Beer has bumped shoulders with some strange trends in the past few years: barrel-aging beer in spirit barrels; dry-hopping; and even the use of untethered, “wild” yeasts like Brettanomyces.
Hilariously enough, all of the above techniques are old news now. It’s a testament to how fast the beer world moves forward and how quickly certain styles or approaches dart in and out of the spotlight (remember when people wanted their IPAs to be bitter?)
With a new year upon us, a number of beer trends and approaches will likely define 2018 and set the course for years following. Some of those trends might be brand new; others may only become more ubiquitous. Here are six predictions as to what will characterize Boston’s beer scene in 2018.
Let’s See What You’ve Got
Beer ownership is an important issue these days, and independent brewers are doing everything they can to advocate authenticity. Small business, in any industry, has always been about favoring people over commodity, and beer is no exception. To better connect with consumers and champion a genuine business model, local spots will likely be providing more transparency on all fronts.
We’re already seeing some breweries doing such. Some are tapping test batches of beer before scaling them up, often labeling them with something like “v3.0” so drinkers can taste-test and leave feedback. Others are reaching out and asking what people want out of their product, spanning styles to even names, and delivering on those interests. Many places are simply lifting the veil and letting customers into the brewhouse to see the day-to-day. However it’s done, anticipate local breweries getting their devotees even more involved in their business this year.
More Hops, More Haze
Probably no surprises here. With the momentum IPAs and heavily hopped beers have developed over the last few years, the style shows zero signs of letting up anytime soon. Hell, even breweries in the Midwest and West Coast are making New England-style IPAs now. If anything, expect the trend to snowball more: More hops, more unknown and exotic varieties from across the world, and more of that opaque, orange juice haze.
It’s a safe bet that brewers will also dig into their arsenals and further find ways to accentuate those potent flavors. Adjuncts like lactose and fruit purées have already proven successful, and a few Boston spots have already begun to tap into that. Upping the booze content has also picked up steam, with more breweries dialing in high-alcohol triple IPAs and hop-forward beers breezing past 15 percent ABV. Even adding hops to styles that don’t normally flaunt them, like lagers and lighter ales, will only become more commonplace.
Not Your Mother’s Macro
Speaking of lagers: With half of the craft beer crowd wanting beers so hoppy they taste like straight fruit juice, others long for a return to simplicity and drinkability. But at the same time, drinkers aren’t keen on falling back on the light, watered-down beverages that introduced them to beer. Enter craft lagers: flavorful, well thought-out takes on classic pilsners and European-style beers.
Jack’s Abby in Framingham has carried the torch locally, and many breweries — such as Night Shift and Idle Hands — are joining in, with more spots likely to ride that wave in 2018. Whether these flavorful lagers run parallel to the IPA craze or eclipse it altogether remains to be seen. More than likely, both will just happily coexist.
But I’ve Had That One Already
Variety is the spice of life. It’s also the defining trait of craft beer today, for better or for worse. In the age of Untappd and flights, many modern drinkers are more interested in their next beer than the one in front of them. Consumers want to try everything, and breweries are starting to shift their catalogs to account for that.
This year, that will probably manifest as a drop in flagship beers and a rise in one-off, small-batch beers. Rather than put weight behind a core roster, more spots can be expected to crank out new and exciting beers in rapid fire succession. We’ve already seen this with the rise of rotating beer series, which continuously cycle through different hop combinations or experimental recipes to keep things fresh. In due time, those might be the new norm.
Local This, Local That
All drinkers are in the pursuit of local. Drinking a beer made nearby means you’re supporting a local business, a nearby town, or a go-to watering hole. In 2017, locality in beer meant the rise of taprooms as neighborhood gathering spaces. Rather than finding the night’s spoils at a dingy liquor store, patrons flocked to lively and personable tasting rooms—like Notch in Salem—to drink right from the source. They still do.
This year, expect more breweries to embrace local with their ingredients. Instead of having malts and hops shipped in from other states or countries, places like Exhibit ‘A’ and Aeronaut are already calling up Massachusetts-based businesses to help make their beer. Two spots in particular, Valley Malt in Hadley and Four Star Farms in Northfield, have become commonplace to see printed on cans.
Locality in beer also continues after the beer is finished brewing. More breweries nowadays are looking for ways to give back to the community around them by donating spent grains to farms or dining ventures, reaching out to activism groups, or even offering their space as a conduit for discussion. That outreach is only going to pick up steam.
Wow, What A List
With on-site sales and foot traffic at breweries on the rise, expect local restaurants and bars to begin cashing in on changing tastes. Whereas tap lists once had hefty selections of macro lagers and corporate-owned swill, expect to see a shift toward well-curated selections of local booze and more limited offerings. Many places, including local pizzerias and even Gillette Stadium, are already making the switch by offering sought-after IPAs and various local pints. It won’t be long until even your favorite dive starts serving (or at least stocking) more premium options.
This story is part of Beer & Mortar, a series in which Eater Boston contributor Alex Wilking explores the beer scene in Boston and beyond. Stay tuned for new installments each week, featuring profiles of both classic breweries and soon-to-open ones, reports on local beer trends, and more.