In the beer world, the last 12 months held celebration, controversy, and success. Some stories made us smile, and others made us shake our heads. This year was one of brewery openings, closings, mergers, and acquisitions. Thousands of new beers were brewed; some contained no alcohol; some contained more pastries than a small bakery; some weren’t beer at all, but hard seltzer.
We recently asked a group of brewers to play prognosticator about the new year, and they offered predictions on pale ales, hard seltzers, smoked beers, and more. But before the book on 2019 closes, why not take a look back at the industry’s happenings over the last year?
Below, an opinionated bunch of brewers and beer industry pros from across the U.S. (and one guest brewer in England) sum up the year in beer.
“We hit peak lactose. Pastry stouts, gloopy haze bombs, breakfast juice sours — all seem to be in an arms race to be the sweetest and least beer-flavored drink possible. I hope 2020 is the turning point in that trend.” — Nick Weber, Head Brewer, Fortnight Brewing, Cary, NC
“The 12-ounce bottle officially died this year. The 16-ounce can is like the virtue signal for hype beer, and every major brewery, big and small, has started switching over to cans to signal to consumers that they’re cool kids, too. Now you can’t even give away a used bottling line.” — Ethan Buckman, Co-owner and Head Brewer, Stickman Brews, Royersford, PA
“Adjunct beers continued to get weirder and just downright absurd. I’m talkin’ Fruit Gushers, macaroni and cheese, even Lucky Charms. Whether it was out of creativity or a need to stand out, I believe the industry is starting to remind itself of the value of some of the more traditional beer styles. With that, I think we’ll start to see a resurgence of those beer styles in the coming years, or at least I hope we do.” — Kyle Gonzales, NYC Field Marketing, Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, NY
“Brewers finally embraced the traditional ingredients of kölsch: lactose, three fruit varieties, Tahitian vanilla beans, and Sabro hops. OK Boomer.” — Trevor Williams, Co-owner and Brewmaster, Hoof Hearted Brewing, Marengo, OH
“As the craft-beer scene is evolving, we’re seeing breweries near us devoting time, energy, and finances toward personal interests, and in doing so putting out less New England-style IPAs and more lagers and wild-fermented beers. Brewers were more willing to grow their sour programs by adding foeders, or invest in lagering tanks rather than chase what might sell the fastest and easiest.” — Morgan Clark Snyder, Owner and Head Brewer, Buttonwoods Brewery, Cranston, RI
“I think 2019 was a year of collaboration — both between breweries and with the combination of experimentation and refinement in the beer industry. We saw a return and resurgence of traditional styles, while continuing the expansion of new creative combinations and techniques.” — Rachel Nalley, Head Brewer, TT’s Brewery & BBQ, Spokane Valley, WA
“There was a start of breweries seeking ways to reach new and more diverse audiences, focusing efforts on bringing more folks into the fold and having greater ethnic diversity represented at beer events and within breweries themselves. I hope it continues in 2020. Following the success and reach of events like Fresh Fest Beer Fest and the work of groups like Beer Kulture, I’d like to see craft beer become a crowded table full of faces that represent a wide variety of races, genders, and backgrounds.” — Jeremy Danner, On-Premise Specialist and Brand Ambassador, 4 Hands Brewing Company, St. Louis, MO
“Every year has its throwaway trend, but this year it is apparently extra special. 2019 will be remembered as the year of hard seltzer. You should give it a try. Really. However, if you’re the highly suggestible type, you already have. Because you saw some buff dude or cute girl doing it on Instagram. You go tiger. Avoid posting any pics yourself. … You won’t be proud of them in a couple years. Or in one year. Admittedly, it’s likely the perfect drink for people whose best night of their lives was prom.” — Greg Koch, Co-founder, Stone Brewing; “The Arrogant Bastard” & “Chief Executive Omnipotent,” Arrogant Consortia, Escondido, CA
“The mortality of what we’ve known as ‘craft beer,’ and the beginning of something entirely new. Watching brewers jump into the hard seltzer game and beyond is a sign that the contingent known as craft beer has now become just another alcoholic commodity representing popular culture.” — Brian Strumke, Founder and Brewer, Stillwater Artisanal (Contract Brand)
“Brewers started truly noticing and trying to focus on health and its different aspects. Whether it be the trend of hard seltzers and low-calorie and nonalcoholic offerings, talking about making mental health and self-care a priority for their staff and the beer community as a whole, and making a bigger push toward social responsibility and inclusion, and to stand up against hate and bullies.” — Libby Crider, Co-owner, 2nd Shift Brewing, St. Louis, MO
“As a means of differentiation in an increasingly crowded market, more brewers broadened and blurred the lines in how they’re defining their operations, and what it means to be a brewery.” — David Gonzales, Director of Brewing Operations, Lost Worlds Brewing Company, Cornelius, NC
“Craft’s growth slowdown, the introduction of other beer-adjacent products (you didn’t think I wouldn’t mention seltzer, did ya?), and shifting consumer preferences have cemented that this year was the end of [an] era, and that the next star breweries’ values will be derived by how they deliver beer, and their experience, to their drinkers. We’ll see a lot of surprising M&A (both companies involved and valuations) in the next five years, and we’ll realize the paradigm shift that happened this year directly caused those surprises.” — John Dantzler, Co-founder, Torch & Crown Brewing Company, New York, NY
“I’ve never seen, or perhaps it just wasn’t publicized as much, as many restructures, downsizes, or layoffs as I’ve seen this year. Beer companies have to look at being lean in the right way to manage risk, and it appears restructuring the company is the preferred method.” — Tim Matthews, VP of Global Brewing, CANarchy Craft Brewery Collective, Longmont, CO
“Craft malt finally arrived in the national beer conversation, shedding some of the (unfounded, mostly) reputation for inconsistency. In Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, we have an abundance of craft maltsters to work with, all of whom make terrific malt and are built to scale up. In the last couple weeks alone, two different farmers/aspiring maltsters came in looking to make connections. More brewers opting in helped the maltsters compete on price; industry and academic gatherings of said experts filled up across the country; and consumers started finally paying more attention to the freshness, locality, and pleasing sense of variety that craft malt can deliver (which is the point, remember?). It’s about time. If a brewery is willing to plunk down $26 a pound for imported aroma hops but not part with a red cent more for locally grown, locally malted heirloom barley — the backbone of beer — to quote Gene Ween, ‘somethin’ ain’t right.’” — Christian DeBenedetti, Founder and Head Brewer, Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery, Newberg, OR
“From scandals to lawsuits and crazy buyouts — all of it blasted across rapidly growing beer gossip accounts — this was the year of drama. Maybe beer has always been insane, but social media is here to make sure every single person knows everything everyone has done wrong. A short recap of 2019: the stupid ‘corntroversy’ between MillerCoors and [ABI]; an absurd amount of sexist, racist, and homophobic labels, posts, and emails (what year is it again?); the settlement of the Tracy Evans and Founders lawsuit; the Brewbound podcast with Chris Furnari taking aim at female beer influencers; BrewDog’s stolen marketing ideas scandal; Reckless Brewing and its really cringy black lager post; that weird IPA bowl. Dogfish Head merging with Sam Adams; the acquisition of New Belgium; Ballast Point is craft again — just kidding! — is sold again to some random investors; blah blah blah, something about Golden Road. Can everyone just calm down in 2020?” — Megan Stone, Guest Brewer, Laine Brew Co, Brighton, England