Welcome to our blog on the top beer trends for 2023! Despite the recent challenges posed by the pandemic as well as rising costs of ingredients and inflation, the craft beer industry continues to innovate. In this blog, I'll be exploring where I think the craft beer world is heading, at least here in North America. This includes new styles and flavours, brewing techniques, and emerging market trends. Since trends are often cyclical, we will also predict the return of some old-school styles.
Ultimately, I think that innovation in both product and business strategy will help breweries to continue to grow and thrive. As always, these predictions are a little bit biased toward our own beer interests, and a little bit optimistic. I hope you enjoy!
No time to read the details?
Here is a summary of our predicted craft beer trends for 2023:
- Session beers such as Kolsch, European lagers, and west coast IPAs
- Fun beer service including side-pull faucets, cask and beer engines, and kölsch
- The IPA remains dominant but keeps changing thanks to ingredient innovations
- Food and beer pairings get more interesting
- Beverage hybrids continue to grow
- Every brewery needs a non-alcoholic option (not necessarily NA beer)
A return to session beers
OK, OK. Pastry seltzers, triple IPAs, smoothie sours, and brownie batter stouts probably won’t completely disappear. Let's instead think about it this way: when was the last time you consumed more than one of these beverages in one sitting? I think that highly sessionable and approachable beers will gain favour this year. With retail sales decreasing for many breweries and an increase in on-site taproom/restaurant consumption (an inversion from 2020/2021), we see the favour shifting toward beers you can drink more than one pint of.
This is because beer is at its best when it is a social beverage. The low alcohol content of most beer makes it an ideal option for socializing in public spaces such as bars, restaurants, and brewery taprooms. Beer suffered an identity crisis during the pandemic because it was much harder for people to socialize. I see craft beer having an advantage in the next few years because it is affordable compared to many wines and liquors, during a time when consumers may be looking to cut back on luxury expenses.
We predict a rise in the popularity of Kölsch, European-style lagers (especially Czech lagers), the sustained return of the West Coast IPA, and even English session ales.
Fun beer service makes beer fun
Good service can create a welcoming and enjoyable atmosphere, which can foster a sense of community and make customers feel more connected to the brewery or taproom. This is also key to engaging with new customers who may not have much experience at craft breweries or who may not feel welcome in the typical craft beer environment. All these factors can contribute to the success of a craft beer establishment and help it stand out in a crowded and competitive market. Focusing on unique beer service and styles, we see traditional and conversation-worthy service strategies as one key to keeping customers engaged.
Here are some examples:
- Lager beers served in dimpled mugs from side-pull faucets can have superior texture and can command a higher price point and a more tailored customer experience. With the increased interest in Czech lagers (at least from brewers), soon enough you’ll see beer consumers with preferences for Hladinka or Mliko-style pours across the land. Two examples are the Czech lager obsessed folks at Godspeed and newcomer True History (both in Toronto). We’re also seeing a continued merger of hoppy styles and lagers with the Cold IPA-ification of many lagers.
- Traditional Kölsch service is possibly the most fun way to drink beer. Here’s how it works: Kölsch is poured from gravity cask or keg into 200 mL (6.7 oz) tube-shaped glasses called stanges. The basic idea is that the server keeps fresh tiny glasses of Kölsch coming to your table, until you put your coaster on top of the glass, which tells the server “I’ve now had enough beer”. It is therefore both the most efficient and also the most fun way of consuming beer. With the small glasses, the beer never gets warm or loses its carbonation ensuring a delicious experience. At Poincaré in Montreal, the bartenders keep the Kölsch (brewed by Les Grands Bois) flowing and the fun level high.
- OK, I never though I’d be saying this, but I think English cask ale is making a comeback. I guess it makes sense that everything old-fashioned has its circular moments in the limelight, and cask beer with its associated equipment such as beer engines and sparklers are making a comeback. Cask never truly died, at least here in Canada, and stalwarts Bar Volo are brewing English beers specifically for cask service. Out in Halifax, Stillwell Freehouse is a welcome and thoroughly modern and aesthetic take on the English pub, with up to 5 cask beers available at once. The difference between your weird uncle’s cask ales of the 90s and what’s happening now is that now it’s the cool bars and breweries pushing cask ale. On the production side, I’m hearing brewers asking about where to source cask gear, which is something I haven’t heard in, well, years. So yeah. Cask is coming back? It makes sense, since well-made cask ales can be some of the most highly drinkable malt-based beverages out there.
