Riding a vaccinated wave and a fitfully receding pandemic, breweries and taprooms reopened doors last year to a changed drinking landscape. Cautious customers didn’t flood back indoors. Hard seltzer’s breakneck growth decelerated, leading the Boston Beer Company to dump excess Truly hard seltzer. And the supply chain snapped, leading to delays and price increases in raw materials, equipment, and shipping.
“We are absorbing those costs and not passing them on to consumers, but that may not be sustainable long term,” says Kelsey Roth, the general manager of Exhibit ‘A’ Brewing in Framingham, Massachusetts. The average pint and four-pack will get pricier, from small-batch IPAs to bulk-buy lagers. “We should be ready for inflation and higher-priced beer,” says Brandon Richards, the president of AleSmith Brewing in San Diego.
Climate change, a clenched job market, and evolving drinking preferences will also impact the industry, beginning another round of adaptations. As another pandemic year recedes in the rearview mirror, here are six trends that will steer the industry in 2022.
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1. Facing Climate Change, Hops and Yeast Go High-Tech
Breweries seeking bigger flavors and aromas are turning to science to satisfy an IPA fan’s “demand for heavily tropical beers,” says Jeff Smith, a founder of LUKI Brewery in Arvada, Colorado.
Hops supplier John I. Haas now offers several concentrated liquid products, including Incognito and Spectrum, the latter designed for dry hopping. Derived from Sauvignon Blanc grape skins, New Zealand’s Phantasm powder is packed with thiols, a family of sulfur compounds, and is used during active fermentation to deliver tropical fragrances. Trillium Brewing, Burial Beer, and WeldWerks Brewing are among early breweries playing with the powder.
“I expect breweries to go even more heavily into synthesized ingredients, whether hop products, flavor additives, or bioengineered yeast,” says The Beer Bible author Jeff Alworth.
Omega Yeast in Chicago created a “thiolized” series of strains including Cosmic Punch, which helps yeast create aromas of passionfruit, guava, and grapefruit. Berkeley Yeast in Oakland, California, is a leader in genetically engineered yeast. The company has seen success with its Galactic strain that quickly produces lactic acid, plus the Tropics strain that delivers scents of guava and passionfruit.
CEO Charles Denby views bioengineered strains as a coming necessity, especially as climate change and wildfire smoke adversely impact fruits and hops. With reduced supply and increased cost, “brewers are going to have to figure out how to make the same great-tasting beer with fewer high-quality raw ingredients,” Denby says.
2. Craft Lagers Target Mainstream and Health-Conscious Drinkers
To increase market share and appeal to devotees of domestic lager, “breweries will brew more craft lagers because that’s what consumers are already used to drinking,” says Sam Kazmer, the president and a founder of Elsewhere Brewing in Atlanta.
Beyond mainstream appeal, lagers are generally lower in alcohol and calories, aligning with prevailing trends toward moderation. “As a result of the pandemic, a hefty segment of the beer-drinking population has become more aware of their health and overall wellness,” says Sean Lawson, the CEO and founding brewer of Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield, Vermont.
The slew of bubbly, 100-calorie hard seltzers over the past two years “took this step a bit too far,” says Ryan Fry, an owner of Sudwerk Brewing in Davis, California. A well-made pilsner, by contrast, can deliver flavor, body, and anytime refreshment. The People’s Pilsner, which makes up the majority of the brewery’s volume, continues to grow by “double digits” each year.
To differentiate themselves from mainstream lagers, craft breweries are embracing lesser-known European lagers. For example, Cohesion Brewing opened in Denver last summer with a focus on Czech lagers served with proper foam from side-pour faucets.
Advanced Cicerone Em Sauter, the founder of illustrative beer education company Pints and Panels, specifically sees smoked lagers having an overdue moment. Fox Farm in Salem, Connecticut, makes the subtly smoky Cabin helles lager and Suarez Family Brewery, located near Hudson, New York, offers the Stand to Reason dark lager inspired by the traditional smoked beers of Bamberg, Germany.
“It’s kind of the final frontier for beer geeks,” she says.
3. Classic Craft Beer Styles Make a Comeback
The IPA remains craft brewing’s most popular style, but “it’s hard to get blown away by an IPA anymore,” says Chris Morley, the owner of Mason’s Brewing in Brewer, Maine.
The glut offers an opening for first-generation craft beers, such as amber and brown ales, to attract the next generation of drinkers. “I expect interest to grow in styles popular in the 1980s,” says the author Alworth. “Brewers will update them for modern palates, but they won’t carry a stigma for drinkers in their 20s, who will find them fun and accessible rather than old-mannish.”
Ben Bruker, the chief of brewery sales at Schlafly Beer in St. Louis, is betting on the English-style pale ale. “Before craft really began kicking in the mid-’90s, the balanced amber ale was the non-light lager drinker’s choice,” he says.
Consider it something old, something freshly brewed. Smooth cream ales, toffee-tinged brown ales, and darkly flavorful milds can provide clear counterpoints to hazy IPAs or stouts freighted with lactose and cookie batter.
“We’ve spent more than a decade seeking new customers by pandering to different palates and increasing residual sugar, so hopefully there is a full generation of consumers that can discover the joy of beer-flavored beer,” says Cosimo Sorrentino, the head brewer of San Diego’s Original 40 Brewing Company, where modern IPAs are served alongside ales both red and brown.
