Craft beer guru HADYN GREEN asks: If the last decade was a boom time for brewing, where will the twenties take us?
Predictions are hard to make in any field. There are a lot of variables and if I learned anything in my post-graduate non-linear calculus papers, it’s that any small change can result in vastly different outcomes.
So, who knows where brewing is going? Not me, but I’m gonna take some good guesses.
The first big new trend in brewing is already happening: brewers are making wine. They’re also making spirits, but that hasn’t taken off as much. In particular, the brewers are joining in on a wave of natural wines.
Natural wines are fermented with natural yeasts, usually ones found on the grape skins. (As a quick aside, this is not the same as organic wine: all-natural wines are organic but not all organic wines are natural.) Brewers know all about yeast, and those who experiment with grape were already making a sort of beer/wine hybrid anyway.
Garage Project went all-in (as they often do) and released a series of natural wines a couple of years ago. It was awful, to the point of being undrinkable (I only know one person who liked it and she was stoked that she got to finish everyone else’s glass). But they stuck at it, and the new batches are much better. I’d give it another year though.
I could be wrong though. The New York Times is already asking if natural wines are dead, so maybe this trend will fizzle out fast.
If you live in Wellington chances are you know someone who has brewed at the Occasional Brewer. It’s a brewery for the people. Banks of 50-litre kits – the same that most professional brewers started on – stand ready for amateurs to come in and make batches of beer of the same quality they might buy in a pub.
For some, it’s a fun experience and gives them a stash for their garage fridge. For others, such as Witchdoctor’s Pat Pilcher, it’s a chance to experiment with beers and try all-new styles and flavours, without needing a million dollar outlay for a brewery.
And soon you might not even need to leave your home. Williamswarn have been making semi-pro home brew kits for years. They’re quite expensive and the beers aren’t exciting, but you get to have a beer tap in your house! To make things even simpler, LG has launched the brewing equivalent of a capsule coffee machine. Pop in the pack and then let it sit on your bench for a few weeks. It’ll even do the cleaning!
MORE BEER, FEWER BREWERIES
The next decade will see the amount of beer being produced and sold increase. But the number of breweries will decline. In part because the big breweries will buy the smaller ones. These no-longer-independent breweries will crowd out the smaller players in bars and we’ll go back to a time when all you could get were various versions of Tui. Except that this time, it’ll be Panhead.
It’ll still be good beer though; I’m not predicting a drop in quality. I also don’t think there’ll be a precipitous drop-off in brewery numbers, more a gradual decline. The ones to go first might be the older breweries who haven’t been bought out. As drinkers, we’re fickle and tend to buy the newest brews rather than old staples. We want to try new things and pad our Untappd stats.
This is less a prediction than a musing. There are so many beer festivals on now, and some are becoming exclusive events. Garage Project’s H?pi festival sold out before I even saw an ad for it. The same goes for the Winter Ale Festival.
The crowds have changed too. Previously you knew almost everyone there, now it’s all new faces. It’s like when people discover your favourite band and suddenly you can’t make it to the front of the concert anymore.
Whether or not this change in the audience will have a flow back effect of beer nerds staying home or whether festivals will become smaller and more niche, I have no idea. All I know is I need to be faster on the websites to get my tickets.