Hoppy, aromatic, emphatically bitter pale ales have long dominated the craft scene. But now that craft has locked down a sizeable share of the marketplace, its focus has shifted to new and experimental styles.
“Craft beer has progressed so quickly and with so much fervor that we’ve done a lot of exploring in a very short period of time,” says Matt Simpson, an Atlanta-based certified beer judge, educator, and owner of the Beer Sommelier craft-brewing consultancy.
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As a result of all the recent exploration and experimentation, Simpson says he doesn’t expect to see a lot that’s strictly new this year. But he and other brewing experts say some styles that have gained a foothold among the craft cognoscenti are poised to break out in 2018 among the wider beer-drinking public. Here are those styles, and a few delicious examples to try.
Light, refreshing, easy drinking lagers dominated the American beer scene for a century. But for years, most craft brewers disdained them—in part because lager, despite its uncomplicated profile, is often trickier and more-expensive to brew than ale. But these crowd-pleasers are poised for a craft-style makeover.
“I think people are yearning for some good, well-made lagers that are clear and clean and drinkable, but that still have flavor,” Simpson says. Others agree.
“Craft breweries are betting big on this segment coming back, and I expect that this year might be the year for it,” says Philip Breen, assistant manager at Philadelphia’s Frankford Hall beer garden. Brewers themselves say the same.
“Lagers will be a major showcase style for many breweries in the coming year,” says Josh Hughes, brewmaster at New York’s Roscoe Beer Co.
Three to try: Lager of the Lakes by Michigan’s Bell’s Brewery, Hell by Minneapolis’s Surly Brewing Co., and Brooklyn Lager by Brooklyn Brewery.
Sours (also known as wild ales) have been a fave-rave among serious craft fans for a few years now. But in 2018, you can expect these tart, fruity, funky brews to gain momentum and spill out into the wider beer-drinking public. The term “sour” encompasses a variety of beers—from traditional Belgian lambics and German gose to a whole range of scattershot American offerings. The one thing they all have in common: “These beers are fermented with native yeasts and bacteria similar to those in cheese or yogurt production,” explains Brian Strumke, brewer and owner of New York’s Stillwater Artisanal. Usually high in acidity, sours tend to pair well with food, and their depth of flavor and complexity makes them endlessly interesting.
Three to try: Atrial Rubicite by Austin’s Jester King Brewery, Supplication by California’s Russian River Brewing Company, and Fuzzy by St. Louis’s Side Project Brewing
New England IPAs
Think of this style as a cloudy, floral, fruit-forward cousin of the bitterer West Coast IPAs beer drinkers know and love. “Huge aromatics,” Simpson says. “These are hazy, juicy, dank beers that we’ve seen for a while, and I think we’re going to see a lot more this year.” Sometimes called simply “unfiltered” or “hazy” IPAs, this beer style is undoubtedly gaining steam. “Is it orange juice, a fruit shake, bone broth or beer?” Stillwater’s Strumke asks, only half-joking. He says these beers’ “eye-catching opaqueness” is a major draw, especially in the age of Instagram and “food porn.”
Three to try: Heady Topper by Vermont’s Alchemist Beer, Green by Massachusetts’ Tree House Brewing Company, and Swish by Maine’s Bissell Brothers Brewing Co.