Thousands of beer industry folks convene in a different US city every year for the Craft Brewers Conference. It's an actual industry conference and trade show, not a festival, though there is a fair amount of beer getting sampled in between seminars like "Using Excel Spreadsheets In The Brewery" and "Getting The Most Out Of Your Hemocytometer." We attended the 2013 conference in Washington, DC last week and kept an ear to the ground (and a mouth to the glass). What will the next year or so hold for the craft beer community? Here are six trends we couldn't help but notice.
Many New Breweries, But They're Not All Great
An impressive 409 breweries opened in the US in 2012, and 1254 more are officially "in planning." Those numbers are exciting, but more is not necessarily better, unless these new breweries prioritize quality beer rather than looking cool or making a fast buck. The moral of the story for beer drinkers? Not all "craft" beer is high-quality, and it'll get worse before it gets better, so trust your palate and taste widely.
You see a lot of packaging gimmicks at a beer trade show—beer in a milk carton, anyone?—but there was no denying the sheer number of canning vendors present this year. Meanwhile, several conference hospitality suites and promotional beer stations focused exclusively on canned beer, and the only after-party on the official conference schedule was called Festival de Cans. Cans vs. glass will likely remain a contentious subject, but the can side continues to gain momentum. Let's all make sure we recycle them, though, because aluminum mining is terrible for the environment.
Mosaic Is the New 'It Hop'
Hop geeks may remember that in 2011 and 2012, every new beer seemed to contain Citra hops. In 2013, it looks like Mosaic is going to be a big deal. Mosaic hops just became available at this past fall's harvest and brewers are losing their minds over them. The spawn of piny, grapefruity Simcoe and herbal, spicy Nugget, Mosaic is a complex one alternately described as floral, earthy, and tropical-fruity. Homebrewers: get some.
Sours: More Mainstream Every Year
Another CBC, another bunch of standing-room only sour beer production seminars. After hours, every good beer bar in DC brought out its best taplist to impress the visiting brewers, and funky beers from gose to gueuze were thick on the ground. To paraphrase Jaws, "we're gonna need a bigger barrel." The downside: we may see some rather icky glasses of vinegar as inexperienced brewers rush to jump on the bandwagon. Taste critically.
Everything Old is New Again
There were more schwarzbiers, alts, and other "old world" beers at CBC 2013 than in previous years. Low-hopped German and English styles just may enjoy a bit of US resurgence over the next few years, partially because they'll have to (due to every craft brewery fighting over a limited hop supply) and partially because it's all cyclical (saisons went practically extinct in the '90s). It may be a tough sell for some hopheads, but a thousand years of brewing tradition can't be all bad.
It won't happen overnight, but the beer industry is going to need a lot more people, and not just brewers. Micro-maltsters are starting to pop up to take grain wrangling local. As long as IPA is popular, we're going to need more hop farmers. More and more breweries, as they grow, are making room for a brewhouse scientist to do quality control with fancy instruments. Finally, as more bars replace fizzy yellow water with the good stuff, there'll be a demand for bartenders who know beer and managers to train the ones who don't.