By Fred Crudder, Foodable Industry Expert
If you live in a northerly climate, you are undoubtedly ecstatic to see winter ebb away as the onset of warmer weather signals the arrival of spring. With the onset of spring, everything around us begins to change as the world comes back to life. Change is everywhere, especially in the constantly evolving world of beer.
The Return to Session-Style Beers
One of the recent movements in the beer world was the extreme beer movement that peaked a few years ago. Consumers seemed to have no restraint when it came to beers that were intensely flavored, high in alcohol, full of oddball ingredients, or just downright weird. Brewers were happy to oblige, putting out a litany of creative beers that would not only blow out your taste buds, but put you under the table. This trend has ebbed substantially, but it left in its wake some amazing beers that remain in the pantheon of legendary, highly sought-after “whales.” Make no mistake though, this period of reckless experimentation brought us some truly awful beers, and thankfully most of those are no longer with us.
The natural follow-up to the extreme beer movement was a reversal of sorts. Beer drinkers were fatigued by the massive flavors and alcohol contents of those extreme beers, and ready for some good old-fashioned beer drinking. Along came the session beers. The English refer to lower ABV (alcohol by volume) beers as being “sessionable.” You can enjoy quite a few during a lengthy session at the pub. American brewers decided that they too could make full-flavored beer without the hefty ABVs, and they did. Beer drinkers were, as they generally tend to be about anything new, ecstatic. Suddenly the same people who couldn’t get enough of being walloped over the head with flavor and strength were bragging about the latest, most delicious, low ABV beer they discovered.
The emergence of more sessionable beers is not a trend as much as it is a return to normalcy. In most cases, sessionable beers are actually just beers with normal alcohol content. When a beer style like IPA starts being offered in lower ABV iterations, then the “session” name actually makes sense. You would never refer to a 5 percent ABV Vienna Lager as a “session lager.” That style of beer is typically about 5 percent ABV. It is, however, more “sessionable” than a 10 percent ABV Imperial Stout. So are sessionable beers here to stay? Of course. They never actually went away, they just weren’t getting a lot of press for a little while there.
The New IPA is...IPA
A lot of people want to know what the next big thing in beer will be. In case you did not know, IPA is currently the most popular style of craft beer. Since 2008, IPA went from 8 percent of craft beer consumption to almost 30 percent at the end of 2014. What is even more interesting is that this growth of IPA is taking place alongside continued growth of craft beer overall. So when you look at the volume growth of IPA brewed in the U.S. since 2008, it has grown a total of six million barrels, or over ten times its 2008 volume.
Naturally, anyone in the beer business wants to know what will catch fire like IPA next. The answer is nothing, yet. The trajectory of IPA growth is still increasing, so IPA has not even hit its own ceiling. Furthermore, IPA has virtually been reinvented by the introduction of an ingredient new to the category: fruit. The citrusy flavors of hops are getting complemented by blood orange, grapefruit, mango, pineapple, and more. These beers are exploding out of so many breweries right now, they will be everywhere before you know it. And they taste good. They taste really good. So don’t expect IPA’s popularity to wane any time soon, rather watch as the category itself gets more diverse.
So It Gose
One of the new darlings of the craft beer world is an old German style of beer called Gose (pronounced “go-zuh”). This style of beer is light in body, slightly acidic, and flavored with coriander and salt. Sound refreshing? It is. Sound like it’s food-friendly? You bet. Is this the new IPA? Doubtful. Gose almost became extinct as is slowly fell out of favor in its home country. It is safe to say that the same thing will happen here, until eventually only a few producers making the very best examples of the style will remain. But until then (or if I am wrong), this beer is getting a lot of attention, and is just about as hipsterrific as you can get these days.
Another beer style that is peaking these days is sour beer. Belgian in origin, these beers are not for everyone. Like IPA though, the people that love them are evangelical. Sour beers are extremely complex when done right, with layer upon layer of flavor beneath a tartness that is unlike anything else in the world of beer. These beers are also very food friendly, and virtually all of them are relatively low in alcohol. One thing about them that you can generally assume is that they are quite expensive. The maturation process is complex, involving special yeast strains, lengthy barrel aging, and even meticulous blending of different beers or batches. People who love these beers definitely fall under the category of “vocal minority.”
Keeping You Regular
American craft beer has spared no expense in exploring the boundaries of what there is to brew and how to brew it. Whether it is antiquated styles like Gose or Belgian-style sour beers, we are doing it. A funny thing happened along the way though: people started to appreciate regular old beer again. I don’t mean the mass produced garbage, I mean good, sturdy, crisp, clean lager beer. These beers got a bad rap for a long time because of what the U.S. mega-breweries did to them over the years, but nothing was ever wrong with real golden lagers and pilsners. By real, I mean made with all malt. No cheap fillers like corn or rice, just the authentic ingredients that these beers were made from traditionally, and enough hops that you can actually taste them. Not an overpowering amount of hops (like in IPA), but true-to-style beers made the way European immigrants brought to the U.S. in the 19th century, before mass production ruined them. American craft breweries are making these beers again, making them really well, and people are responding enthusiastically.