Just like in a pick-up game of street hoops, beer lovers are always asking “who got next?” as it pertains to what they’ll be drinking in 2017. Citra and Mosaic hops seem to be all the rage, with gentle nods to coffee and lactose, as “Juice” and “Milkshake” enter the beer lexicon.
“The IPA is no longer the ’roided-up wrestler pile-driving palates with bitterness,” wrote Josh Bernstein for Bon Appetit magazine. “It’s as soft as soufflé."
It seemed everyone had an opinion in 2016 as magazines and blogs closed out their end-of-year beer coverage by wondering out loud: What style will dominate in 2017? The short answer: it won’t be just one style and the New England IPA isn’t going anywhere.
“Cloudy IPAs will continue to dominate the market,” said John Stemler, head brewer at Free Will in Perkasie, “because they look juicy, whatever the f*** that means.”
Feeding off this insatiable enthusiasm, brewers need to stay ahead of the curve in this brave new world of cloudy beer. Call it the Tired Hands effect.
“Hazy beer will become more and more popular,” said Brian O’Reilly, head brewer at Sly Fox. “Brewers will outdo themselves with turbidity until your local watering hole is serving each pint of the new juicy haze beer with a spoon.”
O’Reilly was joking, of course. However, his response begged for an investigation and Philly Loves Beer decided to ask a few innovative local brewers to get to the bottom of it.
The answers varied immensely, from those promising to continue to pound palates with hop-forward beers to others predicting the long-awaited rise of the mighty barrel-aged Weizen Bock. While the latter may be wishful thinking, several brewers are determined to bring back time-honored German-style beers. Of the dozen brewers polled, seven of them mentioned pilsners as the trend to watch.
“IPAs are going to continue to rise, but I think we’re going to start to see a trend towards something to give our palates a break from the resinous hop blast towards more neutral and refreshing styles, like pilsners or California commons,” said Ryan Krill, co-founder and president at Cape May Brewing.
Siding somewhere in between hop bomb and traditional was Mark Russell, head brewer at Dock Street. He predicted a meshing of the session IPA and the pale ale, something slightly bitter with low ABV.
“A lot of craft beer drinkers love hops, but can’t always drink seven-percent beers -- without feeling it the next day,” said Russell. “This low IBU style can also attract other beer drinkers who might not realize that hops and bitterness aren’t synonyms.”
Trevor Hayward, co-owner at Evil Genius Beer Company, argued for what he described as the
“hopjectification of beer styles that traditionally aren’t overly hopped.” Evil Genius has applied this philosophy to their popular farmhouse IPA, Shut Up, Meg, which has been dry-hopped with Citra, Amarillo and Simcoe.
“Customers just want more hops, and I think the brewers are going to give it to them,” said Hayward.
Lucky for Hayward, one of his peers sees farmhouse ales as the next beer to go main stream. At Round Guys Brewing in Lansdale, they are already seeing an uptick in sales on beers featuring interesting yeast strains.
“While I don't see IPAs going away, I see yeast character starting to take the forefront,” said Round Guys owner and head brewer Scott Rudich. “Mixed fermentation and yeast previously not used in brewing will start to be more of the beer geeks’ beers. People are really over-looking the contribution that English and German hops can make with a unique yeast character.”
One major trend that has taken hold in the industry is “limited release bottles” as more and more breweries try to capitalize on exclusivity. Gene Muller, owner at New Jersey's Flying Fish, recalled the story of Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin album. The hip hop super-group recorded only one copy of the double CD, then sold it at online auction for $2 million.
“The next popular beer style will be a one-off beer bottled into a single magnum, locked into a safe deposit box and forbidden to ever be opened,” Muller said. “It will also receive more than 100,000 perfect ratings on beer review sites.”
A tongue-in-cheek Muller added: “I can’t speak for others, but we’re getting into producing more lagers.”
Tim Patton, owner at Saint Benjamin Brewing, agreed with Muller. He plans to keep the lagers flowing at his brand new taproom in Kensington.
“I think a lot of beers out there are pretty over the top, but lager has mostly been left out of the arms race,” Patton said. “When I’m out, I tend to look for a lager first because I’ve gotten more into cleanly made beer, understated but flavorful.”
How about that Barrel-Aged Weizen Bock? Brian McConnell, head brewer at Sterling Pig in Media, is certain the purists will come to their senses and abandon the IPA altogether.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of online chatter recently about the barrel-aged spin on this classic and it just makes sense,” said McConnell. “I mean, it’s been a good run for IPA and all, but who really wants to drink that anymore?”