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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Beer Trends of the Year

[Note: if you haven't already, please consider filling out the Cascadian Dark Ale survey.]

Karl Jung would have something to say about the way trends emerge and evolve in the American craft brewing world. Somehow, without getting instructions from the head office, breweries nevertheless manage to pick up on invisible cues and create trends every year. Fresh hops, farmhouse ales, sour beers--all have had their moment. This year? Here are my thoughts.

1. Exotic Ingredients
The use of exotic ingredients (fruit, vegetables, spices, etc.) is as ancient as brewing, and craft breweries dabbled with them almost from the start. So on the one hand, you could make the argument that this isn't any trend at all. What has changed, though, is that these ingredients are no longer the purpose of a beer. Once, breweries made "chili beer" or "cherry beer" and there was no mistaking the adjunct. Now, breweries are tossing in extra goodies to draw out flavors already present in the recipe.

You tend to notice this a lot more at the fests. Winter beers have always deployed spice, but at this year's OBF, 40% of the beers had nonstandard ingredients (a partial list included dried tulips, ginger, grapefruit peel, hibiscus, hyssop, lemongrass, orange blossoms, and pepper).

It's a far more interesting way of brewing, and the results are more subtle and far more accomplished. In the old model, the adjunct was used to mitigate the beery-ness of a beer. Now brewers add ingredients to enhance it. (Actually, there are plenty of the old gimmick beers around, too.) This is how Belgians brew, and it's so common that the extras aren't regarded as anything special. Many times they're not even acknowledged. As American craft brewing continues to mature, I expect we'll see a Belgian attitude emerge. We're well on the way already.

2. Historical Revivals
If the use of adjuncts is a long-developing trend that has finally fully blossomed, the appearance of historical revivals is just beginning. It's not as if every brewery is awash in grätzers and roggenbiers. But the mere appearance of a grätzer or roggenbier is interesting. Combine that with the flood of goses and Berlinner weisses, and we can credibly call it a trend. In addition to the aforementioned grätzer, another--and a more traditional one--will apparently be on offer by Burnside Brewing when it opens next year. Block 15's Figgy Pudding Olde Stock gets credit for being a nice take on a traditional English old ale--replete with tasty brettanomyces. And, the fact that I found rauchbier and gose in Portsmouth suggests to me that this isn't isolated in Beervana.

3. Cascadian Dark Ale Goes Commercial
Until 2010, the term "Cascadian Dark Ale" was retrofitted to beers without their permission. Certain examples (many bearing the hated title "Black IPA") have been around for years, but the term hasn't appeared on bottles. Until this year. Widmer called their version "Pitch Black IPA," but christened it a Cascadian Dark in the small print. But then Oakshire, Deschutes, and Full Sail went the fully monty, no hedges.

I have no idea whether this style will survive and, if it does, whether the name will survive. But give Abe Goldman-Armstrong credit: he managed to get breweries to start using the name officially. As a secondary consequence, I think Abe may have inadvertently introduced "Cascadian" as a regional appellation for any style of beer that bears the hallmarks of the Pacific Northwest. I started to see it used as a way of claiming certain characteristics (alcohol heft, hoppiness) that are not unique to the region. The use of CDA is itself a controversy (other parts of the country take exception to the regional claim), and no doubt further extension of the word will create more controversy.

But hey, controversy sells beer, right?


  1. Seconds after I tweeted my post, the Craft Brewers borg tweeted their own year-end piece, which included a poll of the biggest trend. Guess which one is currently leading?

  2. I think the CDAs are here to stay, though I really hope they don't fall victim to the "Black IPA" label. It doesn't make any sense. But that argument has been had...

    I saw someone tweet about Deschuttes using sage in an IPA at their brew house. Is that a beer only available on tap there, or on OR only offering? Would love to get my hands on some if it ever made it's way up here to WA.

  3. Why was the excellent Hopworks Secession CDA not included in the poll?

  4. No Sour Beer as a beer trend? It seems like they have really taken off this year (much to my chagrin).

  5. JF, Secession was released in '09 and I was polling on this year's releases.

    Sour beers have been a trend for awhile, and I've mentioned them in past years. On to new things!

  6. I've noticed there is more hate coming from the CDA-centric crowd (when it comes to the name of the style) towards the name, "Black IPA" than the other way around. There sure is a lot of pride up there in the Pacific Northwest.

    The beer is based off of an IPA. That stands for India Pale Ale. The operative term in that name that refers to the color of the beer is "Pale." I know, this is some deep stuff; bear with me. The new style is black in color. Wouldn't "India Black Ale" be a more accurate name? But wait! Is there precedent for that? I've seen India Brown Ales on the shelf. Now I don't live in the Pacific Northwest, so I don't know if the India Brown Ale exists in Oregon, but they do in Georgia.

    Seriously folks. Lighten up. I can see how much of a hit your ego takes when the style isn't referred to as a CDA, which makes a lot of sense for a style invited in 1888 or a guy in Vermont, depending on who you go by.

  7. Illustrative of the spread in CDA popularity? Went into a great bottle shop in Melbourne, Australia in November. They had Deschutes Hop in the Dark 22 oz bottles.

  8. I have to agree with anon to a point, but I think it has less to do with being pro CDA than it does being anti Black India Pale Ale. How about a Black Belgian Golden Strong Ale?

    Cascadian Dark Ale doesn't make a whole lot more sense, but BIPA??? really??? India Dark/Black Ale would make much more sense.

    And there I go again....

  9. Sorry for the back tracking Jeff, but did ya read Angelo's article on the Gordon Biersch/Rock Bottom merger? Apparently, your concern was valid.

  10. Regarding CDA, I think it should be considered an appellation. Just like anything made out of the Champagne region is simply 'sparkling wine'. Anything made outside of Cascadia is Black IPA, India Black Ale or if you like, Texas Brown Ale. Simply put, only those beers made in Cascadia can be Cascadian Dark Ales.

  11. People who endorse using 'black' and 'pale' in the name of a beer should be ashamed of themselves. Personally, I like CDA, but I'm fine with IBA or IDA.

  12. Interesting points of view... I've recently become aware of this trend of BIPA or CDA beers...

    It makes sense that the words pale and Black in the same name is an oxymoron... but then again even pale ales and IPAs are not exactly true pale beers like blonde ales are... I think the term IPA has evolved to mean "hoppy beer"...

    I do like India Black Ale or even CDA better than BIPA...

    The first time I saw the acronym BIPA I thought they meant Belgian-style IPA... silly me...

  13. Ben Love - the Hopworks Secession is definitely my favorite in this style

    Jeff - Thanks for the clarification. Bummer it counts for 2009, because I'm not too sure how many people had it at that fest. Since it was bottled and released more widely in January 2010 I would like to see it in the 2010 survey. That's just me though.

  14. Why is no one arguing about the "India" part?