Brewers are a prognosticating bunch.
It was early March that we last asked a group of producers to drop their predictions on the next big beer style.
What did we learn? To some, the continued dominance of hazy IPAs is clear. To others, the nascent cold IPA category is primed to turn up the heat. Further, the craft lager has, quite literally, entered the chat — its appeal to consumers craving more traditional tastes and alignment with low-alcohol drinking trends propounded by a few.
One brewer expects a burst of new interest in smoked beers. Another sees simply “passion” as a future class. The list goes on.
With the year more than half over, we thought it would be fun to revisit the same forecasting, but surveying a different set of beer makers. And why not? Currently, America is home to more than 9,000 breweries, meaning opinions abound. But how are those opinions shaped, say, in the face of recent industry challenges such as a pandemic or climate change? That and more will be discussed below.
So, what beers will we drink in the coming months and years? From the comeback of classics to that new new, here’s what the experts had to say.
The Next Big Beer Style According to Brewers:
- Cold IPA
- Czech dark lager
- Hoppy ale
- Ube beer
- Lager with new-age hops
- Natural wine
- Up-cycled fruit beer
- West Coast IPA with East Coast brewing techniques
- Pale ale
“Cold IPA: Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay. When the New England style first hit the scene, people described it as the ‘anti-IPA’ because of their focus on turning out huge bursts of juicy flavors while producing little to no hop bitterness, as well as building huge body and haze out of very mild malts and adjuncts. This was at the tail end of the IBU craze, where IPAs were pushing the limits in an attempt to be the dankest, the most exclusive, the most hype. It’s no wonder the beer drinker started to look for alternatives. Now, the very conditions that enabled the hazy fad have flipped. Beer consumers are fatigued with the hazy IPA’s relative heaviness, face-melting flavors, and propensity for hop burn. They want something clean and crushable, and so enters the cold IPA, the ‘anti-anti-IPA.’ It’s so simple: pale malt and adjuncts to appease the crispy chasers, heavy dry hops to satisfy the hop heads, and a clean, hybrid fermentation to make the purists blush.” —Greg Loudon, product manager, Prairie Dog Brewing, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
“As much as I would love to see the masses enjoying mixed-fermentation and spontaneous ales with boundless enthusiasm, my personal biases aren’t quite strong enough to truly believe in that unlikely future. Certain things aren’t for every palate or occasion. Given that concession, I do think lagers are quietly taking over the craft scene. In recent years, breweries like Bierstadt, Notch, and Enegren have shown the average beer drinker that lager can be effortlessly crushable without sacrificing nuance or depth of flavor in the slightest, and in doing so have paved the way for the future of lager in the U.S. Now that the second wave of devoted breweries has arrived, with places like Barriehaus and Cohesion brewing world-class beer, brewers and consumers alike have found a place for lager in their hearts and wallets. Even breweries devoted to making hype beer are starting to include more lager in their portfolios. Sometimes, it’s a hoppy pilsner and other times, you’ll find a rare grodziskie, but perhaps more than any other take I’ve seen is the tmavé pivo, or Czech-style dark lager. There is something remarkably satisfying about a lager that is not only easy-drinking but also offers a fuller body, rich and layered malt character, flavors of whole wheat toast and a hint of coffee, with just enough hop character to keep things balanced. Whether it’s a hot summer day or a cold winter night, there is no wrong time for a dark lager, and I’m psyched to see them continue popping up on the tap lists at my favorite local breweries.” —Jake Berman, brewer, The Lost Abbey, San Marcos, Calif.
“The next big thing is hoppy ale, a style that isn’t actually new — and already is the next big thing among those of us obsessed with hop saturation—but only has a handful of practitioners that would be considered best in class. The hoppy ale is basically a hoppier version of the hazy double IPA, though a few years ago it effectively was the hazy double IPA, before everyone and their mother started brewing one and a bit of ubiquity set in. It typically features sizable percentages of wheat and oats in the grain for the softer texture and bright yellow appearance that drive hopheads wild; distinctive water chemistry adjustments to enhance the mouthfeel; and extravagant hop charges, often utilizing Cryo and other newer hop products, in the whirlpool and dry hop to coax maximum hop flavor, a pleasant bitterness on the backend, and zip on the finish. All of this combines to utterly coat the palate with a majestic richness that delightfully lingers and demands you take the next sip. The most exemplary producer of this modern incarnation is Troon Brewing in N.J., which also coined the term: All of its hazy beers are called hoppy ales, regardless of ABV.
