Not all beer trends are created equal.
For every welcome development, there’s a widespread gimmick or three that makes you weary, leaves a bad taste in your mouth, or impels you to almost White Claw your eyes out. It’s true: Some fads deserve to fade quickly before every last speck of glitter has the chance to settle in your glass.
It had become so second nature to talk about the industry solely as an unstoppable movement, a revolution, to view it only with boundless enthusiasm amid years of growth and accumulation of cachet and cool points. But, as we have learned time and time again, there’s always more to the story. To that end, this writer strongly recommends digging into some of the forces — the @ratmagnet-led reckoning, the pandemic, a staleness in the culture — that led to craft beer’s “no good, very bad year” in 2021.
That’s why now is a befitting time to speak to producers about what they hope to see change.
When we think of beer trends, our minds tend to go straight to the pleasurable Instagram upticks and “it” ingredients: the cloudy IPAs, the sugar-packed pastry stouts. That side can certainly be fun. But we mustn’t forget that trends, in beer and in other industries, can impact real people and real lives — and not always in a positive way. And, in some instances, they can hang around long enough to become infestations.
Here, 15 brewers and industry pros share the trends they would like to be rid of once and for all.
The Worst Beer Trends, According to Brewers:
- Passing off rushed golden ale as lager
- Unfocused hospitality and service
- Assumption of hierarchical knowledge in brewery
- Smoothie sours
- Session IPA category
- Overly fruited beers
- Labels heavy in intellectual property theft
- Milkshake IPAs
- Everything and nothing
- Abuse and exclusion
- Magnum pours
- Assumption of women’s role in brewery
- Lack of representative rights
“There are quite a few things that probably should be retired, but from a marketing and community engagement perspective, it’s time to retire Untappd. Whether breweries are using it still for their menus or insights, it’s time to stop relying on a third-party app. Given the company’s massive reach and engagement, if it isn’t using what they’ve built to help better the industry — especially in light of the harassment, abuse, and discrimination that face women, non-binary, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ beer professionals — then why support it? Similarly, it’s also time for breweries to not rely solely on social media platforms for engagement and insights. We see how Instagram and TikTok manipulate [their] users. Breweries should develop their own fan base, collect as much data as possible from their consumers directly, and create programs that build an authentic relationship between the consumer, the brand, and the local community. Looking ahead, customers are going to be more mindful about who they support and where they invest their money. Breweries that are transparent with their values and create real action around them, and who are proactive and open to change, will be successful while the rest will be left in the dust.” — Ash Eliot, co-founder, Brave Noise Global Beer Collab; founder, Women of the Bevolution
“Passing filtered or rushed golden ale off as lager. Rather than spend a little more money on brite time or utilize traditional techniques like gradual crashing regiments, a lot of breweries get around extended boils and stepped mashes by using heavily modified ingredients and high-attenuative, top-fermenting yeast strains — just cranking out something cheap in seven days with filters and finings and call it ‘lager.’” — Chris Dougherty, brewer, Rites Brewing, Astoria, N.Y.
“An often lauded and personally inspiring brewer and owner has stated for years that CO2 is the fifth ingredient in beer. I believe the sixth ingredient is outstanding beer service and the dedication to uphold those standards. If more breweries focused on hospitality and quality service, many of the undesirable characteristics in the industry would likely falter. A great beer is more than the format, condition, aromatics, and flavor of the beer you select. It is closely tied to the tasting room or pub of your choosing where it is best represented. A wonderful beer can certainly be enjoyed at home, but a world-class beer requires a commitment to an elevated customer experience. A few of the key elements being: weekly draft line cleaning and maintenance; tasteful and properly cleaned glassware; style-appropriate pours with dense or wet foam; welcoming, attentive, and informed staff; and a safe and comfortable space for all customers and staff.” — Ryan Gramlich, co-owner and brewer, Lesser-Known Beer Co., Winston-Salem, N.C.
“What I’d like to see end in craft beer is the assumption that knowledge of beer is hierarchical in the brewery. Bartenders, cellar people, delivery persons, brewers, and company leaders can all know a lot about beer. Anyone with any title can understand draft systems, the brewing process, how to serve beer, drive a forklift. While everyone’s role is specialized, that’s not a reason to assume how much knowledge they have on anything, really.” — Robyn G. Weise, assistant brewer, Wild East Brewing, Brooklyn
“The price to operate a small brewery is expensive, and I would love to see it become easier for us to be in business and grow when it comes to taxes and fees. This makes it hard to stay afloat, especially for breweries who are leasing their building. For us, we must pay federal alcohol tax, state alcohol tax, and state and county alcohol licensing and fees. Then, we have three separate music licenses to have live music at our brewery. Throw in property tax, income tax, sales tax. The list goes on. It’s not only about just paying them, it’s also a pain to keep up with it all every month.” — Erica Teague, owner and brewer, Cactus Land Brewing Co., Adkins, Texas
“Without a second thought, death to smoothie sours. They’re terrible. Sweet, sludgy, and they raise my blood sugars way too much. If I wanted to drink that, I would go to Smoothie King (not an advertisement) instead.” — Haidar Hachem, co-founder, Shōjō Beer Company, Miami
“The ‘session IPA’ term. They’re brewed a lot, and it kills me. To me, it’s almost a Band-Aid for not knowing what you want to call the beer. The intent is to have a lower ABV and often lighter drinking than an IPA, but still have flavor and aroma. So why not just call it a pale ale? One could argue a pale ale is more malty, but these days, the line between the two is getting more and more blurry. So just pick one: pale ale or IPA! Maybe brew a low-ABV IPA and in your description say it’s sessionable, I don’t know. I’ve literally had an 8 percent barleywine that was called a session beer. Why? A ‘session’ lager. WTF is that? I can’t wrap my head around it. Almost like a ‘black’ IPA. But that’s a whole other rant.” — Ashley Hauf, brewer, Dual Citizen Brewing Company, St. Paul, Minn.
