Our Top Beer Stories of 2021

This year’s most-read beer articles surrounded 2021 trend predictions and the industry’s push for greater diversity

As taprooms reopened and supply chain woes persisted, the beer industry worked to navigate the realities that 2021 had to offer. Many searched for ways to prepare for another unpredictable year, making Joshua Bernstein’s beer industry trends report an invaluable resource—and our number one beer feature—this year. Readers also dove into Tara Nurin’s overview of the craft beer industry’s quest to diversify across its trade and consumer base. Features detailing the industry’s many product innovations—from cartoon labels to winemaking crossovers—were also popular in 2021.

5.How to Identify Off-flavors in Beer (2019)

Beer Flavor Wheel
Graph courtesy of Jeff Quinn.

Beer experts discuss common beer flaws and what servers need to know to recognize them

At times, bar and restaurant patrons send back a beer not because they don’t like the style but because they claim it contains an “off-flavor”—an unpleasant taste or smell that in most cases shouldn’t be present. Although brewers do their best to release perfectly made products, sometimes a beer can develop an unintended flaw at some point during brewing, packaging, storing, transporting, or serving. So how do servers know if a beer is, indeed, tainted? 

Here’s a guide to eight of the most common off-flavors associated with beer and what servers should know about them—with a reminder that most off-flavors have their place in at least one or two beer styles. [Read more]

4. For Many Craft Breweries, Winemaking is the Next Frontier

Photo courtesy of Odell Brewing.

To broaden their sales base, breweries are reaching beyond the beer drinker by producing natural wines, piquettes, fruited spritzes, and more

Several years ago, Odell Brewing sought internal input on how to repurpose an underused building. The employee-owned brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, empowers its owners to generate business ideas, and a maintenance team member proposed winemaking. 

Wine? Hmm. Odell has brewed beer since 1989, back when the brand was a pioneer in a wide-open craft market that has, over the decades, steadily become congested with competition. Making wine could widen Odell’s potential audience, building a broader customer base beyond the IPA crowd. “There’s a portion of the community that either can’t or chooses not to drink beer,” says director of marketing Alex Kayne.

In fall 2019, Odell started sourcing grapes from Pacific Northwest growers such as Oregon’s Goschie Farms, a longtime Odell hop supplier. The following June, the company debuted the first four releases of the OBC Wine Project, including a sparkling rosé and a Pinot Gris-based blend packaged in 375-milliliter cans. Both highlight Odell’s name, a handshake between wine and beer. “Sometimes these industries can be portrayed as so far apart,” says Kayne. “Agriculturally, they couldn’t be closer.” [Read more]

3. The Quest to Diversify the Craft Beer World

From left to right: Roger Apollon Jr., photo courtesy of Four City Brewing; J Jackson-Beckham, Ph.D, photo courtesy of Crafted for All; Eugenia Brown, Black Beer Chick; Latiesha Cook, photo courtesy of Beer Kulture

A new generation of craft beer professionals is working to broaden the industry’s overwhelmingly white workforce and consumer base

Not long after worldwide protests for racial justice began in May, first-generation Haitian-American Quentin Deveraine, a brewer and beertender at New Jersey’s Backward Flag Brewing, asked owner Torie Fisher if she knew of any Black brewery employees in the state, other than himself. Apologetic about saying no, Fisher queried a local beer journalist, who then asked two prominent local beer bloggers. They all returned the same answer: Not one.  

Though the number of Black craft brewery employees, owners, and imbibers has climbed since acclaimed brewmaster Garrett Oliver took the helm at Brooklyn Brewery in 1994, the Brewers Association (BA) trade group puts Black brewery ownership at one percent of the nation’s more than 8,000 breweries. Only 10 percent of brewers and 15 percent of craft beer drinkers are non-white, the BA reports

Without a diverse consumer base, it is challenging to attract a diverse craft beer workforce, and vice versa. Yet a growing group of BIPOC craft beer professionals are working to change the face of craft beer—those who make it, sell it, and drink it—and want to show other craft breweries how they can do the same. [Read more]

2. Cartoons Are Becoming the Beer Industry’s Best New Sales Tool

Photo credit from left to right: Great Notion Brewing, Boulevard Brewing, and California Wild Ales.

Breweries are channeling Marvel culture to create compelling graphic labels that draw in a new generation of beer drinkers

Creating cartoons for beer brands is a time-tested ad tactic. In the 1950s, Piels Beer ran a popular ad campaign starring the animated antics of fictitious owners Bert and Harry Piel. That same decade, Hamm’s Beer of Minnesota advertised its lagers with a cartoon bear. Now, to recruit younger drinkers accustomed to superheroes and supervillains flying across screens big and small, breweries are channeling the Marvel universe and bringing comics-style worldbuilding to beer labels. 

A vibrant cartoon approach can boost sales. New Belgium introduced its Voodoo Ranger IPA family in 2017, the labels featuring the renegade adventures of a cartoon skeleton that likes to “live Rangerously,” as the slogan goes. The brand family now occupies the top IPA sales slot in Nielsen scans, and Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA trails only Blue Moon for dollar sales in craft. By partnering popular styles of beer with a broadly appealing spokes-skeleton, “we have a unique ability to bring new drinkers into craft,” says Dave Knospe, a senior brand manager at New Belgium. [Read more]

1. Six Beer Industry Trends to Watch in 2021

Dome Forest. Photo courtesy of Solemn Oath.

Breweries were forced to adapt in 2020. Which pivots are poised to become permanent fixtures on the brewing landscape?

Confronted with shuttered taprooms and closed bars, restaurants, and sports stadiums, breweries made many devastating choices in 2020. Some were forced to dump draft beer or ship off IPAs and pilsners to distilleries that created hand sanitizer.

But those economically destabilizing first months led to a wellspring of adaptation and creativity. Breweries found innovative ways to connect with customers and place cold beer in palms. “It’s always been said that beer is recession-proof, and now we’ve proven that it’s pandemic-proof,” says Ryan Bandy, sales director for Indeed Brewing in Minneapolis. As we say good riddance to 2020, here are six trends that will have staying power in 2021. [Read more]


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