13 January 2017

Three Craft Beer Thoughts on 2017

I'm not much of a prognosticator, leaving that to those who've been around the beer industry a lot longer and with more contact to what's coming down the pike. But I have been noticing some things and thought I'd share them with you because I always let my friends in on whatever happens to cross my path. Three things in particular have been floating around my mind for the last week or so and it has to do with the growth and direction of beer in this province.
Milkshake IPA's

I have noticed a newish trend coming from the west coast and decided to look a little deeper into the adding of lactose or milk sugar to ales, particularly IPAs. A brief history of the creation of the Milkshake ale by Pennsylvania's Tired Hands Brewing can be found at Punch Drink, but what we are starting to see coming from Canada's original craft beer scene in British Columbia is a hazy, silky smooth, IPA that has me intrigued. I have a few pals on the coast and have been following the slowly growing movement of these beers. Is it a matter of time before the juggernaut that is Ontario Craft Beer begins to experiment and put out this twist on the ever so popular India Pale Ale? We chase the hoppy dragon with higher IBUs and bigger, bolder bitterness but is the time coming where we see a smoother, yet still bitter style of this industry leader. There is little our local craft brewers won't try and experiment with and I think by the fall, we may see a few Milkshake IPAs come on to the market. Failing that, maybe I'll send a few of Ontario's best to my pals on the Left coast and ask for some of these hazy interlopers in return, in order to see what all the fuss is about. Science, my friends, is what it is all about. Keep your eyes peeled to see if this trend migrates east.

Expansion or Consolidation?
Late in December 2016, Ontario crossed the 200 bricks and mortar brewery threshold and that is quite rapid growth in the last few years. While there are many more new micro and nano breweries slated to come online this year and an ever growing list of contact brewers trying to shoe horn their product onto the shelves at the LCBO, I always wonder what the upper limit is before we are saturated. So far, most of the brewers seem to have found a dedicated local following, especially in the smaller towns where the one or two bars serve macro lagers and the breweries tend to place a premium on being both a place to get beer and a social hub. Many of them form clubs and hold events within the brewery (i.e. running, yoga, paint nights) to help connect to their community and it is this kind of place that will continue to grow their business as well as their footprint in my opinion. Being a part of the larger community not only raises your brand awareness, it connects your beer to more than just a drink, it makes it a part of peoples' lives.
While there are some who have gotten into brewing or contract brewing to take advantage of the current explosion and clamour for better beer, I can only hope that time will help shake the pretenders loose from the world I have come to know and love. There are real and passionate folks who want to make a living brewing beer, but also want to be part of something bigger than themselves; working tirelessly to bring amazing and well crafted beer to your glass and it will inevitably be we, the consumers, who direct the growth of our local brewers.
I don't think we've hit the top of the bubble yet, our love affair with craft beer is just beginning in many cases and while the time may come for consolidation and market corrections, I don't think it will be soon.

Does the size of your bottle matter?
One thing I think we will see for sure is the rise of smaller can and bottle sizes in 2017. The ubiquitous Tall Boy is favoured by most because that is what the LCBO finds easiest to carry. But there is a growing trend of craft beer drinkers towards the 355 ml. can or bottle. Many want to grabbed a six pack of their favourite craft beer to stick in the fridge and I think the brewers will respond in kind. Anderson Craft Ales in London opened last year and that was how they made their offerings available right from the start, along with, more recently, Descendant's in Kitchener and Side Launch from Collingwood with their Mountain Lager. There are others moving into smaller serving sizes and it is a trend worth noting. Collective Arts in Hamilton have long offered most of their core brands in 6 pack bottle format and they make an easy grab when heading to a party or poker game. While I personally love grabbing a mixed bag of tall boys and I am certain that will not change, I think you will see more of a mix of offerings size wise as the year goes on. As always, consumer demand will direct the market and with the growing number of beer drinkers coming to the craft side, we will see which way the can goes.
Another development worth noting is the just under 1 litre crowler, or can growler. A few brewers use this alternative to the glass growlers, including Redline Brewhouse in Barrie and the aforementioned Descendant's. While smaller sizes will drive that section of beer drinkers toward certain brews, this size promises to be a great way to share a pint with a pal or slow sip an evening on your own. Keeping the beer fresher than a growler or half growler is one advantage, the other being less chance of infection from improperly stored or cleaned bottles. Many people do not clean their growlers right when they finish them, leading to a sticky mess on the bottom. A quick rinse will not solve this problem and it can lead to some off flavours in your beer. The crowler solves these problems and still gives you a larger format to experience your beer with.
Take your pick, but I think the trend toward smaller sizes of both regular and growler options will be a continuing story in 2017. The Tall boy isn't going anywhere and the 750 ml. bomber bottle will remain the choice of many brewers, but I think we have glimpsed the future of many a craft brewer and it is trending smaller cans and bottles.

That's all for this Friday my friends, I hope you have great weekend and maybe it's time to take a little road trip and visit some Ontario Craft Brewers to see what is going on. Drink local and support your community at the same time.
Happy Weekend!!
Raise your glass and your standards,
One beer at a time.

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