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The Most Important Craft Beer Trends of 2018

05/03/2019

Young millennials' desire to try anything new and innovative, forces the craft brewers to come up with interesting new releases.

Heading into 2019, it’s now possible to look back at the past year and see which style and category trends have taken over the craft beer industry. At a time when the largest craft brewers are seeing slowing sales, there is still tremendous optimism within the industry, especially amongst smaller microbreweries that are adept enough to jump aboard important new trends. So what were some of the biggest craft beer trends of 2018? Keep reading to find out…

The Rise of New England IPA

American IPA is still the unacknowledged leader within the craft beer industry, but what has changed over the past 12 months is the rise to prominence of New England IPA. This is a beer style that first popped on the radars of many craft beer drinkers back in mid-2017 when Beer Advocate officially proclaimed that New England IPA “is a style.” Since then, sales have really started to take off, with some of the most popular New England IPA brands being Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA, Two Roads Two Juicy Double IPA, Red Hare Soft J Juicy IPA and Blue Point Hazy Bastard IPA.

While there is an official definition of New England IPA – an unfiltered IPA or Double IPA that has been aggressively hopped and that also has a hazy, cloudy, opaque or muddy appearance – most beer drinkers recognize New England IPA beers by the words “hazy” or “juicy” on the label. The Brewers Association, for its part, has identified these beers as “hazy or juicy IPAs and Pale Ales” that typically have a fruity or floral character. What makes them so appealing to new craft beer drinkers, of course, is the fact that they taste a lot like fruit juice. Moreover, they usually come in iconoclastic, 16-ounce aluminium cans.

Not surprisingly, given this flavour and aroma profile of New England IPA beers, just about any light American IPA with a hazy appearance is doing well, as are Fruit IPA beers and American Pale Ale offerings. This seems to be the direction the market is headed, so much so, in fact, that one industry analyst simply noted in mid-2018 that “the future is hazy.”

Low ABV Session Beers

Another popular beer style is the session IPA beer, which comes with low alcohol content, and is meant to be enjoyed over an extended drinking period with friends. The term “session” does not refer to how the beer is made; instead, it refers to how beers are meant to be enjoyed, as part of a longer beer-drinking session. Lower ABV beers have especially caught on with younger millennial drinkers, who are looking for lighter beers.

American Lager

Industry analysts also point to the growing popularity of American Lager beers. Consumer preferences are changing, and the move is toward lighter beers. A classic example of an American Lager is Boston Beer’s Sam ’76. In general, the wider market embrace of craft-made American Lager could be a very positive market development, with some brewers suggesting that what the craft industry needs more than anything else is an “amazing craft lager” that will convince more drinkers than ever before to shift away from sub-premium, mass-market lagers.

Lighter Beer Styles: Wheat Ale, Blond Ale, and Kolsch

According to data that has been released by the Brewers Association, the greatest momentum in the craft beer market, aside from the buzz around New England IPA, involves lighter beer styles. Beers included here include wheat ale, blonde ale and Kolsch. In fact, as the Brewers Association points out, 40% of the craft industry’s incremental sales volume growth in 2018 was driven by just four different types of beer: American Lager, wheat ale, blonde ale and Kolsch.

Organic Beers

In yet another sign of how trends from the food industry seem to crossover effortlessly to the world of beer and wine, it now looks like “organic beer” is going to gain traction with beer drinkers. At the same time, look for new trends in labelling, in which terms like “Non-GMO” and “Gluten-Free” appear more prominently on the packaging. Consumers are becoming more health-conscious, and they are looking for new ways to enjoy beers in a healthier way.

Categories in Decline

That being said, not every segment of the craft beer industry is seeing strong performance in 2018. For example, craft pilsner has seen a downdraft in sales, as has Hefeweizen. And, on the whole theme of how customer tastes and preferences are evolving, beer industry analysts also say that sales of Vienna Amber and Red Lager are on the decline. Customers now want light-coloured, low ABV beers – and preferably beers with a little juiciness or haziness.

What Can We Expect in 2019?

It’s never too early to start looking ahead to 2019, and indeed, the Brewers Association and Nielsen have already started to partner on new customer surveys that are designed to give a little foreshadowing to what customers are looking for over the next 12-month period. In one survey, 47% of respondents said they favoured “crisp” beer styles that are “balanced” and “clean.” So the era of super-hoppy (and over-hoppy) beers may be coming to an end if consumers are really looking for a more balanced taste and flavour profile.

Interestingly enough, one beer style that is just starting to show up as a potential trend in the year ahead is the champagne-like Brut IPA. As might be guessed from the name, the Brut IPA shares something in common with the world of champagne, in the form of a special champagne yeast that is used to dry out the beer, giving it a very unique taste. Beer industry analysts believe that the Brut IPA trend if it ever takes off, might be a way to attract wine drinkers to the craft beer trend.

Going forward, we can expect to see much of the same experimentation with ingredients and flavours as we saw in 2018. Younger millennial beer drinkers are still showing remarkable willingness to try anything new and innovative, and that is forcing the hand of craft brewers, requiring them to continually come up with interesting new releases and hype-worthy, on-trend styles.

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