It’s another crystal ball gazing Session, this time Csasaba Babek at Beer Means Business asking us to predict the one thing we will see more of in beer’s future.
I’m going to resist the temptation to write about industry consolidation coupled with the proliferation of very small, neighborhood breweries. I do expect to see more of that, but at this point in my not very humble opinion, that’s not really a prediction but an observation. The economic wheels of beer are turning firmly turning in this direction for all to see.
But that more competitive landscape will be a driver for a lot more diversity of beer ingredients, where breweries strive for innovation and distinctiveness to separate themselves in a crowded industry.
I don’t think I need to tell you that new hop varietals with unique and unprecedented flavors are being cultivated each year. But in my mind, a more interesting development are the nascent hop growing regions in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, California and Colorado taking root, establishing their own identities and quite possibly their own flavors and character. It’s still an open question as to how successful these efforts will be, and if the average beer drinker will really tell the difference between Yakima Valley, Michigan, and New York Cascade hops. Will there be a day where bar patrons sip different IPAs from a series tiny glasses, comparing and contrasting the character of different regional hop varieties? This may be a dystopian future for certain people, but no longer seems far-fetched.
On the fermentables side, barley and wheat currently dominate in addition to corn and rice, which are viewed, rightly or wrongly, as cheap fillers. Rye and oats pop up here and there. Historically, it wasn’t always that way. For centuries, beer has been brewed with fermentables like millet, sorghum, yams, buckwheat, grapes, apples, cranberries, molasses, honey and whatever else might be lying around. I’ve noticed breweries slowly re-discovering these other sources or starches and sugar, and the results have been unexpected pleasures. Brown rice added a light, nutty flavor to a light ale, while buckwheat imparted a rich heartiness to a brew roasted barley malt can’t possibly replicate. Portland’s Hopworks Urban Brewery is playing around with Kernza, a rare grain which most likely had never been cultivated for human consumption, which imparts a light spiciness to the brew. And is it just me, or are rye beers becoming more common, as brewers play around with the interplay of grain and hops. I’m just going more with my gut here, and say brewers moving forward are going to start throwing different stuff into their mash tuns.
Will our barley malt IPA’s brewed with Pacific Northwest hops some day look as monochromatic as the industrial light lagers of the 20th Century? Let’s hope so!