Crystal Balls. It’s been a couple of years since I last dragged mine from the cupboard and dusted it off – so let’s take a look into its milky blues depths and see what might be on the immediate horizon for 2016 when it comes to the world of beer. Predictions are always a tricky prospect, so let’s make it even tougher and (for once) think about it seriously, rather than the over-the-top wankery of previous years. Here’s what I think could well come to pass this drinking year. Feel free to copy and paste it back to me in December!
Move away from hops
2015 was a poor year for hops, with US drought and European rains checking off anything between 5 and 20% of expected yields (the latter figure the drop-off in Centennial production, so bad news if your favourite beer features that). Brewers will compensate though, as they always do. The figures don’t look – to my eyes – as bad as the Great Hop Shortage/Swindle of 2008. But the number of breweries is now far greater. Smaller producers will feel the squeeze, so look for new lines or ranges with added ingredients, big malt bills, unusual brewing techniques…or…
The Beery Homecoming of 2016. It’s what our regional brewers have known for centuries, but check 2016 for those in the craft/modern/epic beer sector to catch on and begin to develop some styles that are closer to home. I’m not saying you’ll see a Beavertown Best Bitter this year, but the continued success of US ‘session beers’ could parlay into the resurgence of English IPA from UK brewers. Other styles to look for this year – dry stout, red ales and maybe, just maybe, the return of the sacred barley wine. Why import loads of hugely expensive C-Hops for a Double IPA when the English barley wine is staring from the brewing ledger?
Breweries coming together is nothing new – indeed it has become a backbone of the brave new world of British beermaking. And others have taken notice of this. Look out for breweries to pair with expected – and unexpected – sources to get interesting beers to market, as outside influence begins to enjoy the pull of craft beer. So recent partnerships such as Oddbins with their Limited Edition beers (the No6 is particularly good), Brompton Bicycles with Meantime and Virgin Trains with RedWillow on Tilting Ale are going to become par for the course in 2016; breweries get increased exposure, and the partners hitch their wagons to the momentum of craft beer.
Staying on the subject of small and manageable – as well as micro partnerships, I think 2016 is going to see more of the trend of small-scale, local operations for on on and off-trade. I’ve yet to set foot in one, but micropubs have been on the rise for a number of years in parts of England (even with their own association). There’s now officially one in Scotland (although Ronnie at the Railway Tavern in Kincardine might beg to differ). Look for more to follow – as well as boutique beer shops such as Burslem’s Otters Tear’s, recently opened by excellent beer writer Phil Hardy.
Say Goodbye to Core
Maybe related to the travails of hop and changing styles – the latter being something that is increasingly a feature of every brewing year – maybe more breweries will follow the interesting route championed by Cloudwater and have rotating core lines (four times a year for them), or even do away with core lines altogether. Instead, they could become known for doing one thing well (sours, pales, or whatever) rather than spreading over a series of beer types. Or just forget about the concept of continually dialling up a few beers and brew whatever the heck they want, when they want. If the brand of the brewery is strong enough, and demand is there, then does it matter if they don’t have a five-beer-focus?
We all now bow-down to the Aluminium Gods, but the incessant rise of canning has given some hits and quite a few misses (mobile canning will get there eventually, but it’s not there yet). Still, cans are a perfect meeting of trend and convenience – it’s something for breweries to shout about just as much as it is for drinkers to carry around with them. We may not collectively hike or bike as much as those in Colorado (speaking for myself), but cans are here to stay. So let’s end these predictions with something a little wacky. What about plastic bottled beer? Williams Bros were rumoured to have looked at PET packaging a while ago; with the phenomenal price-point of canning equipment, would plastic bottles be an acceptable halfway house? And would people actually buy them?
Let me know below if these are likely, or if I’m barking up the wrong tree (filled with healthy hops and home-grown DIPA’s)