“For those asking how a hoppy ale is any different than a standard hazy IPA or double IPA — well, it’s the hop volume. But equally if not more important is the technique. You can’t just dump an excessive amount of hops in during fermentation and call it a day. And given the higher hop poundages required, they also aren’t exactly cheap to make — which is partially why there aren’t many breweries making them right now. For as many IPAs at grocery stores calling themselves hazy these days, there are zero beers I would consider hoppy ales available on your typical retail shelf. There are a handful of up-and-coming shops that have also placed a focus on huge hop flavor and heroic levels of saturation, including Conclave, Deep Fried Beers, Spyglass, Modestman, and North Park, to name a few. Better-known breweries that produce beers in the hoppy ale category from time to time (triple dry hopped is generally a good barometer) include Monkish, The Veil, and Tired Hands. And it’s a flavor profile we strive for every time in the current partnership between my Musical Box label and the incredibly gifted Chris Shelton, brewmaster at Whole Foods Brewing Co.” —Larry Koestler, founder, Musical Box Brewery, Houston
“I’ve been seeing a ton of ube beers recently. I think a lot of breweries are using the purple yam because of its bright color and light sweetness. It’s not going to be overpowering in flavor, so it’s a great experimental adjunct. Plus, it’s fun and different, and that’s why we’re seeing it not only in beers but in a lot of desserts like ice cream and donuts, and lattes. Trader Joe’s makes pancake mix with it. It’s very photogenic and social media-friendly, so seeing that uptick makes sense. Harland is actually having an entire event dedicated to it, called Ube Day. We recently did a sour ale with Eighth State using it.” —Molly Flynn, brewer, Tripping Animals Brewing Co., Miami
“I like to think that there is a future in more hop-forward pale lagers given the rise in styles like cold IPA, and now seeing more new-age hops making their way into lagers. With IPA still dominating all aspects of production volume in craft, bringing a contemporary hop character into the lager game could be a good thing for the industry. This satisfies the IPA-centric audience while also providing some new interpretations on lagers to those who primarily drink them. We certainly have seen success in this niche with our staple Prince of Pilsen, first released in 2014 and hopped with Czech Saaz and Citra. Prince also proved to be the impetus for our recent Pilsen Liberation — a collaboration with Pivovar Proud, the experimental brewery of Pilsner Urquell. Brewed both in the Czech Republic and here in the U.S., we hopped Liberation with Czech Saaz, Cascade, and Citra. Bozie Jones is another of our pale lagers, hopped with Bravo and consistently one of the best sellers at our experimental Imaginarium brewery location.” —Neal Engleman, brewmaster, Three Taverns Brewery, Decatur, Ga.
“I see more brewers — particularly those who produce mixed-fermentation and sour beers — exploring making wines and natural wines, turning their breweries into beverage companies with the addition of these beverages as well as hard cider. We started our wine program in 2020 and produced a small amount: less than 100 cases of Chambourcin, skin-contact Chardonnay, and rosé. We began the project after spending a ton of time around local winemakers and learning how to process fruit, and they encouraged us to buy grapes and make wine, since we had learned so much. This is going to be another outlet for brewers to show creativity through fermentation and allows the brewery to provide a deeper portfolio to customers, especially those who may have gluten issues. I think we’ll also see more brewers upcycling fruit. It’s no secret that fruit, especially fresh and local, is very expensive. We first tried this after stepping into the winemaking world, re-fermenting pomace from our Chambourcin on a blend of saison and sour blonde to create a beer called Newfangled. We quickly figured out through our piquettes and upcycled fruit beers that the fruit had so much more to offer in second, third, and even fourth usages. Multi-use fruit can provide a fleshy fruit flavor, a little more tannic bite, or just some light flavor to accent a beverage depending on what you are looking for. More and more brewers are figuring out this secret and waiting to pitch that ‘spent’ fruit in the trash.” —Brad Erickson, brewer, Crooked Run Fermentation, Sterling, Va.
