The American brewing industry continues to roll with the punches brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Supply chain issues are impacting everything from ingredients to packaging, and staffing remains a concern for some.
But the beer business is plucky and has continued to innovate, create and inspire. The turning of the calendar into a new year means new challenges, but also new opportunities.
Wine Enthusiast asked professionals to offer a glimpse of what 2022 might bring to our collective glasses.
Christopher Quinn, Owner of The Beer Temple, Chicago
Christopher Quinn / Credit Bill Whitmire
The good news is that, with almost 9,000 breweries in America, there will be more opportunity in 2022 than ever before for people to drink beer made in their local communities.
The not-so-good news, for me at least, is that the share of overall beer sold by these independent operators will continue to shrink as the remaining large regional and national breweries are acquired by corporate interests.
The writing is pretty much on the wall at this point, and craft breweries realize that in today’s beer world, taking a new brewery national is just shy of impossible. However, this consolidation at the top opens opportunities in 2022 for the savvy players.
“In today’s beer world, taking a new brewery national is just shy of impossible.”
My wish for 2022 is for small breweries to find how to differentiate themselves in ways that make it difficult for other breweries—large and small—to copy. Anyone can buy the hottest hops and put them into the one or two hottest styles. It’s much harder to find unique ways to scratch the consumer’s itch. I want to see breweries resist using beer app ratings and social media buzz for the bulk of their research and development and create new beers that are so genuinely exciting to them that they can’t help but go on-and-on about.
Every brewery proclaims their love for the latest hazy IPA they’ve made—why should consumers believe them over anyone else? But a brewery telling me why they are crazy for a new beer that’s so uniquely them that they didn’t even want to assign a style to it? Now I’m listening.
I also predict that breweries will see their tap room to-go sales decline as customers think of visiting a brewery more in the context of going to a specific style of bar or restaurant. With so many options, consumers don’t want to make a special trip for a single brewery when their smartphones and local supermarkets offer a much larger set of options.
Dave Infante, Journalist and Editor of Fingers
One thing that’s been on my mind lately, and that I’ve flicked at in past newsletters lately, is the convergence of in real life brick-and-mortar brands with alcoholic crossovers. I’m thinking specifically about Sonic’s startlingly successful hard seltzer here: as the lines blur between what’s beer versus flavored malt beverages, they’re also becoming more porous in terms of how well brand equity transfers from, say, a fast-food chain fandom into a hard seltzer.
Julia Herz, Executive Director of the American Homebrewers Association
Julia Herz / Photo courtesy Julia Herz
I’d love to see more diversity of who brews beer with an equal mix of gender, nonbinary, plus BIOPC, and people with disabilities getting their fair chance to be brewers. On the enjoyment side, I’d like to see all beer sold be fresh, retailers who know how to talk their customers through the beer list/menu with confidence, beer lovers who store their beer cold and love to experiment with what they try, beer pairing finally getting more love and buy-in from chefs and restaurants.
Marcus Baskerville, Brewer at Weathered Souls Brewing Co., San Antonio TX
Marcus Baskerville / Photo by Matt Sayles
The brewing industry for 2022 will be an interesting one. I think we are gearing for a revolution of more traditional and classic styles. Lagers made a big come back in 2021 and I feel that this coming year will be the emergence of more English styles, like mild.
With the ailments that the brewing industry is seeing with qualified professionals and the slowing down of taprooms, something else that I think we will witness is more co-ops or super team-ups of breweries in one location. This will help with staffing. Customers can come to one location to enjoy their favorite beers and consolidate some of the issues that have been happening in the industry including sharing of resources.
Kevin Davey, Head Brewer at Wayfinder Beer, Portland, OR
Kevin Davey / Credit James Rexroad
I believe that we’ll see a lot more brand loyalty from customers. There is a lot of choice and drinkers have been jumping around from brewery to brewery to find flavors and styles that they like, and I think they are finding too much choice in the marketplace. It can be overwhelming, so I believe that customers are finding a producer that they like and are sticking with them, just like in the old days.
And that means cleaner beer styles. Most people don’t want something that doesn’t have a lot of bullshit in it, like fruit syrup, kibble or frosted flakes. What people do want at the end of the day is that beer that resembles beer and that has flavor.
My advice to other brewers is stick with what you are good at and make it available to a lot of people. We don’t need to all follow hype trends or what is popular for a minute, if we make what we’re good at people will come, and that includes seasonals that become part of a customer’s custom and calendar.
Hillary Barile of Rabbit Hill Farms in Shiloh, NJ
Hillary Barile and Rabbit Hill Farms / Photo courtesy Rabbit Hill
I am on the Board of Directors for the Craft Maltsters Guild, and we have been talking a lot lately about how Covid supply-chain issues coupled with the 2021 barley crop—disastrous drought crop from the major barley production area of the United States and Canada—is proving out some of the concepts that our Guild has been talking about since our inception. Diversified supply chains are more vibrant, nimble and able to pivot and meet customer needs.
More exciting than supply chain, we are seeing more craft brewers move to styles that allow the malt and their brewing process to be the interesting part of the beer. The number of craft malt lagers that have come to the market, even from larger brewers like New Belgium, [whose] Old Tuffy light lager uses craft malt from Riverbend Malt House in Asheville, North Carolina, has been amazing. Brewers are looking to better define their own brewery by leaning into what is unique to their place in the world, and craft malt is there to provide locally sourced agricultural ingredients to help tell that story.
I think that the way that these two things intersect is interesting. Barley and malt shortages in the traditional supply chain will make the craft supply chain more appealing and some regional malthouses have a good crop of barley to work with. Craft malt has been gaining interest and building supply over the last 10 years and is poised to be able to help brewers define themselves clearly to consumers.