Last week I looked ahead at ten British breweries to watch over the course of the year, so with the crystal ball dusted off and on its plinth there’s still time to calibrate it a second time and look at the wider beer industry as a whole. So here are a few trends I think might be worth keeping an eye on in 2017, and see whether brewers adopt them or not. As ever, feel free to throw these predictions back in my face come December when we’re all still drinking sours and session pale ales!
Turn to the Dark Side
Everyone knows hops are where it’s at, and the obsession with IPA looks to show no sign of slowing down. Let’s face it, we’ll be drinking them for the rest of our natural lives. But part of the move towards sours/wild ales and lower-abv offerings recently could be the beginnings of a movement away from the high an’ hoppy. With more breweries after that key ingredient than ever, this could mean good things for lovers of darker beers – stouts, porters and the like. They cater for those after something uniquely British, work well on any dispense method you can think of, and craft brewers can still create barrel-aged, fruited or (and this is the real tip for 2017) dry-hopped stouts or porters.
Yes, it’s another mention for Cloudwater, and one of the genius notions that they made their own last year wasn’t just the no-core range, the constantly refreshed artwork and the decision to move away from cask (you may not think that last one qualifies as genius, of course). No, the really clever notion they nailed was the split-screen release – issuing two versions of their Double IPA at once. If there’s a better way to convince people to buy twice as much beer, I haven’t seen it – but more importantly paired releases are the perfect opportunity to give your customers a chance to discern the differences a changed-up brewsheet can bring. Anyone keen to learn more about beer need simply pick both up, find two glasses, and work out a favourite. Look for more co-ordinated beer launching in 2017.
Make A Mixtape
The natural extension of the paired release is the multipack for blending. This is something explored last year by the De Brabandere brewery with their Petrus range of sours; packaging up an aged pale, red and oud bruin with the proviso that people then blend them together in smaller combinations to find new tastes and flavours. Having done this in Brussels a couple of years ago (plus I also have a set in a cupboard somewhere), not only is it a great marketing idea but it’s something else that spreads the appreciation of beer further. And it needn’t be restricted to sour beer either, small-batch canners this year could well release a pale ale, brown ale and fruit beer and let people have at it with their own blending trials.
Get A Head(y Topper)
In terms of actual beers rather than overall trends, the rise of the Vermont IPA (or New England IPA) still looks to be sweeping all before it Stateside. It could well jump the Atlantic to a more significant degree than it already is – so rare treasures like The Alchemist’s Heady Topper may well get UK versions for beer fans to get crazy about over here. In the US these beers are the natural progression of IPA away from massive resin bombs (i.e. West Coast IPA) and towards softer, fruiter flavours with added oats for creaminess and the trademark opaque look that resembles orange juice. I’ve never tried Heady Topper or the like, but something tells me I won’t need to go to Vermont to try one sometime this year…
Big cans are back. Yes the memories of Stones’ Bitter/Worthington’s/Banks’s Bitter/Tetley Original are flooding back to life in 2017 as craft breweries begin to adopt the larger can format. To this point, 330ml aluminium has been the way to go but a few breweries are pondering the switch to larger format, I think (aside from Adnams, who have been doing it for years). The rise of sharing sizes has also started to affect bottles – BrewDog obviously being a case in point – so as the uptake of bombers starts to become more of a factor, I wouldn’t be surprised if those breweries that choose to can their beer then look at a larger payload as well (Cloudwater are moving to 440ml cans, for instance).
Hops to Break Out
Ok, let’s end on a wild one – the biggest beer trend in 2017 is going to not be a beer at all. Dry-hopped cider is going to burst onto the scene as craft applegatherers discover that adding US C-hops add an extra layer of complementary citrus into their cider but also a hit of resin and pine that gives another dimension to what is already a growing category. Any US or UK craft beer fan may well be able to use a dry-hopped cider as a gateway into this whole other world – this year could be the one that cidermakers discover and exploit this point of connection to target and capture an entirely new audience. It could happen!
So those are just a handful of things I think could well happen in the beer industry in 2017 (although I did confidently predict that PET Plastic would be big last year). Let me know whether I’m talking sense or rubbish – or both – in the comments and if there’s any pearls of wisdom lurking in the reaches of your brain about what might happen this year, let’s hear them!