With their cool image, you may think craft beers are a hipster trend that will inevitably pass. However, the brewing of craft beers is a tradition that has stood the test of time. With an estimated 35% growth rate for 2016 in South Africa, according to Standard Bank research, production and consumer trends are constantly evolving in this sector. Here are a few to consider.
Beer doesn't always taste like beer
Flavoured beer has become a thing. Not a it's-a-passing-phase-it'll-never-catch-on sort of thing, a real, it-matters-for-business-your-brewery-better-be-giving-it-a-try kind of thing. The inclusion of seasonal flavours has taken off, and the stats are there to prove it. A recent analysis by market intelligence agency Mintel suggested that as many as one in five of US beer drinkers – predominantly young women – drank flavoured beer, a product that has seen the beer-drinking market swell.
Research also suggests that 57% of beer drinkers drank more beer in 2015 because there was a wider variety of flavours. This trend is also evident in the South African market, with a number of options available, including Boston Breweries's popular Van Hunks Pumpkin Ale or Smack! Republic Brewing Company's Hillbrow Honey, which contains bluegum honey and rooibos. And, of course, Flying Fish has been doing it for years.
Turning craft beer into whiskey
This is a trend that has been around for a while in Germany, but is starting to spread all over the world. The process of making whiskey with craft beer is almost the same as making it in the traditional way, involving the same processes of distillation and ageing. The only difference is that ready-to-drink craft beer is used, instead of the usually not-so-drinkable “distiller’s beer” or “wash”, made from malted grain, water and yeast.
Using craft beer instead of wash to make whiskey leads to a more expensive product. When you factor in that craft beer already costs more than regular beer, it makes complete sense that it might be a on the pricey side. On the bright side, it’s packed with flavour, so it’s definitely worth it. In time, and with more brewers joining the industry, the cost should go down.
Gluten-free craft beer
Health is rarely a consideration for beer drinkers, but an estimated one in 100 people have coeliac disease and can’t consume gluten because of the side effects and possible permanent damage, according to the US-based National Center for Biotechnology Information. For people with this condition, health is definitely a consideration. Beer is usually made with gluten-containing ingredients such as wheat, barley and oats, but gluten-free alternatives using grains such as quinoa, sorghum, rice and corn have been popping up – and craft beers have followed suit.
Companies producing gluten-free craft beers include New Belgium with its Glütiny Pale Ale and the local Red Sky Brew company, with the Goshawk brand. Afficionados say there is a slight difference in taste, with gluten-free options being slightly more sour than those containing gluten, but they're a great alternative. There are even fruity and nut-flavoured options. In time, experts believe, innovation will ensure that gluten-free craft beers taste no different to regular beers.
Eco-friendly craft beers
With companies and consumers becoming increasingly concerned about their impact on the environment, and craft beer drinkers particularly eco-conscious, green production methods are gaining traction. In April 2015, more than 10 000 brewers met at the Craft Brewers Conference in Oregon, US, to share ideas. Some signed the Brewery Climate Declaration, committing to more eco-friendly brewing processes. Initiatives include buying locally, recycling and using solar or wind power for aspects of production, ensuring your next sip weighs lighter on your conscience.
Cans instead of bottles
Bottle or can? Interestingly, the trend seems to be swaying towards cans. Of the guests interviewed on a podcast by Micro Brewr, a resource for people who want to start a brewery or take it to the next level, 41.3% preferred cans, 29.3% bottles, and 26.7% liked both. So more producers are starting to favour cans over bottles, while others are adding cans as an option. Benefits of cans are that they are are easier to recycle and more portable, thus easier and cheaper to transport. They also don’t let any light in that could affect the taste of the beer, and are quicker to chill. So, using cans brings down costs – good news for both producers and drinkers.