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Bluejacket’s Mexican Radio Stout.

How To Build Your Best Beer List

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Put more crossovers, sours, and dry-hopping on your beer menu in 2019, as consumer tastes trend more toward lighter styles.
By Sam Nelson February 2019 Beer

Diversity of flavor is key to understanding how the craft beer market has grown and changed recently. Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, says the U.S. has surpassed 7,000 craft beer breweries, as of October 2018. “It’s harder than ever to say we have just one trend, because lots of different breweries are doing lots of different things,” Watson says.

Hazy IPAs and beyond

India pale ales have been the leader of the craft beer movement, but the style’s bitterness can be polarizing. “The hazy IPA sort of solves that,” says Greg Engert, beer director for Neighborhood Restaurant Group in the Washington, D.C., area. “It is similar in ABV, fruit-forward, less bitter, more aromatic, and more accessible.”

Hazy IPAs, or New England-style IPAs, are the result of a different hopping technique that produces an opaque, unfiltered beer which is often more balanced than bitter, hoppier west-coast IPAs.

“Our hazy IPAs are fast-selling,” says Andrew Phillips, bar manager of Teak Neighborhood Grill’s two locations in the Orlando metro area. Phillips sources local and national brands, like Lagunitas Brewing Company’s Hazy Memory, which he says often sells out in two days or less.

“New England-style IPAs are crushable,” says Casey Furtaw, general manager at Beat Brew Hall in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Hazy IPAs also open doors to new crossovers. Furtaw loves to search for surprising beers that blur styles, such as Mighty Squirrel Brewing Co.’s Mango Lassi Sour IPA, which is hazy, dry-hopped, and brewed with mangoes, peaches, and lactose—milk sugar. “Lactose is going to give you the ability to add flavors you wouldn’t be able to,” Furtaw says.

Watson says brut IPAs—drier and more carbonated beers that are opposite on the spectrum from the juiciness of hazy IPAs—could emerge next year in another trend.  “It shows the range of flavors that IPAs now encompass,” Watson says.

Craft lagers coming up

“It’s hard to say what’s innovation and what’s just coming back,” Watson says. While new styles emerge, lighter traditional styles like lagers are creeping up in craft sales. About 80 percent of beer sales by volume are lagers and light lagers, he says, but these are mostly domestics and imports from large-scale breweries.

“The big opening for craft lager is converting macrobeer drinkers—it’s your gateway beer,” says Jack Hendler, co-owner of Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers in Framingham, Massachusetts, the rare brewery that focuses almost exclusively on one style. Beat Brew Hall consistently serves Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers because Furtaw says they’re high-quality, balanced, drinkable, and local.

Alongside lagers, lighter styles that finish crisply like Kolsch, blonde ales, and golden ales are selling well, too, according to Watson.

Phillips says crisp beers are favored in Florida because of the hot climate. One of his favorites at Teak Neighborhood Grill is Jon Boat, a golden ale by Intuition Ale Works that is light but flavorful. It’s also local, which continues to be valued by beer drinkers.

Are stouts out?

“Hell, no,” Furtaw says.

Watson says stouts saw a 4 percent increase in sales by volume in 2018—a modest but steady gain. Traditional stouts continue to sell well in winter, but more breweries are experimenting with pastry-style stouts by using lactose and adjunct ingredients to produce dark beers that are silky, soft, and sweet. Furtaw highlights Chocolate Manifesto by Flying Monkeys as a tasty example: a high-alcohol milk stout that uses lactose with cacao nibs, cacao powder, and chocolate malt for balance and sweetness.

Engert oversees brewing at NRG’s Bluejacket where the team produces several pastry stouts, including Mexican Radio, which is brewed with cinnamon, Hatch chiles, and chocolate. Its variant, Caribou, uses the same base stout recipe but adds peanut butter, Madagascar vanilla, and cacao nibs in post-fermentation. “When you pop a can of it, it smells like a peanut butter cup from 10 feet away,” Engert says. Bluejacket plans to make the beer popular again.

What’s next?

Watson expects more crossovers, sours, and dry-hopping this year. He also says more breweries are experimenting with health-and-wellness trends by using electrolytes or other healthful ingredients.