Craft beer trends for 2016

To get insight into where craft beer trends may be heading in 2016, Suzanne Callander spoke to a selection of beer industry stalwarts… and found out what they thought the next 12 months holds.

chopp-1010715_1920I think we can all agree that the craft beer ‘trend’ is here to stay! Indeed, according to Chris Imlach, a spokesperson for EEBRIA Trade, which provides a shop window and UK-wide delivery service for a wide variety of innovative craft beer brewers, demand for craft beer is spreading out of the cities and is now expanding into small towns across the UK. “National distribution along with increased awareness and popularity of craft beer means that it is now profitable for pubs, bars and restaurants in smaller towns to carry craft ranges. It is also now just as easy for licensees in remote villages to serve craft beer as it is for city centre pubs,” said Chris.

Asked why the demand for craft, or kegged, beer is rising, Neil Walker, a spokesperson for SIBA, a trade organisation for independent brewers, said: ”Increasingly, beer drinkers are becoming more interested in flavour than format and this is something that the independent craft brewers are responding to.

cans, for example, are experiencing something of a renaissance

“Cans, for example, are experiencing something of a renaissance with more craft brewers putting their beer into smaller 330ml cans, which are manufactured in such a way as to keep the beer in sparklingly fresh condition.” So, gone are the days when cans were seen as the cheap option? “Yes,” said Neil. “In many ways cans actually have advantages, from a technical and environmental point of view, over bottles.”

Chris at EEBRIA agrees. “We expect to see more beers in cans… this was a growing trend in the latter part of 2015 and as more people realise the benefits of canning beers it’s just going to grow further.”

Andy Hepworth managing director at Hepworth & Co Brewers, is not so enthusiastic about canned beer. He said: “Unfortunately much of the canned beer does not live up to the hype, and I feel that some inaccurate statements are being made about the quality of cans. Hepworth’s cannot justify expenditure on the equipment needed to get canned beer anywhere near to the standards that we are able to achieve with bottles. Canned beer appears to be a very London-based hipster fashion, which may not translate to sales further afield, particularly at their current price.”

Flavour trends

Moving on to discuss flavour trends, Chris at EEBRIA believes that in 2016 we will see less dependency on hops with more breweries brewing fruit, wheat and malt focussed beers. “We expect to see pubs and bars of all sizes and styles offering a more diverse range of drinks, not focussing purely on local breweries, but instead bringing in quality beers from further afield. We also expect that some Pubco’s will be stocking a wider range of beers from smaller breweries, offering their customers a more differentiated experience across their pubs.”

Andy at Hepworths’s agrees. “A lack of certain hops this year could move the focus of many breweries towards some more traditional hops and they may also swing towards more emphasis on the flavour characteristics derived from malts. We will be certainly be encouraging the ‘gluten free’ market as we are set to launch a whole range or ales, lagers and a porter of naturally gluten free beers brewed traditionally with barley. This is a small, but rapidly growing, sector.”

beer drinkers are now looking for more variety in the range of beers they drink

Neil at SIBA believes that beer drinkers are now looking for more variety in the range of beers they drink. “Far more people are being adventurous in their choices, rather than sticking to the same set styles. American style pale ales and IPAs are growing in popularity, but so are other well-known styles, when done well, such as proper Pilsner lagers and wheat beers.”

Deighton Ridge, national on-trade controller at Shepherd Neame says that flavoured beers and spirit flavoured beers have a big role to play – presenting beer in different and interesting ways. “Our No.18 Yard Brewhouse range, for example, experiments with a range of unusual ingredients. The trick is not to drown out the beer’s traditional flavours – hoppy characteristics and malty sweetness – or you risk turning an interesting beer that will sell well into a novelty product people will only try once.”

beer-932994_1920EEBRIA is seeing a number of beer styles growing. “Sours continue to be popular and people are getting more experimental with them, so the number of dry hopped sours, sour IPAs and dark sours are very much on the up. We’re also seeing a rising trend for hybrid beers in general, such as IPLs (India Pale Lagers) and wheat IPAs.”

So, which styles might be losing favour to some of the more popular beers? “The trend for black IPAs certainly seems to have slowed down, while the popularity of saisons is now less pronounced than it was 18 months ago. Strong and best bitters are also becoming less noticeable,” said Chris at EEBRIA.

“In my experience standard lagers and ales are enduring tougher times, whereas premium beers of all varieties are benefitting, regardless of the format,” said Deighton.

Rob Jenkins, managing director at Portobello Brewing Co, is seeing craft lagers – Pilsner and strong IPAs in particular – continue to increase in popularity. “Sales of craft beers are definitely still on the increase, He said.  “At the start of 2015 65% of our sales were for cask beer with just 35% being for craft beer. However, craft beer now accounts for a whopping 70% of our sales.  Across London, in particular, we have experienced an explosion in demand for craft lager.

“We are also seeing more younger beer drinkers today and more women are also now starting to show an interest in beer too. We are finding that women prefer more hoppy beer – with less volume and more flavour.”

Portobello’s focus for 2016 will remain on craft lager. “I am hoping that by this time next year 80% of our business will be craft larger,” said Rob. “We will, for example, be launching our new Stiff Lip IPA, a strong IPA, in the first quarter of 2016.

Regional interest

According to Geoff Mumford, co-owner of Burton Bridge Brewery, craft beers have not really impacted in his region – a 30-mile radius of Burton-On-Trent. “Craft beer does not seem to have taken hold in this area as much as it has in London.”

Geoff has seen the growth in golden beers slowing down and interest in fruit beers growing, predominantly in the darker beer section, such as porters. “We have been offering a damson porter for many years and are now seeing increasing interest in this.

For 2016 Geoff predicts that there will be a further rise in the number of craft brewers. “It is rapidly becoming a cottage industry,” he said. “However, with ever more players fighting for a share of the market the price of craft beer will be driven down. This may be good for the licensee in the short time but supply may not be sustainable over the longer term so is important that publicans opt for good quality beer, and a supplier who can offer product consistency and at a price which makes supply sustainable.”

Reinforcing many of the reported emerging beer trends, Harvey & Sons, a producer of traditional cask ales, is now repairing to re-enter the craft beer market, having invested in a modest new kegging line to add to its cask-conditioned beer offerings. “We first introduced kegged beer in the 1960s to compete with the larger regional brewers, explained Miles Jenner, head brewer at Harvey & Sons.The line was destroyed in a flood in 2000 and, at that time keg beer was a such a small part of its trade that it was decided not to replace the line.

brewing trends go in cycles and today, there are a greater variety of styles that can be created as a kegged beer

“However, with the surprising renewed interest in kegged beer we feel that now is a good time to get back into this market,” continued Miles. “Brewing trends go in cycles and today, there are a greater variety of styles that can be created as a kegged beer, whereas in the past they were viewed very much as standard national brands.”

Harvey & Sons is hoping to produce a stout, an IPA and a blonde beer on the kegging line and maybe, further into the future, a fruit beer too.

“Keg beer can now offer a good additional product offering for licensees who might have a slower turnover of beer sales. It offers a beer that is not as perishable as a cask-conditioned beer, having a life expectancy twice that of a cask conditioned beer, so pubs and bars can offer a wider range of beers without wastage.”

So, with demand for more variety and more flavours and styles of craft beer forecast to grow, 2016 looks set to be another interesting year for beer drinkers.

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Author: Suzanne Callander

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