Wondering what the heck happened to 2023? It's 2024 already? Me too. That also means a yearly tradition in which I make some predictions for the craft beer scene.
How did we do last year?
Well, session beers are up, especially Lager, Kölsch and Hefeweizen. Escarpment Labs customers brewed a lot of these styles, judging by the sales growth in the category of "everything German and Czech yeast". Likewise for fun beer service. I don't think Kölsch service has quite dominated the industry yet, but I've seen a bunch of breweries start serving beers in 200mL tube shaped glasses. Win. The IPA remained dominant (duh) and kept evolving thanks to new yeasts like Pomona and Elysium. And Non Alcoholic Beer had its biggest year yet. Are you ready for the deluge of new NA brand launches next week? Brace yourselves.
Since most of my predictions panned out, I'm going to swing for the fences a little more this year and include some wishful predictions.
These predictions are also framed in the context of the current craft beer market, which is a tough one. Cost of goods are up and consumers are consuming less due to inflation and cultural shifts around alcohol. This has resulted in many brewers choosing to play it safe and find ways to reduce costs, and slowing down innovation efforts. But it's not all doom and gloom. In my opinion, those who invest in innovation will be rewarded in this market as there are opportunities to grow and thrive with the right strategies.
Here are my predicted craft beer trends for 2024:
The Rent Beer returns.
Cost of goods and production efficiency matters now more than ever, so breweries are getting efficient and exploring styles that can be made and sold affordably (read: not triple dry hopped or barrel aged).
The idea here is to ensure that your brewery's lineup has a "rent beer", a beer that helps pay the rent bill (or mortgage, or glycol chiller maintenance bill). It might not be the top seller, but it's beer you can produce and sell in volume, with low production costs. This means it shouldn't be aggressively full of hops or malt, shouldn't take 10 weeks to ferment and condition, and shouldn't require any excessively complex processing methods. Luckily, a lot of styles fit into this mold. And luckily, there's probably not a "go to" option in your local market for all of these styles, so you can carve out a new niche. Maybe it won't sell as much volume as your DDH IPA, but it'll at least give you some profit to pay the rent.
Style suggestions for Rent Beer:
- Blonde Ale
- Cream Ale
- English Mild (don't market it with this name)
- Bitter (don't market it with this name)
- American Pale Ale (not super hopped)
- Brown Ale
- Stout (people love nitro stouts...)
- American Light Lager
- American Amber Lager
Yeasts like House Ale EL-D1 can help you produce a rent beer with efficiency and costs in check.
The new flagship meets new-stalgia.
In 2023, many breweries tweaked or launched new flagship beers. With changing consumer tastes comes a need for new brands. Coupled with the "rent beer" concept, launching a new flagship brand with reasonable production costs can create huge benefits for a craft brewer.
In 2024, brewers will reference the design canon of retro American beer and emerge with some category winners. New-stalgia, an ongoing trend in design and food, will surface in beer, because it is pervasive everywhere. Recall that Barbie was the top grossing movie of 2023, fueled by concentrated new-stalgia. In craft beer we've seen some success stories, such as Upslope's resurrection of the Champagne Velvet brand. This approach is a complete package of a retro-brand with a suitably unassuming and crushable beer under the hood.
This has been going on for a while, and the macros have mostly eaten craft beer's lunch on this trend so far. We need to acknowledge that consumers like drinking beer that looks cool in their hand, and I think these retro-modern designs work better for most consumers than the current craft beer zeitgeist. I'm sure some of the existing tropes have their fans, but they're getting a bit tired. I'm talking about you "minimalist all white and typography", "abstract gradient hazy IPA", and "heavy metal comic book". No offense, but there's enough of you on the market and it would be amazing to see more craft breweries going toe-to-toe on design with the big players.
Low Carb Craft.
I'm going to keep predicting this until someone cracks it. And for clarity's sake, I'm talking about carbohydrates, not cask. Although I'd personally love to see more cask beer.
I think there is a place in the market for light, low carb beers (think 4-5% ABV, less than 3g carbs per can) with more flavour than the macro beer options. Your boomer uncle is probably drinking low carb light beer, even though he dabbled in IPAs and can afford them. He finds your 7% IPA too heavy. He'd probably buy a 4-5% ABV, low carb beer with flavour. In fact, most consumers are gravitating toward food and beverage options with lower perceived health risk, and I hate to say it, but the high carbohydrate content of many craft beers doesn't do them any favours on the market.
Craft breweries have the tools to make these beers. Success mostly depends on recipe design, enzymes, and fermentation process management. Look to advanced hop products to improve throughput and yield. Use enzymes like amyloglucosidase to maximize fermentability, and mange your yeast health to ensure a clean and complete fermentation.
Smoked Beers Erupt.
A touch of smoke can add complexity to beer and open up a lot of food pairing opportunities. While historically consumers (and brewers) have avoided smoked beers for fear of bacon-bombs, a light hand can make these beers an exceptionally pleasant experience. Right now there's a perception that consumers don't want smoked beers, but smoke as a flavour has grown in other arenas. Think the explosive market growth of agave spirits (mezcal/tequila), American barbecue, and the persistence of scotch whiskey.
Thiol Enhanced Beers as Wine Contenders.
You know a bunch of people that would buy the heck out of a 5% sparkling Sauvignon Blanc-ish beer.
New yeasts like Thiol Libre open up the possibility to make beers taste more like thiol-forward wines like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This is important, because this is one of the fastest growing and most successful categories in the wine market. At the same time, there is increasing consumer interest in lower ABV and smaller package formats for wine, indicating consumers are looking for lighter options with a similar flavour profile.
Utilizing a thiol enhancing yeast in a light (4-6% ABV) beer base, possibly with some inclusion of grape juice or lactic souring, could produce a compelling product for white wine consumers looking for a lighter and lower ABV option.
Upcycling becomes part of the conversation.
With cost of goods at front-of-mind, upcycling will finally become more common in craft beer. Upcycling is a core component of the circular economy, which proposes a new economic model where goods are kept alive in the economy for longer. While a lot of these ideas have fizzled out, I think upcycling will finally become part of the conversation in 2024 because it offers legitimate and practical ways to reduce cost of goods and tell a story about beers and beer-related products.
In Denmark, a brewery named BRØL focuses on upcycling bread waste, producing unique beers with a lower cost of goods than conventional beers. In Hong Kong, Breer, a woman-owned beer company launched focused on upycling bread waste.
At Escarpment Labs, we now upcycle spent yeast media, unsold yeast slurry, and spent grain into vinegar and "yeast umami extract" that give our E.L. Fuego Fermented Hot Sauce an extra punch of flavour and forms a smooth emulsion without using xanthan gum. Your favourite Canadian yeast lab is also working on integrating upcycling directly into the yeast production process.
Got a beer prediction for 2024? Feel free to add a comment below!
Cheers to a fun and challenging 2024 brewing season!
- Richard Preiss, Founder
Great article! I do believe that rent beers will occupy a more important place in brewery production. I would not be surprised to see breweries consolidate their lineups as weel. Maybe going from 15 tap lines to 10, keeping 2 NEIPAs instand of 4.