Hot Beer: Trends in Popular Beer Styles

I was inspired to write this by a Facebook group called League of Extraordinary Beer Drinkers. I've been a member for over 8 months. The group was composed of over 25k members when I joined. As of mid July 2015, there are over 30k members. The charter of the group was to talk about craft beer. People talked about how they felt about their favorite craft beers. At first, I thought it was interestingNow, I'm not so sure.

Many members are extremely militant about their opinions. Some even put up posts just to incite others with differing viewpoints. Surveying the groups posts, one might get the impression that there are only a handful of great craft beers in the world or in America. What this has done is drive up the price of those beers, almost through the roof! A 6-pack of Stone Enjoy By averages about $20. People are trading beers from locations all around the country. This hype has dramatically driven up demand for these handful of beers.  

Wake up people, there is plenty of good craft beer out there, go out and find it for yourself- but start out local.  

So, why, after all this, am I writing about what's hot and what's not?

I am not pushing or disrespecting any certain beer or brewery. What I am talking about are brewery styles.

(Disclaimer: I am finding it extremely difficult to find sales data broken out by craft brewing styles in terms of sales or quantities. I have found a list on Huffington Post that list the top 17 most demanded beers. There are: 11 stouts, 3 wild/sours, and 3 IPAs.)

"Sours" are new to the mainstream American beer drinking scene. Sours and or wild beer brewing is not new to the American craft or homebrewing culture. Sours have 1, 2, or all  3 bacterial strains added to the brew for the first hour before yeast is added for fermentation. Wild beers are exposed to air for a specified amount of time. This addition of bacteria does not produce any alcohol, exposure to wild yeast will produce alcohol with sometimes unpredictable results. Wild beers are a little milder than sours.

I found references to wild brewing back in the 1700's in a book called Eastern Shore Beer-The Heady History of Chesapeake Brewing by Tony Russo. This refers to the eastern shore of Maryland where Beer Breweries struggled to gain a foothold until recent times. The western shore around the Baltimore area did not suffer this problem however. One of the Breweries called Wild Goose mainly brewed wild or sour beers. The beer was allowed to ferment naturally just from the normal yeast propagating in the air and brewery. The book also details the practice of "Farmhouse Ale". This practice was commonly performed by the farmers wife in the farm kitchen, hence the antique term "alewife". Much of this beer was wild or sour beer.

Sour beer brewing, at least at this point, is not yet hot- it's just new. It may become hot or it may not. I base this on the fact that very few people, outside of my beer geeks, even know what it is. I have tried much less than a third of what I estimate is out there and I have found many I hate, one or two that I could tolerate, and not one that I love, although Berliner Weisse tastes good to me (just the right amount of tartness). I'll keep trying them, however. Three of the top 17 most sought after beers, according to the Huffington Post are either wild or sours. 

Are IPA's hot right now?  Three of the top most sought after beers, according to HuffPo, were IPAs- Session, Double, or Imperial IPAs. The demand for craft brewed IPAs has remained brisk and has strongly increased in the last 15 years. There has been a race to see who could use the most hops in their IPA but in the end the IPA with a balanced aroma and flavor will be the one to win the race.

Are Hefeweizens or Wits hot? Thanks to Blue Moon (owned by employees and an affiliation with Miller/Coors) and Widmer Bros (in 2007 Widmer Brothers of Portland, Oregon merged with Red Hook to be called Craft Beer Alliance), more people have learned about and drink this style of beer. 

According to Bart Watson of the Brewers Association, local lagers, sessional beers, and higher hopped pilsners will becoming a hotter sector in the future according to current scan data- data taken from the scanning register database of grocery stores and liquor retailers.

The bottom line is to drink what you like no matter what. And if you are adventurous try something new, you just never know what may strike your fancy.

Jim St. Germain

Jim St. Germain is president of St. Germain Cellars and the resident hops enthusiast. When he isn't evangelizing IPAs (75+ IBUs!), he enjoys a nice glass of pinot noir or good whiskey, neat.