What’s Brewing for 2012

According to the Brewers Association, the U.S. is the world’s largest beer market and offers the greatest diversity – over 140 styles of beer and 13,000 beer brands. Stephen Hindy, president and cofounder, Brooklyn Brewery, reports that while overall beer consumption in the U.S. has decreased more than 5% in the past three years, craft beer has exploded with double-digit growth – an increase of 14% in 2011. He says that their craft brew sales were even higher last year – up 34% and adds, “The beer market is changing, and there are lots of theories. Some say it’s the economy, but I think it’s a combination of changing tastes, stricter enforcement of drunk driving laws, and health concerns, which are compelling people to drink less and choose more flavor. Plus, they want more of a story behind what they drink. If you look at coffee and bread, 30% are now made by artisans, and this is happening with beer, too.”

“Today’s beer lover is into experimentation, drinking different beers for different occasions,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director, Brewers Association. “This trend will continue to grow as beer lovers become more educated – a light American lager doesn’t satisfy every occasion any more.” Seasonal beers continue to top the list of off-premise favorites, along with IPA’s (India pale ales). Other trends are sour beers (dry finish, great for warm weather), extreme beers (high in alcohol content – up to 40% – and made with unusual ingredients, such as fruits, wood, herbs, spices), and session beers (lower alcohol content). There’s even a growing interest in beer cocktails (beer flips, shandies, black velvets). To meet the increasing demand for variety, restaurants are adding more taps and increasing their selections by the bottle, including large format bottles. They’re also investing in different sizes and shapes of glassware (from steins, pilsner glasses, and tall cylinders to snifters and Champagne flutes) to enhance taste – much like special glassware enhances the taste of wine. Limited-edition beers and small one-off batches of non-carbonated beer delivered in firkins (small wooden or metal casks) are also popular. According to Stephen, some chain restaurants are adding beer programs, and more fine dining restaurants are embracing beer, including hosting beer dinners, and beer gardens are also popping up across the country, both seasonal and year ‘round. “Restaurants that are not developing beer lists with good selections of styles, including imports, are missing a big part of the market today,” says Stephen. “People are interested in beer now.” Julia adds that investing in employee education (available through the association and distributors) about selecting, serving, and caring for beers is also an essential component to a successful program.

January 17, 2012