Beer

Our Top Beer Stories of 2020

This year’s most-read beer articles focused on breweries’ pandemic pivots and hard seltzer innovations

Photo credit: iStock.

Brewers large and small were forced to radically adapt this year as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered taprooms, decimated draft beer sales on-premise, and changed consumer purchasing habits. Our most-read features—from the rise of the Crowler can to the spotlight on creative pandemic-inspired beer labels—explored these pivots. The beer industry has also made some impressive strides in sustainability, and readers wanted to know more. And, as the reign of hard seltzer continues, Joshua Bernstein’s report on how breweries are taking the category in new directions was a top performer.

5. How Beer Brewers are Embracing Sustainability

Photo courtesy of Sierra Nevada.

From new energy sources to landfill diversion, craft beer is transforming into an environmentally-friendly industry

If you speak with people in the beer industry about sustainable practices, one thing quickly becomes clear: Brewing, in general, is not an environmentally friendly business. [Read more]

4. Hazy Session IPAs on the Rise

Left: Redhook’s Atomic Robot (photo courtesy of Redhook). Center: Deschutes’s WOWZA! (photo courtesy of Deschutes). Right: Five Boroughs Brewing’s Juicy Tiny IPA (photo courtesy of Five Boroughs Brewing).

Brewers are finding success with low-ABV versions of a typically higher-proof style

Five Boroughs Brewing faced a seasonal conundrum. Toward the end of Summer 2018, the brewery, based in Brooklyn, New York, needed a beer to bridge warm days and fall’s coming cool. Maybe a sustaining saison? A midstrength stout? Another double IPA?

Staffers batted about ideas until a sales guy suggested revisiting Tiny. It was one of Five Boroughs’s launch beers, offering a hazy IPA’s fruit-charged fragrances, cloudy hue, and smooth body—but minus the knee-buckling alcohol. “We decided to go after a hazy session IPA with a ton of flavor but 4 percent ABV,” says Kevin O’Donnell, the cofounder and chief operating officer of Five Boroughs, who notes that many hazy IPAs regularly reach 7 percent or 8 percent ABV. [Read more]

3. How Crowler Cans are Saving Breweries

Photo courtesy of Crowler Nation.

Sales of the large-format beer cans are skyrocketing—a lifeline for businesses now and in the future

Wild East Brewing Co. started brewing beer in Brooklyn in late December 2019. It distributed a small amount of beer to local shops through February while working toward opening a taproom in the late spring. And then New York City shut down.

The new brewery was stuck with kegs of fresh beer and no taproom for people to drink it in. So Wild East pivoted almost entirely to Crowler sales. By filling 32-ounce Crowler cans by a draft line and sealing them with a Crowler machine on-site, the brewery was able to open to the public despite the inability to serve on-premise. In those first weeks of business in March, Wild East was selling as many as 250 Crowler cans a weekend. [Read more]

2. Hard Seltzer’s Race to Differentiate

From left to right: Truly (photo courtesy of Truly), White Claw (photo courtesy of White Claw), and Barefoot (photo courtesy of Barefoot).

How beer and wine producers are pushing the category in new directions

This winter’s NFL playoff season featured a different kind of Budweiser commercial: Randy Diaz, the fast-talking fictitious mayor of Seltzer, Pennsylvania, professing affection for Bud Light, as well as another beverage inside a slim, lanky can.

Surprise! It’s Bud Light Seltzer, a 100-calorie spinoff sold in four fruity flavors that “taste great,” irrespective of your opinions on low-calorie lager. “If you don’t love Bud Light, you’ll love Bud Light Seltzer,” promises the mayor.

Within weeks of its launch, the Bud Light–branded seltzer became the third largest brand in the exploding hard seltzer category. “The seltzer craze is on,” says Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing for Bud LightInstead of simply surfing the wave, he said, “we’re bringing our biggest brand into the category to really help it grow.”

Brewers large and small are beginning to see seltzer’s potential to “bring people back into beer from spirits and wine,” says Bud Light’s Goeler. Because the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) classifies malt- and sugar-based hard seltzers as beer, they are taxed and distributed like beer (rules vary by state). Facing declining sales for its workhorse, Bud Light, Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) has leaned hard into seltzer, with Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer, Natural Light Seltzer, and now Bud Light Seltzer, which was in development for 18 months. Goeler hopes it has a halo effect on the entire company, reengaging Bud Light drinkers. He does not see hard seltzer as a soon-to-fade beverage trend such as alcoholic sodas or root beer: “It’s a reestablishment of the industry.” [Read more]

1. A Generation of Pandemic-Inspired Beer Labels

From left to right: FVCK COVID beer (photo courtesy of Ale Asylum), 6 Feet Apart beer (photo courtesy of Keg & Lantern), and Survivalist beer (photo courtesy of Proclamation Brewing).
How breweries are highlighting social distancing and stay-at-home orders with creative packaging
Back in mid-March, Ale Asylum cofounder Otto Dilba began cursing the pandemic. “I was walking around with the staff joking that we should make a beer called Fuck COVID,” says Dilba, whose brewery taproom in Madison, Wisconsin, was closed to help slow the novel coronavirus’s spread.
The joke became a call to action. On April 13, the brewery started statewide distribution of a light-drinking pilsner labeled FVCK COVID. Profits from beer sales will be donated to charity. Shortly after release, the brewery received unprecedented demand for its beer, including requests to ship cans countrywide. “Very, very rarely in life do you get 100 percent of the population behind something,” Dilba says.
Over the past few months, breweries have been using beer can labels to highlight our ongoing epidemiological uncertainty, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing. [Read more]

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