IPA keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future
I don’t think the hazy IPA will go anywhere in 2023, but IPA as the dominant craft beer style will continue to undergo changes. The shift that resulted in the Hazy IPAs we have today was led by breweries such as Trillium, Treehouse, and The Alchemist, who all saw the possibility to add more hop flavour and aroma into their beers, with a byproduct being the orange juice haze appearance that is now the most popular style of craft beer.
The major shift I see in recent times is that IPA trends are now being led by ingredient suppliers and not by brewers. I’ll be the first to warn that that won’t be sustainable if sub-styles or ingredients pushed by suppliers don’t translate to commercial success at the brewery. That being said, there are some exciting ingredient developments that are causing the IPA to shift:
- Yeast aroma enhancements can add new flavours or reduce hop costs. While yeasts have been selected on the basis of flavour for years, yeast companies are now developing entirely new strains for very specific flavour production. The most successful example to date is thiol-enhancing yeasts such as Cosmic Punch (Omega Yeast) or Thiol Libre (Escarpment Labs), both of which are yeasts bred or engineered to express the yeast enzyme that releases tropical thiol aromas. This is important because thiols in beer usually come from expensive hops. Beers made with thiol enhanced yeasts can be slightly one-note, so we expect there to be further development in this arena to create yeasts that balance thiol biotransformation with other types of flavour enhancement.
- Terpene products can help brewers dial in flavour and reduce costs. There are now terpene extracts on the market extracted from botanicals, cannabis, and/or hops. Depending on the legality of these products in your jurisdiction, brewers might already be experimenting with terpenes. Many of these products are more cost-effective than hops, so we expect brewers looking to reduce costs and losses without reducing flavour impact to experiment with terpenes. There is also the possibility to combine yeasts with specific terpenes to yield predictable results, which is an idea we at Escarpment Labs are quite excited about!
- Advanced hop products keep getting better. There is a whole new generation of advanced hop products entering the market that promise better yields, easier processing, and more. There are now extracts you can use to replace whirlpool hops, supplement the aroma of dry hops, and even to adjust your haze to the perfect level. While you can (and should) be concerned that this will lead to a loss of the “craft” aspect of craft beer, it is hard to argue against the benefits of some of these products such as greater consistency and higher yields.
So what will happen to the IPA itself? First, let’s consider the weaknesses of the current hazy IPA zeitgeist. To me, the two disadvantages are a lack of flavour diversity, and high ABV. Hazy IPAs require very high hop input costs to deliver the desired flavour profile since most brewers use well over 1 kg/hL (2.5lb/bbl). Because of the high ingredient cost, it's expensive to get too weird with these beers, so they tend to have pretty low diversity. It’s safe to make a beer with Foggy London, Citra and Mosaic. IPAs also benefit from higher alcohol content as a flavour carrier. It's easier to make a high-intensity 8% DIPA than it is to make a 4% session IPA with comparable hop flavour intensity. However, I think this is a bug rather than a feature of the modern IPA. I for one don't really want to drink many 8% or high ABV beers, because I don't enjoy getting a hangover.
I think that the above ingredient innovations will make it possible to both diversify the flavour profiles of hoppy beers, and also make it possible to cram the flavour intensity of NEIPAs into beers with lower alcohol content and a lower cost base. The hoppy beers I tasted this year which used thiol-enhancing yeasts can be quite different and unique from the typical offerings, presenting something new to consumers. New innovations in advanced hop products and yeasts also make it easier to get better flavour balance in a low ABV and lower input cost product.
I think it would be a smart strategy for craft breweries to consider making a lighter version of an aromatic IPA, without high bitterness/astringency. This would make the style more approachable to the general consumer. If IPAs become lower ABV, but still intense in flavour without extreme bitterness, I can see the possibility of an even larger mainstream adoption of IPAs and the possibility of craft beer stealing some (much needed) market share from macro lager.
Am I predicting a lower input cost, aroma forward, IPA/light lager mutant emerging? Yes. Or call it a session cold IPA. Or really whatever you want, all the nomenclature is meaningless at this point. Just call it “Juicy Beer” and don’t make it too bitter or sulfury and watch it fly off the shelves. Yeasts like Hydra or Thiol Libre can help with getting more aroma and balance in a low ABV package.
