop, is as minimalist as beer gets — just one malt and one hop variety are used in the recipe. Seeing more of these beers in the market isn’t necessarily a bad thing. SMASH beers, when crafted with the right ingredients, can be beautiful expressions of hop and malt character. One such ale, Founders Mosaic Promise, was one of the best beers we tried this year.
Variants will be huge. The market’s already been shifting this way the past few months, with Ballast Point Brewing debuting its wildly popular Grapefruit Sculpin variant as a year-round release as well as new takes on classics such as Dorado Double IPA with watermelon and Peppermint Victory at Sea (that, by the way, is the correct thing to do with a billion dollars). The trend will continue, and you’ll see some major breweries start to distribute new fruit- and herb-spiked versions of well-known classics.
Everything will be a beer festival. Here’s what we mean by that: While the standard beer festival (get a glass, walk around to brewery booths tasting different beers for a few hours) will live on, the template will also be applied to events you wouldn’t expect. Mile-long charity run? Beer festival. Rock concert? Beer festival. Mud-soaked, obstacle-laden adventure race? Beer festival.
The buyouts will continue. In 2015, all of these breweries either were purchased by or entered into some sort of agreement with larger corporations: Firestone Walker, Alpine, Elysian, 10 Barrel, Golden Road, Ballast Point, SABMiller, and Four Peaks. As the industry continues to grow and aging brewery owners look toward retirement, we don’t see things slowing down anytime soon. Beer nerds will continue to freak out about every single acquisition, but there will also be an upside to the consolidation and growth...
American beers will appear internationally. Stone Brewing will open the doors of its Berlin brewing facility in 2016, challenging German palates with beers that raise a middle finger toward the Reinheitsgebot and ensuring that any hophead who travels to Deutschland can still get his fix. Likewise, a likely result of recent brewery buyouts will be expanded distribution of American craft beers outside the country. Come summer 2016, you could be sipping Grapefruit Sculpin poured from the taps at an oceanside bar in Cabo San Lucas.
Hey, we can dream, right?