Continuing its decade-long surge, craft beer (or is it “independent” beer now?) reached another unprecedented milestone in 2017. For the first time, according to newly released figures from the Brewers Association, the total number of breweries in the U.S. passed 6,000. Though the exact number has yet to be revealed, that’s at least 700 more breweries than the country had in 2016, and more than double that of just four years ago.
With 83 percent of drinking-age Americans now living within 10 miles of a brewery—another statistic per the trade group’s annual Craft Beer in Review report—this is definitely the best time in history to be a beer drinker. And with it being only day eight of 2018, there’s no time like the present to get ahead of beer trends.
So let’s gaze into our crystal malt and ask: What styles, ingredients and practices will rise to prominence? How and where will other industries and power centers—tech, media, agriculture, finance, Washington and so on—influence, intersect and impact? Will thorny issues such as diversity and sexism be better addressed? And, perhaps most important (jk), what will we be Instagramming and hashtagging, and y tho?
To prevent the potential for any prognostication-based panic, we’ve enlisted some expert help. Below, 10 Brooklyn brewers play Hopstradamus and forecast the biggest beer trends for 2018:
“2017 was a standout year for women. We launched the #MeToo movement and confronted the industries and men in them where misogynistic tendencies run rampant. I think the craft-beer industry is getting better in terms of how women are treated and depicted, even though I shockingly still see a handful of sexist labels and marketing out there. Consumers are always a toss up; unfortunately some will still question well-educated female beer servers and representatives. But women are resilient and I think we’ll see more entering the industry this year, and being respected for their knowledge base. The tide will continue to change and pave the way for it to be less taboo for women to be involved in beer, especially on the production side of things. Here’s to women in beer in 2018.” Katarina Martinez, head brewer and founder, Lineup Brewing
“I think we’re finally starting to see the crest of ‘peak IPA,’ as beer drinkers find their attention increasingly fractured by the huge range of flavors that beer actually has to offer. Right now, to a lot of relatively new craft beer drinkers, craft beer equals IPA, just as white wine used to equal chardonnay. By this time next year, craft beer is also going to equal acidity, funk and wood. And since hops, acidity/fruit, funk and wood are the hallmarks of modern craft beer, we will see the big brewers double down in all these areas. Which is fine, because craft brewers will be coming up behind them with superior pilsners.” Garrett Oliver, brewmaster, Brooklyn Brewery
“Today’s engaged and selective beer drinkers will drive the industry to focus more on quality control in 2018. I see a lot of breweries, including ourselves, pushing to make the very best product possible. It’s an ongoing process. I believe the strongest beers come from breweries that make styles they like and understand well on a personal level. I think as the market gets more saturated, the keys to survival will be quality, and the ability to stand out with a strong identity.” Travis Kauffman, owner, Folksbier Brauerei
“There are a growing number of young breweries looking to specialize in complex, funky, ambitious mixed-fermentation beers. This has always been our passion, and the future Grimm space in East Williamsburg will be built with these beers in mind; tons and tons of wood barrels, to create tart beers with ambient yeasts and bacteria, and through blending. I think with the recent flood of New England–style IPAs, we’ll see more palates shift to serious mixed-fermentation beers as they become more available in 2018.” Joe Grimm, brewer and co-owner, Grimm Artisanal Ales
“Soft, juicy IPAs have introduced a new generation of lovers to the ever-evolving style. But in the big 1-8, I think we’ll see brewers returning to IPAs with more perceived bitterness to reintroduce the beauty in a balanced hop-forward beer. Remember, it was hop bitterness that gave IPAs the edge that made them everyone’s favorite in the first place. IPAs without bitter are like barbecue without sauce. I love brewing and drinking soft, juicy beers. But let’s not forget about balance and bittering hops.” Jesse Ferguson, brewer, distiller and co-founder, Interboro Spirits & Ales
“2018 will see the continued interest of upscale restaurants in craft beer. No longer is it just about wine and cocktails. Beer is becoming a larger part of these beverage programs, and in a few cases breweries and restaurants are collaborating to make unique culinary-inspired creations that highlight community and extend the farm-to-table ethos. Recently we brewed a saison using local Amangansett sea salt with Eleven Madison Park for their tasting menu, and a peach IPA with Momofuku. Some of our best food beers are more nuanced, subtle and balanced brews, not the kind of beers that people wait in line for. I’m optimistic that high-end restaurants’ growing support of craft beer will put more eyes on the industry and help keep it dynamic in 2018.” Matt Levy, head brewer, Threes Brewing
“I think we’ve seen a slow proliferation of craft lagers, particularly pilsners, in recent years, and I expect that will pick up speed in 2018 as brewers continue looking to simplicity and subtlety. Between the time it takes to traditionally lager a beer and the need to differentiate ourselves from the macro monsters, craft has traditionally shied away from the style. But brewers have begun learning to create fresh, balanced, delicious lagers and the people have responded.” Jeff Lyons, head brewer, Keg & Lantern Brewing Company
“This is a tough call for me, but I’m going to go with social media being the biggest trend in 2018. Much like 2017, 2018 will be dominated by the influence of social media on the beer industry. Gone are the days of brewing in a vacuum. Social media is loud and influential among beer enthusiasts, and brewers have to take notice, especially with more than 6,000 breweries in the U.S. all fighting for attention. I think we’re also going to see the continued evolution of beer branding and the continued slow death of the flagship, but then again both are pretty intimately tied to social media.” Sam Richardson, brewmaster and co-owner, Other Half Brewing
“With over 6,000 breweries in the U.S., many states have had a rise or resurgence in brewing agriculture that wouldn’t have been possible even a decade ago. Hop farms and malt houses are popping up all across the country, and with that, a sense of place is coming back to beer. More people are seeking out beers that are unique to their region, and brewers want to experiment and find a way to stand out. At Strong Rope we use 100 percent New York hops and about 95 percent New York malts and hope to hit 100 percent across the board in 2018. Our desire for local has allowed us to connect back with the farms that are the lifeblood of our industry. It has also allowed us to really put a face, a name and more importantly a relationship to our process and products. I think we’ll see more breweries doing this in 2018 to get back to the true nature of beer being a local and regional product, which could lead to the possibility of new and exciting styles grounded in location. You can’t expect to find any new ground in brewing when you tread on all too familiar paths.” Jason Sahler, brewer and owner, Strong Rope Brewery
“2018 will mark the year when people begin to realize that the most valuable thing they have actually isn’t the small-batch beer in their fridge, it’s their time. Time can only be spent, never saved. There will be an awakening that once people realize they don’t have to spend their time waiting in a line to get a beer, order a beer,or pay for a beer…. It also should be noted that all of the time not spent waiting in line can be repurposed by people to socializing and drinking beer, which is a much better pursuit and higher calling.” Shane C. Welch, founder, Sixpoint Brewery