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Top Emerging Beer Styles for 2020

top beer styles 2020

The start of a new decade is sure to have beer fans searching for what comes next – both in terms of flavor and innovation. Drinking in 2020 will likely see a few styles and trends emerge that will play to the brewing industry’s strengths while still honoring its history.

Of course, beer styles that have been on the rise in recent years are only poised to become stronger. New England-style IPA, in all its variations – from the hazy and juicy double dry hopped versions to the lactose-heavy, milkshake-style ones – will continue to surprise and delight. The same is true in the pastry stout category, where big, bold, black, boozy, sugary concoctions will become even more dessert-like. Munich helles and Vienna lagers will also likely continue to grow in craft, with many brewers seeing the benefit of offering a style that appeals to a wider swath of beer drinkers.

While it is not beer, it’s hard to ignore the popularity of hard seltzer. Many breweries are jumping into the fizzy alcoholic water game. Look for a skew towards local flavors specific to a region, be it fruits or herbs that convey a sense of place. Smaller brewers won’t be able to make a big dent in the profits or popularity of the national brands but can make an impact on their local market.

Also, be on the lookout next year for more kveik, the Norwegian farmhouse ale. Homebrewers are still hot on this style, and while it was taking off professionally last year, expect it to hit a longer stride in 2020.

What else might you see on tap or on shelves this year? Through interviews, observations and a little bit of hope, we offer you these beer trends for the new year.

dogfish head slightly might during a healthy meal

Low-Cal and Low-Carb
As beer became a lifestyle over the last decade, it also became parts of other lifestyles. Even though big boozy IPAs and imperial stouts are still popular, there was a rise, especially over the last two years, in low-calorie, low-carb options for beer. Larger players like Michelob Ultra gained ground by talking to the fitness crowd and smaller breweries followed suit. Samuel Adams rebranded a gose they had originally made for the Boston Marathon as 26.2 Brew, offering it as a post-race refreshment.

Other breweries like Deschutes began to offer 99-calorie lagers. Avery got into the action with Pacer IPA, a hop-forward and full-flavored Hazy IPA with 100 calories and 3.5 carbs.

“Pacer IPA’s big flavor profile joins a growing lineup of lower-calorie, lower-carb options from Avery Brewing, like the recently released Rocky Mountain Rosé,” the brewery said when announcing the beer. “Pacer IPA brings a hazy and flavorful IPA to this functional category the brewery has named the Avery 100s. Adam Avery hopes to expand this exciting portfolio in the future.”

Walk into a brewery today and you’ll see yoga classes happening in the morning, cycling clubs showing up after a ride in the afternoon, sign-up sheets for hikes or athletic events and more. Whereas beer was once considered the beverage of choice for dudes with guts, they have been replaced by a new generation of drinkers who focus on moderation and health.

As these drinkers consumed less or went looking for fewer calories, brewers began changing their packaging. Firestone Walker Brewing Co. started releasing their big, barrel-aged beers in 12-ounce bottles, down from 22-ouncers that had been the standard. Some brewers are even offering 8-ounce cans for high-alcohol beers, or for folks who want just a half-pint of something.

Examples: Slightly Mighty by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, 26.2 Brew by The Boston Beer Co., Pacer IPA by Avery Brewing Co., Da Shootz by Deschutes Brewery, DayTime by Lagunitas Brewing Co.

strawberry rhubarb by scratch brewing co.

Locally Grown Beers
There’s been a rise in local hop farms and artisanal malt houses over the last few years, and as a result, brewers are increasingly looking to use all local ingredients in their beers. This can mean a locally sourced wet hopped IPA or beers that use local honey as fermentable sugars in lambic-style ales.

There are even certain states that offer a Farm Brewery license, provided that a brewery meets certain qualifications. In New York, for example, under the law, in order to receive a Farm Brewery license the beer must be made primarily from locally grown farm products. It has been on an increasing scale since it went into effect in 2013 and the next increase comes in four years when no less than 90% of the hops and 90% of all other ingredients must be grown in New York State.

There’s a sense of place in locally sourced beers. Brewers can point customers to farms down the road for more information, and the agriculture industry is getting a needed boost by supplying breweries with crops.

Using local ingredients also helps tell a good story. In the case of Tröegs, the founding brothers and brewers decided to brew a beer for the holidays with cherries and honey in 2002. They contacted a local beekeeper and wound up sourcing 300 pounds of honey for that first batch.

As the brewery has grown, so has the need for honey when it comes time to brew the brewery’s popular Mad Elf each year for the holidays. Still working with the same local supplier, the amount of the sticky sweet stuff needed ballooned to 25,000 pounds in 2019.

When local businesses rely on each other it leads to good things for all involved, especially the drinker.

Examples: Barn Beer by Plan Bee Farm Brewery, Mad Elf by Tröegs Brewing Co., Berliner Messe by The Referend Bier Blendery, Strawberry Rhubarb by Scratch Brewing Co., Persimmon Ale by Bloomington Brewing Co.

Pfungstädter Schwarzbier by Pfungstädter Brauerei

The rise in popularity of craft lagers has led brewers to dip into styles that have long lived on the fringes. Take the schwarzbier for example. This darker-colored lager is often cited as a brewer favorite but can be a tough sell for customers who are looking for something light in color. That’s the genius of this beer. While it might appear dark, it’s actually very light on the palate.

