A recent article in The Atlantic magazine called craft beer “the strangest, happiest economic story in America.”
Here’s why: From 2008 to 2016, the number of American breweries expanded “by a factor of six,” and the number of brewery workers increased by 120 percent. Nearly 70,000 people now work at breweries, according to government data from mid-2017.
The spike, The Atlantic contends, has to not only to do with changing consumer tastes, but also with a regulatory system that has allowed for small businesses to flourish, and for a specialty beer revolution to occur.
This can be felt on a local level in Sacramento, where, amid the openings and closing of individual breweries and tap rooms, an overall boom continues. Just last week, SacYard in East Sacramento opened for business, as did Sac City Brews in Tahoe Park.
But what will this new year hold? Here are four pressing questions for the craft beer world in 2018:
Can local breweries sustain additional locations?
Following Bike Dog’s successful debut on Broadway last fall, several other local breweries are poised to open second or third locations in the coming months.
Track 7 will add to its Curtis Park and Natomas locations with a tasting room and restaurant in East Sacramento. Device recently announced plans to add two additional tasting rooms – one in The Ice Blocks in Midtown, one in the Pocket neighborhood. Rocklin-based Out of Bounds will add a second location in Folsom. And Nevada City-based Ol’ Republic will debut a tasting room in Rancho Cordova, part of that city’s growing Barrel District.
Will these satellite locations increase breweries’ influence and grow their customer bases? Or is the oft-mentioned specter of a craft beer bubble about to come a reality? With this kind of expansion, 2018 could be the year that finally answers that question with some authority.
Can corporate craft take over the country?
Purchasing respected craft brewery brands such as Goose Island and Elysian was the first step in the beer conglomerates’ plan to take back their market share from the independents. Now we are entering phase two: an attempt to expand those brands through the proliferation of brewpubs.
We are seeing it in Sacramento with the construction of Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned Golden Road’s outdoor brewpub in midtown, one of several new locations that the Los Angeles-based brewery is building throughout the state.
Meanwhile, Constellation Spirits-owned Ballast Point recently announced plans to add to their seven existing locations by opening tasting rooms in Chicago and the Downtown Disney District in Anaheim. Will this plan succeed in legitimizing corporate craft beer, or is this just Pyramid Alehouse part deux?
Is the hazy IPA here to stay?
Three summers ago, I remember scanning the refrigerator shelves at Curtis Park Market and finding nearly every IPA contained some fruit. Two years before that, black IPAs were all the rage. The following year it was Belgian IPAs. And then session IPAs faded in as the fruit faded out.
Some breweries still make those styles, but they’re not dominant anymore, just instruments in the orchestra, while the classic West Coast style of IPA has remained strong throughout.
With the recent popularity of unfiltered, so-called “hazy” IPAs, many have questioned whether the style has staying power, or if it’s just another passing fad. I believe that the hazy IPA will stick around, not just because they’re delicious, but because the lower bitterness and softer mouth-feel make them more palatable to newer and lower-volume drinkers.
Could ‘craft lite’ become a thing?
According to the trade publication Beer Marketer’s Insights, Budweiser is no longer one of the top three best-selling beers in America. It fell to fourth place in 2017, meaning the top three most popular beers in America are all light beers: Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite.
The first takeaway from this is that the flavor wars are over, and anyone who cares how beer smells and tastes and doesn’t care about carbs has pledged allegiance to craft beer.
The second, and more pressing, takeaway is that calorie-counting beer drinkers are a largely untapped market for craft breweries. As craft beer is becoming part of everyday life, it makes sense for it to move toward more session-able styles, which is why we are seeing a re-emergence of craft pilsners, lagers and low-alcohol pale ales.
However, it remains to be seen whether craft breweries can create a lower-calorie option that will siphon away corporate light beer drinkers.
Beer of the week
Flatland Brewing Company celebrated its second anniversary in January, debuting collaboration beers with Track 7 and Claimstake, as well as an anniversary imperial stout with coconut, vanilla and cacao nibs.
Those beers were excellent, but we were most excited about finally getting to taste Tiny Bubbles (10.25 percent ABV), the “champagne-inspired ale” that Flatland brewed in honor of New Year’s Eve. They added chardonnay from Clarksburg’s Muddy Boot Wines to an imperial kettle sour, then carbonated the heck out of it until it looked and tasted just like fizzy champagne.
Daniel Barnes is a freelance writer, film critic, beer enthusiast and one half of the blog “His & Her Beer Notes.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.