Craft beer is more popular than it ever has been. As a matter of fact, there are approximately three times as many breweries opening to replace any that have closed. Twenty to thirty additional breweries are expected to open this year in just Massachusetts alone.
The sheer volume of breweries has led to the solidification of some emerging trends while others have fallen by the wayside. As such, let’s look at the trends that will define the craft beer industry in 2021, as it continues to soar in popularity:
1. Sour Beers Gain a Mass Following
In the last few years, sour brews have become a steady niche product, but, just recently, sales of these unique, tart, fruit-influenced beers have exploded into the mainstream with seriously impressive sales. As of now, they have earned their place on the everyday menus of many bars and taprooms.
Brewers say that sours are actually outperforming other beers as far as growth, but that is only on a percentage basis rather than in total volume.
Part of the reason for the increase in popularity is the fact that the selection of sours is becoming more diverse as time goes on. Some styles are also low in calories and alcohol content while still packing a powerful flavor.
Because they can be smooth and light or bold and fruity, they tend to attract wine and cocktail aficionados. While they can serve as bridges to craft beer consumption as starter brews, sours are enjoyed by beer experts and novices alike.
2. Lagers Get Respect in the Craft World
Lagers had a bad reputation for so long as not being considered “real” craft beers, even though they were still a popular choice among micro-brewery beer connoisseurs. And, while IPAs still reign supreme in the craft corner of the market, their near-monopoly has been dwindling down since those new to craft brews want to enjoy a semi-familiar taste. After all, double dry-hopped IPAs are not for everyone’s taste buds.
Some micro-brewers are especially-talented at conceiving lagers that are popular and have garnered large followings. As such, lagers have gained favor and fanfare and continue to climb in sales and gain admiration.
3. Beers Containing CBD Take Stage
Since the dawn of legal marijuana is upon us, and CBD oil is super popular, it only makes sense that CBD beer would soon follow.
CBD comes from the part of the cannabis plant that is non-psychotropic, which means it can’t get you high, but it certainly can help you relieve anxiety and allow you to fully relax.
These beers are brewed with both terpenes and oils derived from hemp. Remember, most forms of hemp were legalized on the federal level in 2018. Cannabidiol then infuses the brew with a slight kick.
Many craft breweries are planning to launch CBD beers in a limited run and will continue the lines if they prove popular. That is if the legalities don’t get in the way. After all, some CBD-infused beers were permitted before the 2018 legislation; then, the DEA revoked its approval.
4. Rosé Beers Stay in Demand
It may have seemed like the “in” thing to make fun of last year since everyone was drinking it, but rosé beer is going to become an even bigger trend in 2021 and will become widely accepted.
The beer, inspired by the sweet, pink wine, is about to become a stalwart in the craft brewery community.
This is not just about turning macho beer pink. These wine-beer combos are fermented with grapes from the top vineyards in California. In other words, breweries are experimenting with notes of wine within a true beer.
5. Craft Beer Competes with Macro-breweries
While craft beer ballooned to nearly twelve percent of the beer market in the United States, it plateaued in the last few years and has only made single-digit percentage gains.
However, analysts believe the niche potentially could expand its market share in the near future.
They base this guess on the assumption that younger customers are the driving force behind craft beer’s popularity in the first place. As this generation takes over the market, they are likely to stick with their preferences and buying habits. Meanwhile, older generations, which relied more on macro-brewed beer, are buying less beer in bulk as they age.
Younger people don’t look at craft beer as anything special. To them, it simply is beer. And, while larger breweries and their mass-marketed beers have stories and interesting heritages, they are a part of the Millennials’ parents’ traditions, and most younger adults want to carve their own paths.
6. More Beers are Made with Fresh Hops
Did you know that hop acreage in the United States increased by nearly 80 percent, and hop production increased by seventy-seven percent between 2012 and 2018? These statistics indicate greater access to hops directly for breweries, so brewers can knock out a greater number of fresh hop beers if they work hard and fast enough.
If you ever drank a fresh hop brew, you’d know how great they taste, and you’d definitely crave more. Local breweries have released their own editions in cans, and customers can’t stop raving about them. Any brewery lucky enough to be in the proximity of a hop farm is sure to jump on the bandwagon.
7. Hazy Brews aren’t Going Anywhere Soon
The New England haze craze has taken the country by storm, and there is no turning back.
Hazy beers are easy to drink, juice-forward, and for those that are not otherwise fond of beer’s typical bitter taste. As a matter of fact, they can be a starter brew for those just getting into drinking craft beer. The opaque “juice bombs,” as they’re often called, even resemble orange juice and, as such, photograph well.
Hazy beers are now being bifurcated much in the same way as traditional IPAs, with hazy pale ales, hazy session IPAs, and hazy imperial IPAs. However, the core hazy IPA style is still gaining steam.
Experts believe there is no reason to believe that the hazy craze will end anytime soon. Over time, however, fruity brews may wear out their welcome with the masses. You will probably see breweries attempt to strike more of a balance between the more typical hoppy flavor of beer and the newer fruity tones.
But, for now, the trend shows few signs of slowing down. However, since almost every craft brewery is in the game, it is unlikely for the trend to blow up any more than it has further down the road. It seems that a subtler take on the flavor is where hazy beers are destined to go. Since all trends come to an end, breweries are looking to take the idea yet build their own lanes in an overcrowded niche.
That said, good brews will always find their own market. So, while customers may shy away from hazy beers over time, they will always exist in some way.
8. Craft Malt Steals the Spotlight
While hops bring spices to beers that can make them taste a bit exotic, these flavors can’t stand alone. That is why many brewers are beginning to understand that all raw ingredients matter, not just the green favorites. As the industry becomes more powerful, brewers are using their resources, energy, and time to focus on other components; specifically barley.
As of 2021, American barley farmers have been predicted to increase their production in anticipation of new brewers that will need the crop to perfect their craft.
9. Taprooms Take Over
The category of craft beer, which has shown steady growth, owes a lot of that expansion to taprooms.
After all, retail shelves cannot possibly feature all the new craft brands crowding the market, and even the choices that are being featured in stores are so diverse that the plethora of choices often confuse potential customers.
However, taprooms and breweries allow IPA shopping to become an easier, less intimidating experience. Focusing on taprooms and forgoing broader retail distribution is also something that many customers treasure. As such, most breweries report that the largest portion of their sales occur onsite, though they may distribute to local stores.
Taprooms are what the neighborhood bars used to be to the previous generations. The only difference is that they don’t serve anything but the brewery’s products. That said, many Millennials spend lazy Saturday afternoons hanging out in taprooms and developing tastes for beers that they may never have had any other opportunities to taste.
Taprooms are fun for customers, but they are crucial for any craft brewery getting its feet wet in the industry. They are critical for getting their names out there and drawing in customers for years to come.
These taprooms also give breweries a chance to try out new brews through trial and error in real-time. They can make up smaller batches and see how customers react to a new recipe without wasting ingredients if the beer is not particularly a hit.
10. Craft Beer Becomes More Diverse
The industry doesn’t necessarily need a revamp, but the face of craft breweries is still changing. Brewers across the planet are clamoring to be a part of festivals like Beers without Beards and Fresh Fest, bringing their unique cultures along with them.
This diversity is great, and the changes it brings allow the industry to grow accordingly. Craft brewing will continue to become more inclusive and diverse, as any space in 2021 should.
In conclusion, the craft beer industry is still growing and changing as it cruises into this new decade. As long as space continues to evolve, it should be around for many years to come.