The Future of Beer

Beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones jumps into his DeLorean and looks how brewing could change over the next decade.

The problem with prediction is that if you get it right everyone is like ‘you are brilliant’. On the other hand if you are as lacking in prescience as the man who turned down the Beatles thinking that they wouldn’t go anywhere, then you are, well, the man who turned down the Beatles.

Back in the 1960s, when futurologists assumed that we’d all have our own jet cars by now, those looking ahead in the brewing industry had some interesting thoughts. Automatic beer dispensing machines were tried as pubs entered the theme-bar age, while on the beer-tasting front, brewery conditioned beer was king and there were plans for fruit-flavoured beers (probably owing more to sweet shops than the relatively unknown beers of the Senne Valley). I haven’t seen any dispensing machine yet, though I did have a peach APA the other day.

Back to the past
Let’s move forward to 2005, when Thornbridge began brewing. One of its first beers was Craven Silk, a session bitter flavoured with elderflower. I was underwhelmed on a visit and didn’t predict Jaipur, Punk IPA and all the other beers that have since swept the bar-tops of the
UK since.

On the other hand, surveying the current state of the brewing industry, it’s a fair certainty that some of the beer styles brewers are knee and elbow deep in will continue to evolve. Whether you want to call it experimentation or indulgence, there’s a sense that anything can be added to a beer nowadays, whether it’s for a pastry stout (lactose, oats, dextrose, extracts), Brut IPA (the amyloglucosidase enzyme) or Fruit IPA (Black Iris’ Gimme Fruit Gimme Fire, Give Me That Which I Papaya has the latter fruit as well as blueberries).

Keep trying ‘Adjuncts like a rice or maize, long dismissed as cost reduction techniques by the big breweries are being embraced in brewing craft light lagers,’ remarks Adnams’ head brewer Fergus Fitzgerald, ‘while enzymes and hop extracts are finding a home in the upper echelons of the craft brewers. Every fruit or vegetable known to man and woman has been added to beer, though the addition of nuts is still very rare.’

There is a sense when talking with both brewers and licensees, that younger drinkers are reluctant to stick with one beer; there is a constant search for something new, which affects the way some breweries plan their future. Hence all the experiments.

‘Experimentation in beer and style will continue,’ says Fitzgerald, ‘perhaps trying out the as yet unexplored treasure trove of the periodic table, some mashups with Noble hops and Noble gases must surely be a marketers’ dream.

‘However, some consumers will tire of the constant churn and I think there will be a return to drinkers having a preference and mostly sticking to it. Those won’t necessarily be solely the classics of old, some will be but many will be the new classics.’

Lager than life
One intriguing aspect of this experimentation/indulgence is worth considering. You’re a major brewery with a largish estate of pubs, with your best-selling beer a well-loved session beer; you have also experimented with various IPAs, Belgian styles and lagers. The question has to be asked, how far do you go in this eclecticism? Craft beer fans can be discriminatory in their spending choices, so for them, a Pastry Mocha NEIPA (ok I made that up) brewed by a cool brewery will appeal more than one made by a company whose beers their grandad used to drink. So breweries of this ilk should tread wearily before doing the brewing equivalent of dad dancing.

Elsewhere on the predictive front, new English hops will have a similar character to American ones, especially attractive to breweries keen on sustainability and carbon footprints. Let’s not forget malt either. One of the most impressive English style IPAs around is Cheshire Brewhouse’s Govinda, which has two expressions, both made with classic heritage malts. Then there is lager — I recall reading a report of the 1888 Brewers’ Congress in London on the ‘future of beer’, where a retort from an audience member at a forum was quoted as being ‘lager is the future’.

And it remains so, especially if brewers master the various beers that make up the
family of lager.

And finally, given that Adnams’ No Alcohol Ghost Ship (see overleaf) is one of the most impressive of this genre, it is no surprise that Fitzgerald expects no and low to grow. ‘This is less a gut feel and more hard facts, it’s growing well now and has a long way to go to match more established markets like Spain and Germany.

‘I hope for rather than expect a resurgence in cask,’ he adds. ‘I think that maybe a longer term forecast as there are a few structural issues to deal with first.’