Monday, October 1, 2012

What's Trending in Beer 2012

I was looking back through some old posts recently when I ran across one from a touch more than a year ago called "What's Trending in Beer?"  I did not remember writing it until browsing the text, which tells me it's one I dreamed up because I needed to get something out on the blog.  I like to keep my two readers entertained, so I try to keep a regular supply of words popping up.*

Whether I intended it or not, it's an interesting exercise to look out across the vast plain of craft beerdom and consider the trends over the past year. Who knew I was starting something that could become a yearly feature?

To recap, since I'm guessing few of you clicked on the link above, in reviewing the end of 2010 and most of 2011, it seemed Belgian yeast had taken off in a big way, showing up in practically any kind of beer.  The year prior had seen an explosion of Black IPAs.  Before that, high gravity beers were all the rage and looking back even farther showed barrel aging had become common place.

What's happening with Belgian yeast? I think the trend of using Belgian yeast in just about anything is quieting down.  Instead, there seems to be an increasing focus on using Belgian yeast to produce more Belgian style beers, an effort I greatly encourage.

What's trending now?  In the Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder,** yin/yang, balancing of the universe vein, white IPAs are becoming more common place.  Yet, I wouldn't go so far as to call then a trend worthy of highlighting.

So, in my last year of visiting countless beer aisles, beer bars, breweries and brewfests, not to mention reading far too many articles, blogs and other musing on beer and attending a most excellent conference, here's what I see trending in beer:

1. Putting anything and everything into beer. There are clearly no boundaries in the U.S. craft beer industry. You can put anything into a beer in the United States and get away with it.  Jalapenos? Not even unusual anymore.  Maple syrup, pomegranates, bacon, chocolate, peanut butter? I've had beers with every one of them. It's what sets the U.S. apart from other countries, particularly European counterparts whose century old traditions continue to have a strangle hold on limited styles.  I enjoy it, support it and embrace it. It certainly isn't new to the past year, but it seems we've reached a certain crescendo. Why not experiment? Beer is social, and as long as we understand and enjoy the fact that some experiments are going to work and some aren't, it's all good.

2. False Complexity.  Experimentation is one thing. Throwing in 10 malts and 8 hops in an effort to suggest the beer is better is quite another.  I'm not arguing such beers aren't necessarily good, or the number of malts and hops isn't important to the flavor of the beer. As I wrote this post I drank a beer with six hop varieties.  It's a very good beer.  Yet, there is a growing trend that focuses too much on a numbers game.  It's advertising. It's the suggestion that more hops and more malts are essential to a better beer.  Hogwash.  One of the best IPAs anywhere is Blackfoot River Brewing Co.'s Single Malt IPA.  It's a crazy good beer with plenty of depth and, as is evident from the name, has only one malt.   Brew great beer with however many malts and hops you want to throw in. If they are important to the depth and complexity of the beer, great.  But stop trying to convince us that more = better.

3. The Randall/Hop Rocket phenomenon. Here's hoping this one is a fad. Dogfish Head Brewery created the Randall, which it dubs the an "organoleptic hop transducer module." That's a fancy description for a hop swirler. It's a device you connect to your tap line.  As the beer is dispensed out of the keg, it gets swirled through the Randall which can hold hops or anything else you can pack into it before sending the beer on to the tap and into your glass. Pack it with hops and the beer takes on fairly pungent hop aromas and flavors.

The Hop Rocket is a version of the same idea. I've tried beers poured through these devices packed with hops, raspberries, blackberries, hazelnut coffee beans, vanilla coffee beans and various other fruits.  Not once have I experienced any "wow" factor, though the best experience has been with pungent hops. While the experimentation is cool, let's move on.

There you have it, my "what's trending in beer for 2012."  What's trending in your beer world?

* Perhaps you didn't want that level of insight into how the blog operates from time to time.
** 10 points if you got the reference.


  1. In South Carolina, we've seen a lot of single hop pales this year. Not a bad thing at all. Both in what you articulated about false complexity and for us in that we love our pales because of the number of hot months. We've also seen a lot of growth in the number of beer pairing dinners, but I'd attribute that to the continued rise in craft beer consumption.

  2. I just wanted to chime in on the Hop Rocket. We recently used the Hop Rocket on a porter. We did 10 gallons with the Hop Rocket and 10 gallons without. The Hop Rocket did make a big different in flavor. The non-HR batch went into a Bourbon Barrel and the HR batch is in kegs now.

    We also had good luck using the Hop Rocket as a Randall in the keezer, again with a side-by side-comparison of the same batch with and without.

    Setting up the Hop Rocket as a randall in the kegerator or keezer properly to avoid spilling was not as easy as we expected, so we posted and article that shows how to setup ball valves and quick disconnects. Your readers might be interested in that setup as well!

  3. Thanks for the input, Erik. What did you use in the Rocket for the porter? Why do you think it made quite a difference?