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9 Craft Beer Trends for 2020

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(and how your taps should reflect them)

Rather than chase trends, breweries will focus more on their core brands

Cheers Craft Beer Trends
Craft beer trends in 2020 will be led by clear definition of styles.

As breweries, retailers, distributors and consumers alike add up the tallies from 2019, there are some definite take-aways.  If you look at craft beer trends and the top selling beers in the United States, there are several cross-overs with “popular” lists like this one from the Homebrewer’s Association:

Best Beers in America 2019 (Hombrewers Association)

The best beers are still led by the usual suspects: IPAs, Pale Ales, and Adjunct-laden stouts.  Hazy and New England IPAs are also present toward the top.  Top performers Bells Two-hearted, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and Sierra Nevada Pale ale are not shockers. Neither is Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout and Canadian Breakfast Stout. Expect distributors to ask for a “core brand” handle in order to be considered for specialty releases and “one-offs.”  The economy of scale for brewing large batches with similar ingredients is too important for today’s brewers even in smaller operations.

Single Fruited Pale and IPAs for the warm months

Craft beer trends lend to that same economy of scale. Expect single-fruited varieties of those same core brands for special releases and seasonals.

Spring represents an excellent time for the local brewery to offer a Citrus version of their IPA, Lime Lager  or a core wheat beer fermented on stone fruit.

Customers can easily understand what the Blood Orange Pale Ale is going to taste like. Keep it simple.

NEIPA and Hazy IPAs remain solid, but the novelty has worn off

While its popularity soared in 2018 and in 2019 everybody and their brewer’s father scrambled to produce a New England style IPA, few succeeded.  Even the Great American Beer Festival struggled to establish “what is it, and how do we define it?”

While many commercial examples exist, like Sierra Nevada’s “Hazy Little Thing” and Bells “Official”, many national and local breweries failed to capitalize.  The breweries who do it well are dominating their local market for hazies.

The added issue for distribution is the extremely short shelf life before suffering from “hop fade.”  Order them fresh and serve them quickly.

Seasonal offerings will continue to focus on latest fads.

While the core brands will continue to be the main focus, breweries will continue to chase fleeting fads in hopes of capturing a small market share for the latest craze. Craft beer trends are driven by sales. You need to protect your brand, but not “miss out” on the next big thing.

Exotic adjunct ingredients, spicy peppers, and sours with fruit combinations resembling artisanal soap will dominate this category.   Reserve these special offerings for beer-themed dinners so you can showcase them with properly paired cuisine.

By the way: A Spiced Pepper beer will pair amazingly with a locally sourced cheese and charcuterie platter.

Check out our FREE Draft Beer Calculator!

Hard Seltzer…does that count as a craft beer trend?

I only bring this up because several “brewers” are filling a brite tank with flavored water, vodka, and Carbon dioxide to offer what their craft beer adjacent consumers are begging for. 

What’s better to drink than a White Claw?  A White Claw that’s made locally of course!

(Before you yell at me for not recognizing the techniques to “brew” a hard seltzer, I know, I’m just being snarky.)

Craft beer trends
Local flavors will rule as we lift a glass in 2020.

Local, Simple

Just like the rest of the hospitality industry, there is a trend toward local and sustainable.  Many breweries are offering locally grown hops, honey, barley and other ingredients which can be found on farms owned, sourced or co-op’d by the brewery. 

Additionally, many offerings scheduled to debut this year focus on simple. There are a few operations who focus on the Barrel-Aged Nut Mango Licorice Spiced Molasses Orange Stout, however more are offering simple fruited pales or a Coffee Stout instead.

When it comes to your list, will your customers relish or recoil from an intimidating flavor profile?

Check out our FREE Draft Beer Calculator!

Barrel-aged beers draw skepticism

It used to be, if a brewery had a barrel-aging program, they could automatically count on that well-rested beauty to result in big profits for their patience.  This is no longer the case. The market is being flooded with offerings jumping on the band-wagon…and poorly.

Yes, some breweries do an amazing job with barrel-aging (see Founders, the Bruery, Goose Island and others) but not everyone is successful in this arena.

Barrel-aged offerings are also expensive. Sixth barrels often rival a normal keg in price and require upwards of $17 a pour to realize the same profit margins.

If your patronage is appreciative, by all means go for it. However, many bars will have a manager or staff excited about craft beer trends or a limited “one-off” and end up sitting on slow selling keg. 

Make IPAs Clear Again

For better or worse, this has been the battle cry of many beer forum posters in 2019.  Bells Two-Hearted ale continues its popularity and Bells even announced further expansion plans this year because of its astronomical sales figures. This is a testament to mastering a classic. 

While it’s nice to venture into the unknown, many craft beer enthusiasts continue to return to the classic, well-brewed styles that dominate the market. IPAs and hoppy APAs still rule the roost.  Expect breweries to pull back from the edge and put more energy into the styles that helped get the craft beer industry to this point as it matures.

As mentioned above, shelf life is still a major concern for distributors of “hazies.”  The limiting of back stock will force brewers to think twice bout their release calendars.

Resurrection of Classic Styles

In this year’s craft beer trends, don’t be surprised to see a resurrection of some classic styles like Weizenbocks, Dunkleweizens, Belgian and English Pales, ESBs, as well as non-adjunct laden porters and stouts. 

As we wound up a crazy 2019 and venture into a new decade we’re faced with the same old questions regarding craft beer:

What’s new, what are the craft beer trends, and what should I carry on my tap list?

Stayed tuned for future posts like “How to make a foolproof tap list for your restaurant, bar or hotel”

What are your thoughts about the latest trends in beer? Leave a comment below.

Check out our FREE Draft Beer Calculator!

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Chuck Johnson is a 30 year hospitality industry veteran, former owner and has contributed expertise to various print publications and radio programs throughout his career.  Email at: cjohnson@eriehospitality.com

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3 thoughts on “9 Craft Beer Trends for 2020”

  1. I really like that you talked about getting some spiced pepper beer to pair with local cheeses. My brother and I need to catch up this week and I think it’s smart to go to a local club or brewery. I love the idea of trying craft beers because that’s a different taste and unique experience.

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