Sunday 8 January 2012

Thoughts for 2012

Every year I write one of these posts. I never get anything right, but it’s worth a punt...

Keg beer will not rocket in general. A few breweries will expand into using kegs, and others will expand current keg ranges, and they will sell these to the destination beer bars around the UK. A 6.5-7.4% IPA on keg will become core to some brewery ranges. Only about 10-15 breweries will do this properly and do this well.

As some breweries make beers to satisfy the geek end of the market, and see success from doing it (whether cask, keg or bottle), so all breweries will need to look hyper-locally and nail their nearby market with whatever beers will sell best there, probably a sub-4% pale cask session beer. Given the massive competition of breweries in the UK now, these beers need to be really good for a brewery to survive.

Cask beer is very important to British beer and always will be. Kegs add to that and are not some kind of crazy, cask-killing beast. The cask vs. keg debate is tiresome now. The two need to co-exist because they do different things. With 900 cask breweries in the UK, why fear 10-15 breweries who want to use kegs to dispense some or all of their beers?

The Olympics are the big thing in 2012. I hope we don’t get a load of gold or bronze Olympic-themed ales released for the summer. I hate tacky ‘occasion’ beers – are any of them ever any good?

Because of the Olympics, plus Euro 2012, bottles will be important as more people want to drink at home. This summer will be the summer of home drinking. Breweries had better get filling those bottles.

This is an interesting one: big breweries taking a craft focus. Sharp’s are under MolsonCoors and I expect some good things from Sharp’s in 2012. As well as this, Brains and Thwaites are both opening smaller plants to brew beers outside of their core ranges. Shepherd Neame did this a few years ago but I rarely hear about it anymore, which is a shame. This approach from the regionals and nationals is good to see. I hope the beers are good.

Micro-beer festivals. The 400-cask beer festival is always fun but I love the idea of smaller-scale, better-quality festivals. The Snowdrop Inn showed how it’s possible. I also think themed beer festivals, or events based around certain beer styles, will work well, as was seen with IPA Day in 2011. Brewery showcases and tap takeovers are an extension of this – and they are events to get people to the pub.

Food and beer will make it big in 2012! I hope. It’s been a long time coming but we’re getting closer and closer to people really taking it seriously. If beer is going to be taken seriously in the mainstream then it’ll be alongside food to begin, in the same way that wine attached itself to the dinner table in the 1980s. To get beer to that point it will need a TV programme and major newspaper columns but there are people around who can do those things.

Now for the beers... We’ve had IPAs, we’ve had Black IPAs. Some breweries have veered towards Belgium or played with Belgian yeasts. We’ve had more IPAs, red IPAs, Belgian IPAs and double IPAs. But what beers will come in 2012?

I think straight-up 6.5-7.4% US IPAs will be big still. I’m certainly not done drinking them. I just hope they go into kegs and not casks (or at least go into both).

I think forward-thinking brewers will look backwards at old recipes and styles. Fuller’s do a great job with this already, The Kernel is doing it, Thornbridge and Otley have done some – it’s either taking old brewing records and bringing them back to life or it’s rejuvenating old beer styles like Burtons and old ales.

American hops are still hot but their supply is tight in 2012. This might see some more beers made with English hops. I think by the end of the year there’ll be a beer or two (probably IPAs) that are hopped with just English varieties that are getting us all talking. This might also connect with the previous point of rejuvenated recipes...

I’m personally going to try and drink more Belgian beer in 2012. I’ve let it slip out of my sight in the last two years but I want to drink more. As for British breweries playing with Belgian inspiration... maybe. I don’t think we’ll see a Saison explosion but I expect some brewers will experiment with styles like tripels and Belgian blondes.

Best bitters will get lighter and hoppier.

What do you think will happen in 2012? What beer styles will we see more of? What breweries do we expect to taste good things from?


  1. Interesting. Out of interest, Mark, do you find that your view on beer in general has changed now that you work 'in the business'?

  2. I think there will be more breweries making active use of Twitter in their promotion, though hopefully we won't forget who started it all

    I reckon there will be more use of Aussie hops, we've seen it at the tail end of the year.

