The beer industry is going through 4 seismic changes that are impacting how America drinks
By Kate Taylor
December 31, 2015
The beer industry is changing — and it’s going to impact what you’re sipping on in the new year.
In 2016, Americans are more invested in creative and innovative beers than ever before.
“We just recently surpassed the number of breweries in existence before Prohibition,” beer sommelier Marc Stoobandt told Business Insider. “We should be celebrating beer expansion and welcoming new breweries opening every day.”
Of course, this growth has sparked countless new trends. Here are four of the biggest ones to watch out for in 2016.
Gluten-free diets were nothing new by 2015. However, in the coming year, experts say the impact of the trend is likely to be felt in one of the most gluten-friendly of industries.
“Gluten-free options are coming to the forefront with people being health conscious,” Evan Puchalsky, beverage manager for The ONE Group, told Business Insider. “Beer companies are removing gluten from their beer and cider is becoming trendy.”
With the rise of gluten-free breweries like Burning Brothers and Ghostfish Brewing, gluten-free beers are no longer a weak replacement for the real thing. Instead, they are increasingly as high quality and complex as the traditional brew.
Craft goes mainstream — for better or for worse
It is officially impossible to deny the power of craft beer. At the end of November, there were4,144 breweries in the US, breaking the previous record of 4,131, set more than a century ago in 1873.
“It’s a very exciting time for the alcoholic-beverage industry, particularly beer, as consumers, food service, and retail rediscover the craftsmanship of beer-making commensurate with their interests in authenticity/heritage, transparency in source of supply and flavor adventure,” Nicole Peranick, director of global consumer strategy at Daymon Worldwide, told Business Insider. “We are seeing craft-beer menus popping up in all types of food-service establishments, from fine dining to fast casual.”
However, the popularity of craft beer raises concerns as to if big breweries will allow craft brewers to remain independent and unique. With acquisitions such as those of Ballast Point & Spirits and Lagunitas, Big Beer has demonstrated that it recognizes craft as true competition, as well as a willingness to pay top dollar to take control of the brands.
“People are genuinely concerned: Are the big brewers starting to even monopolize craft brewing?” Darby Hughes, trends analyst at food and beverage brand-building boutique Quench, told Business Insider.
The rise of craft beer is helping introduce drinkers to nontraditional flavors. Right now, those tastes are trending sweet.
“This year we saw an emphasis on apple flavors, for example — ales, ciders, etc.,” says Stoobandt. “I think next year will be the year of the hard sodas and sweeter flavors, like hard root beers.”
Both Stooband and Puchalsky pointed to alcoholic root beers as a drink to watch out for in the coming year, citing brands including “Not Your Father’s Root Beer” and “Best Damn Root Beer.” As hard root beers blow up, expect to see other sweet variations on the classic pint.
What’s more D.I.Y. than craft-brewing? Home-brewing, something that is becoming easier and easier for the average beer lover.
“There are a variety of at home-brewing kits — just go on IndieGoGo or Kickstarter!” says Hughes, who told Business Insider he believed the growth of home-brewing could bring about a new era of innovation and personalization in the beer industry.
Crain’s Cleveland Business reports that there are an estimated 1.2 million home-brewers in the US, most of whom started in the last 15 years. In other words, in 2016, many beer drinkers will be building the future of beer all by themselves.