I spent the last hours of 2016 riding shotgun in a Bel Air Sour. (I’m joking, but keep reading!) Unsurprisingly, the vehic-ale’s driver was Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery‘s highly esteemed brewmaster and co-creator of this “happy juice”–fueled automobile. Yet our destination that evening, an inevitable one, would nudge us another day closer to the start of an era of unknowns that has little parallel in American history; we were heading straight toward 2017.
There was actually one pit stop during our time travel trip, to fix a few Leaks in the Bel Air’s Wiki (get it?), and Oliver and I did so rather slowly, allowing us to reflect on craft beer’s continued boom shakalaka in 2016 (according to the Brewers Association, 5,005 breweries were operating in the U.S. as of December 1, a new record high) as well as play prognosticators for the year ahead.
Which styles, flavors and practices would dominate in 2017, I wondered as I pretended to know how to use a wrench. Would the New England–style IPA become so cloudy in appearance that meteorologists may start analyzing them? Has the craft pilsner returned permanently? Is there a plan among brewers for more spontaneous fermentation?
I love chatting with a true innovator like Oliver, who has decided to devote his life to beer—not only to making it but also to studying and expounding on it (he has authored several books and is the editor-in-chief of The Oxford Companion to Beer) and to thinking about its place in the broader culture. As he fixed all of the Wiki’s Leaks (you know this was a fictional car ride, right?), he forecasted these three beer trends for 2017:
“Sour beers will start a rapid jump to the mainstream. As with bitterness in IPAs, those who can manage ‘fineness’ as well as boldness will win out. And unlike bitter drinks, pretty much everyone enjoys at least some acidic drinks, making acidity ultimately an easier thing for many people to enjoy.”
Age of Affinage
“The affinage of wort and beer will start to become a ‘thing.’ This follows the model for cheese and for whiskey, where the raw product is made by one party, but is ‘affinaged’—fermented, changed, modified, matured—by another. More breweries will make wort for entities that only do fermentation, barrel aging, blending and/or packaging, resulting in more business for the brewery and an easier route to market for the affineur.”
“The idea of the ‘beer sommelier’ will start to fade, replaced simply by the sommelier, who will be increasingly asked to do his/her job, which is to understand and recommend drinks, not simply to be a ‘wine waiter.’ The craft-beer industry will be challenged to do what the wine industry has done for decades: put real resources into understanding beer’s place at the table. The Mondavi wine company, last I checked, had a team of more than a dozen chefs working to understand what made their wines work with food. This is a lesson that craft beer has yet to learn, but 2017 will see bold initiatives around flavorful beer and food.”