4. Seeking Beer Sales Outlets, Breweries Launch More Satellite Taprooms
With nearly 9,000 American breweries and competition from hard seltzer, kombucha, tea, and ready-to-drink cocktails, off-premise space remains pinched. Instead of seeking new sales outlets, breweries will create their own through additional taprooms and locations.
“The margins make up for the lost distribution,” says Hayes Humphreys, the COO for Devils Backbone Brewing in Roseland, Virginia. Tens of thousands of restaurants and bars have closed during the pandemic, meaning “there’s lots of available retail space.”
Other Half Brewing of Brooklyn now operates six locations, including a taproom in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center and a Philadelphia venue that previously housed the Goose Island Brewhouse. Hi-Wire Brewing started in Asheville, North Carolina, in 2013 and now runs seven locations, including taprooms in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Louisville, Kentucky. The brewery will open a brewery and taproom in Charlotte, North Carolina, this spring and plans to open three additional locations going forward. “They are great marketing and revenue hubs,” says Chris Frosaker, an owner.
As travel returns, breweries will also double down on becoming destinations. D.G. Yuengling & Son is upgrading its Tampa, Florida, campus with a hotel, concert pavilion, private dining, and interactive brewing museum. “We believe that creating destinations and authentic brand experiences will be a growing opportunity,” chief administrative officer Wendy Yuengling says of the project slated to open in the second half of 2022.
5. Supply-Chain Snafus Will Spotlight Domestic Malt
From aluminum cans to brewing equipment, the misaligned supply chain has impacted every facet of brewing. Overseas freight will continue to be backed up into 2022, and “this will disrupt the flow of imported malt,” says Brent Manning, a founder of Riverbend Malt House in Asheville, North Carolina.
Domestic malt companies are primed to fill the void. “It’s an opportunity like no other for brewers and distillers to solve real problems in partnership with craft maltsters,” says Phil Neumann, a founder and the CEO of Mainstem Malt in Walla Walla, Washington.
When Atlanta’s Elsewhere opened, the brewery primarily used German malt. Now the brewery is testing American malt “in an effort to cut down on shipping times and costs and reduce the probability of supply-chain issues affecting manufacturing beer,” Kazmer says.
The great curveball is climate, and inclement weather negatively impacted last year’s barley crops across America and Canada. Growers were hit with heat stress, drought, and too much rain, potentially creating gushing — that is, beer aggressively overflowing upon opening a can or bottle — and off flavors in finished beer.
“Figuring out how to brew with 2021 malted barley may require adjustments to milling, mashing, and brewing,” cautions Jesse Bussard, the executive director of the Craft Maltsters Guild. “Working closely with a maltster … will prepare brewers to meet this challenge.”
6. The Brewing Industry Tackles Discrimination and Workplace Conditions
The craft brewing industry is grappling with reckonings on racial equity and inclusion, as well as sexual discrimination and abuse thanks to allegations brought to light by Brienne Allan on her Instagram account, @ratmagnet. Coupled with labor shortages, the industry will address the health, pay, and safety of employees.
“Putting HR policies into place is crucial, as is realizing that you run a business, not a tree fort for your buddies,” says Tara Nurin, the author of A Woman’s Place Is in the Brewhouse.
Industry stakeholders are looking beyond lip service to effect lasting change. The Brewers Association, Cicerone Certification Program, Pink Boots Society, and other organizations banded together to create the BRU (brewing, respect, and unity) Coalition that aims to fight discrimination and sexual harassment by organizing trainings, creating codes of conduct, and prioritizing safe events.
“Talking about these topics is the first step in progress, and this gives me hope that we will move to true change,” says Veronica Vega, the product development director at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon.
Retaining and attracting skilled employees will also be challenging, especially as other industries allow employees to work at home. “It’s vital that breweries strive to be places where people want to work,” says Jim Mackay, the CEO of Ska Fabricating in Durango, Colorado.
“It’s on us as employers to find new ways to attract a smart, passionate team through unique compensation packages that demonstrate the values of our brewery as much as our pay rates,” says Fran Caradonna, the CEO of Schlafly.
One way Other Half demonstrates its values is through its Women’s Forum series of discussions. “Culturally and operationally, there’s been more care and conversation about safety and equality that will rightly continue,” says Sam Richardson, a founder and the brewmaster.
Beer begins as a passion, then it becomes a profession. Let’s hope breweries begin to treat employees as their most valuable resource. “Gone are the days of cheap craft beers and paying people bottom-of-the-barrel wages to make it,” says Jan Chodkowski, the head brewer at Our Mutual Friend Brewing in Denver. “We’ll have to continue to prove that we’re an industry worth supporting by treating everyone who works in the industry fairly.”
Contributing editor Joshua M. Bernstein is a beer, spirits, food, and travel journalist, as well as an occasional tour guide, event producer, and industry consultant. He writes for the New York Times, Men’s Journal, New York magazine, Wine Enthusiast, and Imbibe, where he’s a contributing editor in charge of beer coverage. Bernstein is also the author of five books: Brewed Awakening, The Complete Beer Course, Complete IPA, Homebrew World, and Drink Better Beer.