Culinary beers & food pairing think outside the burger
In 2023, with the shift in many breweries away from retail/distribution and toward onsite consumption, I think that the food served at breweries needs to get more interesting. I see big opportunity for more intentional food and beer pairings and new ideas, and a steering away from defaulting to the burger and fries.
Since brewers have a strong knowledge in fermentation, and often experiment with food fermentation themselves, I see there being a strong collaboration between brewers and brewery kitchens, resulting in food fermentation entering brewery kitchens in a big way. Here at Escarpment Labs, we’re aiming to arm breweries with the knowledge and cultures to turn their waste products into delicious seasonings that can be used in their kitchens. This includes spent grain shoyu, yeast garum, malt vinegar, hot sauce and more.
I also see a lot of potential value coming from brewery and restaurant collaborations. In Montreal, L’Espace Public are brewing the Super Maximum Rice Lager for the Indian street food spot Le Super Qualité – a perfect pairing. Their description: “an ultra-cool thirst-quenching beer to wash down dosas with friends or evenings on the edge of the tandoor.”
We will probably also see brewery/influencer collabs drive a lot of revenue for breweries who can find the right opportunities. I’m not an expert in influencer marketing but it sure is darn effective, and could help draw new customer segments to craft breweries. One could argue that influencers are a key piece of the massive growth of Athletic Brewing.
Beverage hybrids keep us wondering what the heck we’re drinking
We are seeing breweries experimenting again. This is a change from the last few years of uncertainty. However, the experimentation is a bit different from 2020 and earlier. Before, we saw a lot of experimentation with different fermentation strategies such as Brettanomyces and souring bacteria to produce new styles of sour and mixed culture beers. While this is still happening, we see a greater focus now on hybrid beverages and non-beer beverages made in breweries. And I’m not talking about hard seltzer here. Which is still a thing but doesn’t seem to be growing, and has become increasingly crowded.
The experimentation remains strong with with wine-beer hybrids made by breweries including Toronto’s Burdock, Hamilton’s Merit, and Chicago’s Duneyrr. New ingredients and ideas are also expanding the possibilities with wine-beer hybrids. One example is the use of grape skins to add flavour and texture to beer. This is exciting because skins (or pomace) are typically a waste product of the wine industry. They can be used to make piquette, and lightly-grape-flavoured beers. In New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc skins containing thiol precursors are being dried and sold worldwide as Phantasm.
Koji is gaining steam, too. In 2023 you’ll probably see more breweries experiment with rice wines, including saké as well as its hazy Korean cousin makgeolli. Rice wines, made using koji-inoculated rice and specialized yeasts, can present unique aromas found nowhere else in fermentation. This includes strong notes of melon, strawberry, and exotic fruits. New innovations in rice wines include our own experiments with using kveik in saké-style rice wines.
Breweries make more non-alcoholic options
A lot of breweries default to offering big-name NA beer or local kombucha at their taprooms so customers have a non-alcoholic option. If a group of friends is visiting a brewery, it is more likely now than ever that at least one member of that group does not consume alcohol. If you are operating a brewery you should consider producing a non-alcoholic option in-house to increase your margins and also enhance the customer experience. You may even be able to build an entirely new segment of loyal customers with your non alcoholic offerings!
An obvious option is non-alcoholic beer, which is an option for breweries who have pasteurization equipment and robust QA/QC. While producing non-alcoholic beers can be extremely difficult, there are other options for your brewery to consider. Hop waters can be a great option to appeal to craft beer consumers without as much process difficulty as non alcoholic beers. More recently, we are seeing hop + fruit water products emerging, offering a bridge to the La Croix fan. Breweries who are not afraid of Brettanomyces can also produce kombucha in-house with relative ease (and we can help). Consider also iced teas without fermentation but with flavourings such as lemon or fresh fruit.
Just remember that alcohol is a major hurdle to spoilage organisms. This means greater safety concerns than regular beer. Anything non-alcoholic that you produce and serve to customers should be below pH 4.2 and kept cold, and your draft lines will require more thorough cleaning.
I hope you enjoyed these slightly biased predictions for 2023. Did it come through that I like Kolsch? Because I do. But independent of my own opinions, I see it gaining steam in 2023.
Also keep in mind that these predictions aren't always correct. In 2021 we were right about maybe half of our ideas. But it's fun to dream!
While this coming year will present challenges both in terms of macro-economics as well as for individual breweries and beer scenes, we are looking forward to collaborating with our customers to help them create efficiencies in hoppy beers, rediscover traditional beer styles, and develop new products.