    Alongside using Rye I reckon people will try out other cereals too, and there's certainly still space for UK wheat beers (of either style)

    I'd like to see Greene King follow Brains and Thwaites' examples and brew a few beers that actually stand out!

    There will be a load of new Brewdog bars (they say 10!) but other breweries will look to create their own outlets, either at the brewery or nearby.

  3. I was discussing with a mate the other day and we think that this could be the Year of the Half... at least for us anyway. I've found that my drinking habits are changing. It's not just a consequence of drinking the 7%ABV+ beers more regularly or drinking in a pub with more choice, thus encouraging me to try more. I'm just thinking halves are more accepted as once was. And with the measures change it could become more common. Not a major point but culturally I think it's interesting.

    I do hope that it's a year where BLOGGER debates about cask v. keg, BrewDog PR, ETC ETC are at a minimum... they're boring and rarely move the discussion forward. My hope is that it's a year of new and interesting discussion about an evolving and ever stronger beer culture here and elsewhere.

  4. I actually think that "craft" keg could well take off, if only it became more affordable for us consumers.

    A lot of tacky "occasion" beers for the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee are inevitable.

    I think that Steve Lamond may be onto something regarding Aussie (and New Zealand) hops as well.

  5. I think the beer geek market will will turn more to European craft beers and become less USA-centric. In Europe itself the Belgian brewers will continue (at last) to also assimilate outside influences - that's already happening in a small way and is a growing development (this year's list for Bruges has some very interesting stuff on it). I also hope that the Dutch beer scene gets the recognition it deserves - De Molen don't have the monopoloy on great beer there.

    In the UK I think all the fuss about craft keg will die down and it will just be an accepted part of the range for a very small number of breweries. It certainly won't "take off" in the sense that it becomes mainstream or widely available (as an aside I think part of the craft keg hype is simlpy a way for some people have a sly dig at CAMRA in the sense of "We're brewing / I'm drinking craft keg - so what have you got to say about that then CAMRA beardy wierdies?")

    Last year I predicted RedWillow as one to watch so, basking in that success, I'm going to suggest that Stockport's Quantum may well be making waves by the end of 2012.

  6. Always some interesting points.

    I think few more breweries will use more keg, maybe some of the regionals which would change thoughts a bit maybe.

    No doubt on the special occasion beers though Adnams wedding beer was good.

    It would be good to see food & beer pairings being seen more, definitely some good people to do it. Tim Anderson comes to mind for TV.

    I think that if we have a good barley crop this year there will be lost of malt forwards beers coming along, hopefully some imperial stouts.
    It would also be good to see someone to do a beer like Stone's 14th Anniversary Emperial IPA, to show what UK hops are capable of (its a beer I wish I could have tasted)

    I also agree with the australian hops comments, would be good to see more of them about.

  7. Leigh - I was wondering the same as I wrote these (and they've taken a few weeks to write). I hope that they wouldn't have been influenced by the day job, though I guess that they are better informed because of it (knowing hop shortages, certain difficulties, etc).

    Steve - Aussie and NZ hops will definitely be bigger in 2012, I agree. The flavours you can get are fantastic! And I agree about breweries opening bars - it just makes good sense.

    Pub Diaries - I'm all for the half pint and I like the idea that more people will be willing to order one and try more/different beers. Good call! Debates are good but the same ones going around and around and around are boring.

    T_i_B - Affordability is a problem. You won't get many keg beers below £3.50 a pint. One problem is that cask beers are very cheap, not necessarily the other way around... The economics is something I have little grasp over as an industry in general.

    JC - Wise words, as ever! Some of the best beers I've had in the last few years have been European with US-influence and I'd love to see and drink more of them. I also agree that keg will be accepted but not explode. As for two fingers at CAMRA, I'm less convinced. Any brewery doing that is doing it for totally the wrong reasons. Though saying that, I gave some comments to CAMRA about a Camden decision and they spun the whole thing in their favour (Camden turns their back on cask, cask is on the up, this brewery is going against us...). It's a two-way street. Having tasted one RedWillow, I now want more of them and I also want some Quantum!