Well-done versions go light on the darker malts to impart color but not necessarily a roasty taste. It should be crisp and easy-drinking, and nowhere near the heaviness or roastiness of a porter – or even a brown ale. To help drinkers better understand what they are drinking or to help them order, many are simply calling it a “black lager” on menus and chalkboards.

Examples: Kill the Lights by Three Weavers Brewing Co., Pfungstädter Schwarzbier by Pfungstädter Brauerei, Baba Black Lager by Uinta Brewing, Blackwing Lager by Union Craft Brewing, The Duck- Rabbit Schwarzbier by Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery

Holocene by Hudson Valley Brewery

Emerging IPA
At the 2019 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) competition, the organizers created a new judging category: Emerging IPA. It was designed as a place where brewers could send samples of hop-forward beers that might not fit into the other existing categories.

For clarification, the guidelines say the style is an IPA that is “any of White, Red, Brown, Black, Brut or many other IPA types or combinations thereof currently in production, and fruited or spiced versions of these; or fruited or spiced versions of classic American, Juicy Hazy, and Imperial IPA categories.”

Now, how do you know you’re drinking an emerging IPA? The Brewers Association (BA) itself admits that “classifying these beers can be complex.” It’s best to think of them as IPAs that include multiple additions, adjuncts or treatments in one.

Potential combinations could include “Brut IPA w/enzyme and lactose,” “Red IPA with Munich malt,” “American IPA with cinnamon,” or “Juicy Hazy IPA with mango,” according to the BA.

Examples: Pure Tropics by Parish Brewing Co., Holocene by Hudson Valley Brewery, Dudley Direct by Tired Hands Brewing Co., Vladimir Brutin by Cannonball Creek Brewing Co., Orange Whipped Dream by Cellarmaker Brewing Co.

Kicking & Screaming and Vliet by Threes Brewing

Non-Adjuncted Beers
If the last decade was one of excess and experimentation, there are some brewers that are hoping this year will bring drinkers back to the classic styles. The unadorned pale ales, the simple stouts and English milds, a Berliner weisse without adjuncts – or just beers without any adjuncts.

There’s an uphill battle for beer ahead thanks to the onslaught of hard seltzer as well as the fact that newer generations of drinkers, namely millennials and generation Z, are no longer category specific. While pushing the envelope is going to be important, there are some brewers who are hoping that an education in “Beer Style 101” will help consumers appreciate not only where beer is now, but also where it came from.

Brewers from Avery in Colorado and Three Chiefs in California have both said over the last few months that they would like to return to basics for their wood-aged beers. That means letting strong stouts sit in wood and just wood, without adjuncts like banana, vanilla or even bourbon. Appreciating the complex simplicity of some styles is where the brewers seem to be headed, and if their push for small-batch lagers is any indication, consumers will likely follow suit.

Examples: Kicking & Screaming and Vliet by Threes Brewing, Inside Our DNA by Carton Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada Pale Ale by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Marlene by Schneeeule Braueri, Mooey by Bonn Place Brewing Co.

Double IPL by von Trapp Brewing

India Pale Lager
This has been around for quite some time and there are some breweries that have done remarkable things with a generous amount of hops and crisp lager yeast. However, as lagers in general become more popular, it’s a good bet to see this style grow.

Not only was it added to the GABF style guidelines last year for the first time, but it’s also showing up more and more on menus as brewers try to bridge the gap between hoppy and crisp. The key is having both hallmarks of the style.

Drinkers should expect a vibrant, snappy hop punch similar to west coast IPAs or American pale ales but with a crisp and slightly sweet note from the lager yeast. This means giving the beer the time it needs in the lagering tank to let the yeast develop the beer. Hop haze is OK, but chill haze shouldn’t be present.

This is a great hybrid beer to pick when you’re caught deciding between an IPA or a lager.

Examples: Double IPL by von Trapp Brewing, Citras Maximus by Gate City Brewing Co., Yeah Bouy by Logboat Brewing Co., Hazy River India Pale Lager by Pontoon Brewing, Calyptra by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers

partake brewing beers on a table

Non-Alcoholic Beers
This last decade also saw a shift to craft producers releasing non-alcoholic beers. In step with the low-calorie and low-carb options, non-alcoholic beer makers are refining the process that had existed for years (and often turned out beers few wanted to drink willingly) and creating IPAs, stouts and even goses with little alcohol to be found.

Sales in the United States are still virtually non-existent against the rest of the category, but if we look to Europe where it’s currently 2 percent of the marketplace, there’s clearly demand and room to grow.

Examples: Special Effects by Brooklyn Brewery, Upside Dawn by Athletic Brewing Co., Blonde by Partake Brewing, Oatmeal Stout by Bravus Brewing Co., Nanny State by BrewDog

Seeing the Future
While we believe these trends to be a fairly good predictor of what will be popular in 2020, there will surely be some styles that come out of left field to shock the beer world with their uniqueness and flavor. Even with that being the case, craft beer is all about variety, so let’s welcome whatever new styles come our way in the new decade. As old favorites fade away (wherefore art thou Amber Ales), new styles swoop in and take their place, but it’s all a matter of choice. Enjoy your beer exploration in 2020!

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