“The fruited beers that are so overdone that the beer looks like unstrained fruit pulp in the glass and causes quality issues for the customer. I fully support innovation and creativity in brewing, and we certainly make fruited beer. But they are made with balance and stability in mind. To be called beer, I feel that there should be a reverence for what the spirit of beer is.” — JR Heaps, founder and head brewer, South County Brewing Co., York, Pa.
“Labels that are heavy in intellectual property theft. Just because you know you will just get a cease and desist and never make the beer again doesn’t mean you should do it. It’s always seemed a bit intellectually lazy to me.” — Jon Simpson, head brewer, Fullsteam Brewery, Durham, N.C.
“Milkshake IPAs. Personally, I don’t think sweetening beer with a dairy derivative like lactose is great for a few reasons. It makes the beer non-vegan, which makes it less inclusive, and highly refined raw material is not exactly great for your gut even if you’re not lactose intolerant. It’s also completely unnecessary as there are a multitude of other techniques you can use to get the desired result of a sweeter beer, like brewing to a higher finishing gravity or using less fermentable malts such as oats for a smoother body.” — Christoffer Tuominen, brewer, Indie Alehouse, Toronto, Canada
“Craft beer has had an abuse and exclusion problem since its inception. The industry as a whole can be incredibly abusive, regardless of who you are. Low-paying jobs, crazy hours that aren’t accounted for due to people being put on ‘salaries,’ free labor via ‘internships,’ and crappy safety standards. The issues that underrepresented populations face are even more severe: assaults, abuse, discrimination, harassment, and marginalization. Because the industry is almost entirely straight, white, and male, it is nearly impossible to force accountability. Issues that should be dealt with get brushed aside, harassment is ignored, and bad actors are defended — because everyone is always someone’s friend. Even with the ‘reckoning’ we’ve witnessed over the past year, it seems that the accounts of assault, abuse, discrimination, and harassment that everyone was initially so shocked at are starting to be forgotten and pushed aside, which threatens the work we’ve done and the progress we’ve made. We need to hold onto the momentum we’ve created and continue to push for more change.” — Erin Brandson, owner and head brewer, Little Beasts Brewing Co., Whitby, Ontario, Canada
“Magnum pours. A magnum makes zero difference to the beer — the opposite to when you age wine in magnums, which actually benefits the wine.” — Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso, founder, Evil Twin Brewing, Brooklyn
“I’d like to see less people being so judgmental and pretentious about beer. The whole Untappd culture that revolves around ticking in a new beer, the internet cicerones; less of that and more just having fun. I got much of my inspiration to open our brewery nearly 20 years ago, traveling on the West Coast and Southwest and experiencing cities like San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Albuquerque. The beer culture out there was so fun and vibrant, even back then. So if you’re a true beer head in 2022, it’s undeniable that we live in the best time of human history, as far as this beverage is concerned. These days, you can find incredible beer in every remote corner of the country. Sometimes, it feels like we’re back in high school, but let’s remember that we’re in the golden age of beer.” — Steve Bauer, founder, Ghost Hawk Brewing Company, Clifton, N.J.
“The industry needs to change in the way it thinks about women who work at breweries, particularly in production roles. While women brewers and their stories have become more well known with the @ratmagnet movement, there is still a lot more work to be done, and there are still so many people out there who assume women can’t work in production. From customers to delivery drivers, I am constantly asked, ‘Can I speak to the brewer?’ Another I get is, ‘Can I speak to the guy in charge here?’ It’s almost an automatic reaction for folks, thinking the brewer is a bearded, rough-around-the-edges man. If we want women to truly be seen in this industry as equal, we all have to come together and push these stereotypes out of people’s minds. Women should be seen and applauded for their roles in production or any other role they may have in a brewery. We are here putting in the hours of grueling work as well, and deserve to be recognized for it.” — Taylor Spoon, brewer, Durty Bull Brewing Company, Durham, N.C.
“There’s a lack of representative rights. Time and time again, we hear about issues of sexual harassment and racism at breweries X, Y, and Z. What we’re hearing less of is how the majority of the industry is underpaid, overworked, and underrepresented. Some people might consider these all separate issues, but when it really boils down, they’re all issues of unsafe and unfair workplaces. I think most of today’s brewers aren’t considering the fact that there are representative organizations in place — the Brewers Association, craft brewers’ guilds on the state level — that only act in furtherance of the needs of capital-holding groups. There doesn’t currently exist a representative or solidarity union for craft brewery workers in this country. The macro-level brewers all have union representation, but outside of a few outliers, the entire craft segment is on its own. If you poll any group of workers in the industry, you’ll get countless stories of mistreatment, unsafe working conditions, stagnant poverty wages — the list goes on. The only solution to benefit the workforce that makes this entire industry happen is a solidarity union with worker representation. Anything short of that, and we’re doomed to the way of Zima.” — Nick Weber, brewer, Wye Hill Kitchen & Brewing, Raleigh, N.C.