A couple rounds of beer at Duluth’s Bent Paddle. File / News Tribune

By Dave Hoops, For the Duluth News Tribune

At the start of each New Year, I do some thinking about what’s coming next in the beer world. I do this to stay ahead on trends, mull over new ideas I like, and plan what I want to focus on. Here are some thoughts and predictions for 2018 in the wonderful world of beer. Interestingly and not surprisingly, according to the Brewers Association, 83 percent of drinking-age Americans now live within 10 miles of a brewery, so it will not be a stretch to explore these trends.

Retro beers will be big

With the influx of sour beers and the IPA and hop explosion, some older styles have been slightly out of the public’s eye. These include styles such as Extra Special Bitter, Porter, Scotch Ale, Brown and Mild Ale, and especially, old school Pale Ale and Stout. Many of these wonderful beers have been left by the wayside as brewers try to push the envelope and stretch the boundaries (not a bad thing, at all). We should see a comeback this year as more beer drinkers seek a return to these easy-drinking classics. Personally, continuing to brew a great pale ale will be high on my list this year.

Diversification by the Big Beer giants will continue

You may know the largest brewer in the U.S., Budweiser, which is owned by Belgian based IN-Bev, recently purchased Miller-Coors. They have also purchased 15 small craft breweries, including Goose Island, Kona,10 Barrel, Elysian, Breckenridge, Devils Backbone, Wicked Weed and Four Peaks. Foreign brewing giants Heineken, San Miguel and Duvel, along with U.S.-based North American Breweries, have purchased strong craft breweries, including Lagunitas, Ommegang, Boulevard, Firestone Walker, Widmer, Founders and more. This trend will continue in the crowded beer market. The consumer is the ultimate winner because more brands will have a stronger distribution and marketing network to increase availability. It will be difficult to separate independent from national and international without some research.

Craft lager beers

Every year I add this category to my list, and each year, more and more lager beer is sold. I can now say that craft lager beers are, indeed, a big deal. Lager beers are a bit more challenging to brew and take longer to age, so production costs are higher. The beers taste so good, though! Breweries are finding it worth the extra effort, time and cost. Consumers are really starting to seek out great Pilsners and Helles. The biggest trend I see are Keller beers, unfiltered lagers released without the usual maturation stage. These beers are smoking hot in the market and very much worth seeking out.

Session and easy-drinking beers

Enjoying lower alcohol beers that can be imbibed in higher quantities during your favorite activities has a real upside. I think as people look at health issues, moderation in drinking will continue to be on the rise. These beers are tasty and fulfilling without the need to call a taxi or skip dinner because you took in 800 calories on two glasses of Imperial Stout.

Locally sourced ingredients

Here in the Northland region, we have a few hop farms, a barley co-op in Ashland, multiple fruit orchards and the best brewing water in the world. As more and more breweries pop up, sourcing and demand for raw materials gets tougher, as does finding the best quality materials. Seeking out locally produced brewing materials is not only community-enriching; it’s an endeavor that ensures the future.

Special release beers will decline a bit

Many breweries are making hay by offering a limited amount of a “special beer” that forces folks to show up at a specific time, wait in line and leave with a limited amount of beer. All the beer we brew is good and special. I think people will get the picture that their extra time and money can be spent enjoying a myriad of selections offered from our great breweries, finding what they like and hanging with friends and family drinking from these offerings.

The taproom explosion will continue

Going to a brewery has become a destination night out. Tap rooms are great places to enjoy what I call the three C’s: community, casual, convivial. The good beer movement is uber local, and the tap rooms with their events, game playing and conversation offer a very bright future for generations of beer drinkers to enjoy.

Barrel aging and blended beers

Beers aged on wood have become a craft beer standard. Oak barrels from bourbon distilleries are very common. Kentucky law states that bourbon distilled in that state — where 95 percent of all American bourbon is produced — can use the barrel only once. That means a bounty for the brewers. We buy them up and age many styles of beer in the wood, gaining deep vanilla notes and complex flavors from the bourbon-soaked wood. What I think we’ll see moving forward is brewers trying an increasing range of distillery barrels — not just bourbon. I’ve brewed with tequila barrels, sherry casks, port casks, red and white wine barrels, Chambord liqueur barrels, brandy and cognac barrels. These beers will be blended or added to young beer to create new beers and flavors.

Keg beer infusions

Brewers will infuse single kegs of beer and add ingredients at the time of the keg filling. Great beers can be created by adding tea, coffee, fruits and vegetables to a base beer for a one-off keg. Duluth beer drinkers should see this trend often in 2018.

= = =

As is my tradition for the annual forecast, I like to close with a couple of trends I personally enjoy that I hope to see continue to take off.

  • Wheat beers will become in more demand.
  • New ways to use hops, mash hopping, hop grinding, and hop oils will push the hoppy beer envelope even further.
  • Collaborations between breweries to make outlier beers

Happy New Year to all!

Got a Q for the brewer?

Dave Hoops, veteran brewer and beer judge, has for years offered up pairing tips, festival how-tos, gift guides and trend alerts in his regular column in the News Tribune’s Taste section. Now he’s opening the floor to the hobbyists. Do you have a beer-related question for Hoops? Send a note to features@duluthnews.com.

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