2021 Craft Beer Predictions

2020 was certainly a crazy and unexpected year. Here at Escarpment Labs, we are looking forward to the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel end of the COVID pandemic, although there are certain to be some challenges in the month ahead. 

One of the benefits of being a yeast lab is that we get to spend a lot of time talking to brewers, and observing what is and isn't working in our industry. This gives us a unique perspective on the brewing business and may allow us some authority to make predictions about how the industry will change and adapt to the ongoing pressures. Or, alternatively, I could be totally wrong about these! Either way, I thought it would be helpful to make some predictions for the year ahead in the craft beer scene, if only to look back at the end of 2021 and laugh about how wrong I was.

Please note that I am omitting the following topics since they are decidedly 2020's trends. Not that they won't remain relevant in 2021.

  • Hard seltzer
  • Beer packaged with unfermented fruit purée (the whole QC lab just flinched)
  • Shift to e-commerce vs. retail
  • Shift to packaged product vs. draught

Beer subscriptions

Beer subscriptions have always been a thing, but we think there will be more of them in 2021. Subscriptions (whether it's a variety pack every month, or the same beer at regular intervals) offer breweries predictable sources of income, and offer convenience to beer consumers. Expect a lot of breweries to add subscription options to their Shopify stores this year. Here in Ontario, it looks like Burdock is leading the charge with subscriptions to some of their core beers, while niche barrel houses like Small Pony and Reverence have made subscriptions/clubs a key part of their business model.

Return of bottle conditioning

Reports of can and CO2 shortages paint a challenging picture for craft breweries in 2021, most of whom are force carbonating and canning as much product as possible. While this prediction is a bit optimistic and self-serving because I love saisons, we may see brewers focus more attention on traditional methods of carbonation such as bottle conditioning. We'll have a blog post up soon covering basic and advanced bottle conditioning wizardry.

A number of breweries in Ontario have invested in bottle conditioning infrastructure, and we think it will pay off for them in 2021. Check out the bottle-conditioned options from Bench, Sonnen Hill, and Half Hours on Earth.

Hyper-local ingredient sourcing

Craft beer made with super local hops, malt and yeast has been an appealing ideal for years, but historically it hasn't been practical or feasible, or the quality wasn't quite there. Now with the growth and maturity of regional craft beer, many places are able to support local maltsters, hop farms (and yeast labs).

Here in Ontario, we've been blown away by the malts coming out of Barn Owl, and have found many gems among Ontario's hop farms. Brewers are now committing to using a majority of local ingredients, rather than trying out the local malt for a random one-off. We are here for that because it means that our region will have a stronger voice with its own ingredients and terroir-driven products. Look to Matron, Slake, and Mackinnon Brothers and others committing to local ingredients.

Saison marketed as a low-calorie beer

We think the true potential of our diastatic saison yeast friends has yet to be unlocked. It's no secret that lower-calorie, better-for-you beers are a huge market segment mostly dominated by pretty tasteless contenders (we love some macro lagers but don't really love Michelob Ultra). Diastatic saison yeast can produce an ultra low residual carbohydrate beer with the same calorie content as Michelob Ultra but with way more flavour. Some smart brewery out there will figure out how to turn that fact into marketing gold. We'll give you this one for free :-)

You don't even need to use diastatic saison yeast, breweries worried about diastaticus contamination can use a non-diastatic strain like Saison Maison combined with amyloglucosidase enzyme to produce super dry and tasty beers. Those who are willing to work with diastaticus can reap the benefits of JÖTUNN, whose enhanced flocculation makes it easier to churn out mass quantities of dry-as-heck beer.

Less sour sours

We know you've got those randoms on your brewery's Untappd saying that every beer isn't sour enough, but we also guarantee that most consumers don't want to drink beer that could strip paint off the hull of a boat. We find sours in the lighter-acid, "tart" rather than "holy crap that's sour" range to be more refreshing and, importantly, more crushable. That might translate to greater consumer acceptance. This is important since sour beers keep growing in popularity.

In 2021 we'll be launching products that will help brewers produce balanced tart/sour beers with less effort, both for the mixed-ferm and for the quick-sour camps. Hold the fruit purée (OK, you can do it, but please pasteurize the beer). For now, we've already had many rave reviews about Lacto Blend 2.0.

Breweries making things other than beer

I'm not talking about hard seltzer here, although that is decidedly a thing. And we've got advice for brewers looking to embark on their hard seltzer journey (just email us). What I'm talking about here is everything else: kombucha, cider, regular-seltzer, wine, and so on.

A lot of the processing equipment in fermentation facilities can be used to make these other beverages, so a brewery can launch entirely new product lines using the same processing equipment, and can both grow revenue from existing customers as well as appeal to new customers. In Ontario we've seen a few breweries tap into the hidden potential of their processing equipment to launch new products: Burdock (again? Dang Burdock, leave some good ideas for the rest of us), Dominion City. Here in Guelph, Revel Cider launched a line of vermouth products.

We'll probably even see breweries start playing around with saké-style ferments, although I'm gonna put "brewing with koji" onto the list for 2022's trends.