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The Annual Crystal Ball Column

crystalballIt is an annual rite of passage for a subject matter writer. Whether it be food, music, film or politics, around this time of year editors invariably ask for predictions for the year to come. As the accommodating fellow that I am, I was happy to oblige the good folks at Vue Weekly for a few thoughts on trends in local beer for 2016. You can read the column here.

For the beer aficionado I don’t think there is anything particularly surprising in my predictions. In the column I offer up three basic trends. First, I see a shift from bitter to hoppy. I have started to see, and think the tendency will grow, breweries lower the IBUs (or at least the impression of bitterness) in place of increased hop flavour and aroma. Whether it be India Session Ales (a name I quite dislike) or other light bodied beer with noted hop character, the trend is away from hopbombs and toward some of the more delicate features of hops. There are a variety of techniques to achieve hop flavour without too much perception of bitterness, including late hop additions, first wort hopping, mash hopping and so forth and it is nice to see local breweries playing around with innovative ways to create flavour without overpowering consumers.

Related to that I predict a resurgence in malt-accented beer, but with a twist. Brown ales and such have been left in the dust in recent years. The perception is that they are, well, boring. Not so much anymore. I think we will start to see more interesting interpretations of darker, maltier brews, including hopped-up versions and attempts to infuse other interesting flavours to make the hearty malt-forward ale more interesting.

I also anticipate the rise of barrel-aged beer. Yes, I know, barrel-aging has been a thing for a while, but only among beer geeks for the most part (Innis & Gunn aside). I contemplate that this might be the year it bursts into the mainstream and we start seeing a wider range of barrel-aged beer. Or maybe not.

The other “duh” prediction is the rise of Saison. This, too, has been coming for some time but in the past few months I have noticed consumers’ reactions to the beer shift. In the past, casual beer drinkers responded to Saison in a manner similar to Trappist Ales – interesting, odd curiousities that they are not sure if they like or not. That has shifted. Saison is starting to be seen as a sessionable, refreshing summer-y option. I find that interesting. We still don’t see a lot of locally made saisons (and they are hard to brew), but I wonder if we will start to see more made around these parts.

I would like to predict that 2016 will also be the year when the prairie beer scene finally explodes and the region catches up to the rest of the country in terms of numbers of local craft breweries. Alas, that is not going to be the case. This is not to say that there won’t be a record number of new breweries opening in the region – there are three for sure opening this year in Manitoba and at least 10 promising to open their doors in Alberta (we will see if all do so). That is pretty nice growth. The issue is that the other regions are growing just as fast, if not faster. For example, in New Brunswick three new breweries opened in the last few weeks of 2015 alone.

The reality is that the prairies have not quite hit critical mass yet. It is still quite a struggle to launch a new brewery in this part of the world. That is changing and I confidently predict that the prairies will be a more beer vibrant place 12 months from now, but change is gradual. It won’t happen overnight. So patience, dear beer drinker. Your local beer options will expand, but it will take some time.

And that is a prediction you can take to the bank – or the pub as it were.

2 comments to The Annual Crystal Ball Column

  • Mark

    Nokomis, Black Bridge and Rebellion all did saisons in 2015. I thought Black Bridge’s was superior.

    Our IPA is extremely hoppy, but many people say it isnt hoppy… simply because it doesnt have the perception of bitterness that many other regional IPAs do. It also helps that we ensure our IPA is served fresh, and always stored cold, so the aromatics dont have a chance to die off leaving nothing but bitterness. I would very much like to see other prairie brewers shift towards this style of IPA, as it is what I prefer, and is also much more approachable to IPA newbies. If you want to get into details, we use 3.5 lbs/bbl.

    We released 3 barrel aged beers last month and response was overwhelming. And not just from the beer geeks, many newbies had their eyes opened to the depth and complexity of barrel ago g strong beers for 12 months. The Nokomis barrel aged stout was also fantastic, and Black Bridge has a brand new foeder filled with the same.

    My point is that SK breweries are churning out top notch beers, and the somewhat uneducated SK population is loving them. Very gratifying, especially when I still see breweries in AB going on record saying they need to “play it safe” to appeal to local drinkers. I say HOGWASH!!! Make top notch beer, and anyone will apreciate it.

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