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The Next Phase of Craft Beer?

Craft beer is bigger than ever. Even though it’s only a small percentage of the total beer marketing, it’s been growing leaps and bounds for years. While there’s talks of a craft beer bubble, more breweries are opening than closing, so the industry is only going to grow in the near future. Below are the prominent trends that will help fuel that growth in the next year or so.

Low Carb Beer Low Cal, Low Carb Beers

This trend’s been written up a bunch, and touted by craft beer godfathers Jim Koch and Sam Calagione.

Low cal, low carb beers will definitely appeal to the #EarnYourBeer crowd, who seem to be growing leaps and bounds. But, it feels like their appeal might be limited.

Like session IPAs did for a time, they may find an audience, but are likely to fall off the radar just as fast as their lower ABV predecessors. It’s hard to see the fans driving the haze and pastry trends trading them in, and even more craft beer fans are jumping onto the hype bus of those styles.

It also seems like this trend is appropriate only for the bigger craft brewers. It makes sense that the leaders of Dogfish Head and Boston Beer are talking about it – they’ve achieved mass distribution and follow the year-round, seasonal and occasional beer model. They need velocity at-shelf and on tap (which is a whole other article), and a flavorful beer that you can drink a few of without getting schnockered achieves that.

To this end, they’re also kinda stealing a page from big beer. This feels like a rehash of the Michelob Ultra movement, albeit plus flavor. That brews still around, and “lite” beer calorie claims are now common, so there might be some staying power outside of the big beer machine.

It’s to be determined if craft brewers outside the Top 50 will jump on board, and if consumers will embrace it enough to keep it around.

Double Dry Hopped DDH Everything

The flip side of low cal, low carb beers, the haze craze is real, and double-dry hopping (DDH) isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

From milkshake IPAs to other hazy offshoots, brewers continue to experiment with IPAs that utilize the DDH process. The time seems ripe to start seeing other styles and new offerings getting the biotransformation hop treatment.

Red IPAs, black IPAs, IPLs and more are proof of brewers applying an IPA’s most popular feature across different styles. Haze and its fruit-forward hop schedule have taken IPAs to the new level, so seeing it infiltrate blonde ales, cream ales, Belgian styles even pilsners and even browns, ambers or alt-biers.

A few have already popped up. It looks like a lot more will be coming in the next year.

CBD BeerCBD Beer

All kinds of products hsve Cannabidiol in them these days. Soap, trail mix, dog treats, ice cream, teas and more are all available infused with CBD. Beer’s next.

Attempts are already being made. Long Trail was the first to brew one. Several brewers in Oregon have used CBD in brews, as well as Black Hammer Brewing in San Fran. Sweetwater makes beers that smell like a Phish concert, but don’t have CBD.

The biggest barrier, which the CBD industry is facing on the whole, is the lack of regulation. Both Long Trail and Black Hammer had to pull their CBD beers after the federal government intervened, and Oregon banned CBD beers on the state-level (though alcohol-free CBD Seltzers from breweries are good to go.)

The federal hang-up seems to be that CBD is a “non-standard” beer ingredient. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau requires special approval for any non-standard beer ingredients, which, surprisingly, include things like coriander and rose water. Oregon banned CBD beers at the state level, citing the unknowns of “CBD getting into alcohol.”

Once these legal issues are worked out, either with the federal process approval for beer (which can take up to 3 years) or greater CBD regulations/guidelines, the only thing left for brewers to figure out is when to add the CBD to get a decent dose in the final beer (assuming this would be post-boil or post-fermentation to not lose any of the cannabidiol.)

After some trial and error, expect to see CBD beers flood onto shelves and taps.

Local Hard Seltzers “Local” Hard Seltzers

A craft beer trends article can’t be written without mentioning the explosion of Hard Seltzers. With the category eclipsing the $1B mark, (which is technically separate from beer), brewers are jumping into seltzer in a big way.

Some are branded (like Bud Light and Corona), some are “crafty” (like Bon & Viv and Vizzy) and some are created right next to craft beers (like Two Roads, Notch Brewing, Oskar Blues and the CBD ones mentioned above.)

Many smaller craft brewers are starting to fill their fermenters with them too, and with good reason.

Their simple to make, fast to ferment, and appeal to a broader audience than craft beer can reach. Using them as almost a “gateway” beverage into craft beer is just smart business.

So how can these smaller breweries keep it crafty and separate themselves from the Big Beer seltzers? Local, seasonal ingredients is one way.

Taking a page from seasonal sours, brewers can use fruits and other items from their area to create a homegrown seltzer unique to them and their place of residence.

It’s low-hanging fruit (pun intended) and a great way to stand out in a way Big Beer would struggle to replicate. Look for more of these to show up at craft breweries this year.

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