“West Coast IPAs are due for a resurgence, but with an update: little to no caramel malts and softer yet still present bitterness while embracing ‘juicy’ hop flavors. I’d say we are going to see a trend away from sweeter hazy IPAs to drier, more quenching and balanced IPAs. Expect the West Coast style to start utilizing East Coast fermentation techniques like biotransformation and further usage of modern hop products like concentrated pellets, Incognito, and Phantasm powder. This, alongside new modified yeasts, will push what an IPA can taste like but be more drinkable and thirst-quenching than today’s hazy IPAs. Hey, even clear IPAs might be a thing again!” —Aric Parker, head brewer, King State, Tampa, Fla.
“If I had to go with one style that I see perpetually ascending, it’d have to be pilsner. A pendulum swing back to the classics with room to roam as far as interpretation goes. We dedicated this summer as the ‘Season of the Pils’ in our taproom and held a large fest in which we released four uniquely different pilsners ranging from our Den Keeper, which is West Coast in style, to the Gulf Coast-influenced Tidal Guide made with local oysters. Such an inspiration to see people rally around this style. It’s also sweltering down here, so the pilsner revival is alive and well!” —Brett Schweigert, co-founder and head brewer, Odd Colony Brewing Co., Pensacola, Fla.
“I think the witbier hits many markets and demographics, and I believe it’ll be a player in the midst of this more simplistic and balanced beer movement that seems to be happening. Allagash is known as a top-tier craft brewery and 90 percent of what they make is wit. They are a prime example of how the style is very much alive even though it isn’t hype. You also have Blue Moon, which is big and extremely relatable with a demographic that doesn’t have much experience with craft beer. And for us, I can’t tell you how much of a surprise our witbier was. We still produce more than 50 percent hazy IPA on a yearly basis, but we’ve made witbier twice a year and since the tasting room opened up, it’s been in the top three of sales for 12 weeks straight (we only did takeout for two years).” —Ryan Seiz, brewmaster, Warwick Farm Brewing, Jamison, Pa.
“We’re seeing more crisp, clean pale ales and the category modernize. We cut our teeth drinking Sierra Nevada’s pale ale and other West Coast IPAs and pale ales. But we love that more takes have a firm but toned-down bitterness and a delicate interplay of hops and malt without the heavy, sometimes syrupy crystal malt presence of old. Suarez makes some exceptional examples as well as Stay Green’s Mind Gold. Our own, Never Left Wasn’t Here, leans into this same approach, with a distinct malt presence and a delicate hop character.” —Lindsay Reichart, co-founder and brewer, Springs Brewery, East Hampton, N.Y.
“Saison, if it hasn’t already hit. They’re making a total comeback from the early 2000s, and I’m here for it — especially fruited, double dry hopped, and even the rare but almighty salted takes. I think there’s an overlap with crispy beer drinkers and sour heads that allows the saison style to sell itself. I also think grisettes aren’t far behind. Who doesn’t love a funky, light sipper? But just about everywhere I go, including the brewery I brew at, you’ll find a saison on tap. Recently, we brewed one in collaboration with Pittsburgh’s Pink Boots chapter and threw some honey and tea into the mix, and it was received very well. Right now, we’re working on another with BlackMan Brewing and conditioning it with black sea salt.” —Melissa Larrick, brewer, Hop Farm Brewing Company, Pittsburgh
“We’ve already seen a resurgence in pale and amber lagers like pilsners, Oktoberfest märzens, and Mexican lagers. This may be wishful thinking, because it’s my favorite style, but I think this trend will continue with other classic beers — and you don’t get more classic than the Munich dunkel. This dark lager is malty and flavorful but also dry and super drinkable, making it a perfect beer to transition from summer into fall. But it’s also great year-round. Not having many actual German examples here in the States can help position craft brewers to take advantage of this gap in the market.” —Kelsey Roth, general manager, Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing Company, Framingham, Mass.