In the last 16 years I have seen the shelves and tap handles evolve towards better beer with each passing year, as consumers vote with their wallets and more retailers see the increased profitability of selling better beer. Growth of beer centric social networks is having an influential force on the way that people experience beer. National apps such as Untapped, Tap Hunter and Beer Menus grow in popularity and have overtaken traditional web based platforms, such as Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, which were prevalent 5 years ago. The mobile device apps provide a quick and easy interaction for the user. This trend looks to continue as Untappd and their rivals look to monetize their success and expand into a growing market.
Two Facebook groups here in the Rochester area are also flourishing. Flour City Beer Appreciation Association and ROC Beer now have over 6000 members between them. These groups of men and women range from beginner craft beer drinkers to industry professionals with a wide range of opinions and a common love for beer. These groups have had a positive effect on the growth of craft beer in Rochester. The Rochester market is far ahead of Syracuse and edges out Buffalo, coinciding with the membership of social media groups focused on craft beer. As a result, many challenging beers that we see wouldn’t be as well received in those other cities. The downside can be that demand for limited beers in our city always far outstrips supply. Don’t expect that to get any better. Some bars and beer stores are placing purchasing rules on certain products as managers struggle to meet demand and attempt to keep their loyal customers happy.
As the craft industry grows, expect to see more craft breweries purchased by larger breweries and investment groups. It will be harder to know who owns what and exactly where your money is going. Macro brewers will continue their steady march towards reestablishing their previously held market share. In the meantime, we can look forward to more local brewery openings and expansions leading to more choice and creativity, as small batch brewing allows for niche styles to be produced. To stand out, brewers will be forced to improve their beers. With this general rising tide I expect to see regular sour beer releases, some using locally grown fruits during the season. Another sub-genre of the ever popular IPA category that I have just started to notice popping up is sour IPA’s.
Ballast Point, which was recently purchased by locally owned Constellation Brands, created a beer called Grapefruit Sculpin, a classic west coast IPA with grapefruit flavor added to it. This was a departure from rather bland base beers with fruit added to something that was hoppy and already excellent, accentuating and complimenting the existing hop character. These days many breweries are creating countless renditions of this beer using many different fruits. I do think that craft beer aficionados will begin to reject fruited IPA’s that have an obviously fake fruit character. Genuine whole ingredients have been at the core of craft beer. Expect to see a proliferation of southern hemisphere hops. As hop growers catch up to the demand for tropical tasting hops, breweries will keep churning them out as fast as they can get their hands on them.
So here’s to the next 12 months in craft beer that promises constant change, some uncertainty, lots of creativity and many great glasses of beer. Cheers.