    Rob - The barley crop is not looking good so far and looks to cause more problems than anything else...

  8. Interesting to see some attention for Thwaites - one of my 10 to Watch for 2012 in my latest blog post.

    As for food & beer, perhaps it is a rite of passage that beer has to go through on the route to respectability but I wouldn't want it to get too stuck in a food matching rut. And the subject needs the right people to be writing about it. Too many of the mainstream articles I've seen are penned by foodies and/or wine types who have insufficient in depth knowledge of beer, don't necessarily focus on the good stuff and often struggle to suppress an air of condescension.

  9. I'd agree with Quantum as one to watch. The Motueka IPA was one of my memorable beers of the year. Look forward to trying later a couple at NWAF. Red Willow is one I'm yet to try.

    More brewers using different strains of yeast is something I'd like to see and more collaborations as already mentioned on my blog.

    I reckon there will be more looking back as opposed to forward with beer styles, inspiration from brewing records, something I believe Camden is already doing ;)

    I'm interested in trying a few of these marstons single-hop IPAs. UK hops single IPAs was done a good few years ago by hopback

    Agree with Chriso re finding the right people to write about beer and food..something you could push mark, being an industry award winner! Tim Anderson would of course be an obvious choice too.

    There's plenty of potential for 2012!

  10. Steve - and one of my beers of the year was Quantum Stella IPA. That's an Australian hop isn't it? And Motueka is NZ. That brings us nicely to the point about greater profile for hops from down under.

  11. Yes indeed. My first revelatory NZ IPA this year was sierra nevada southern hemisphere. then revelation cat southern pale and then the motueka. I hope to try stella at NWAF if its not all drunk by the Friday.

    As well as them being good hops (bitterness balances the flavours) there's more of them available. First NZ hop i tried was green bullet used by Bowman Ales, 5 years ago, so its been a while coming!

  12. Steve - and just to prove there's nothing really new under the sun, the first NZ hop I tried was also Green Bullet, However this was a pale, single hopped (and very hoppy) house beer made for the Crown in Stockport. It was produced by Manchester's long gone West Coast Brewery in about 1992!

  13. Nice Piece Mr Dredge.

    I think that the real boon with the increase in beers available in Kegs is that it enables places that can't turn over a cask inside 3 days to sell good quality beer that is in good nick. As a 'seller' rather than a Brewer it's something that allows me to get this stuff into hotels and restaurants that have a lower turnover on beer currently, and into Bars that might not have the skills on site to deal with casks.

    The Microfestival thing is something that we already do, 'Beeriodical' started in Bristol with the Seven Stars where we did a 'pop up' 22 beer London beer festival on the first Monday in December, and we are back in February with 22 Kentish Ales. We'll be rolling the thing out in 2012 and hopefully finding more pubs that want to get involved. The more pubs, the more interesting it gets for everyone.

    Again, with food and beer we are already doing tasting and food matching cards for all our customers if they want them. My project for 2012 is going to be getting more interesting food into Pubs, and less pre-packaged microwaved nastyness.

    Finally, all hops are good hops. I love the American IPA's and am looking forward to a scouting trip to the Pacific NW later in the year, but there is no reason that with the demand being there the English producers can't up their game and offer new varieties without shipping stuff halfway around the world.

  14. Liberty: Yes, getting decent beer into places that would not otherwise have it has always seemed to me a compelling argument for supporting keg in appropriate circumstances. That and encouraging pubs to stock beers that landlords have been reluctant to take because they perceive they will turn over slowly - i.e. the strong and unusual stuff. I'm less convinced by the argument that (leaving aside for the moment the complications introduced the many variations in production and dispense techniques for non-cask beers these days) some beers & beer styles are better in keg, including those where keg is the "traditional" dispense method in their place of origin. I imagine this is an issue that raises its head frequently in CAMRA's dealings with the EBCU. I guess, in part, it depends how you define "traditional". But I guess that particular tradition can't date back further than the introduction of gas cylinders. However, not having had many opportunities to try cask versions of foreign beers, and even less opportunities to try cask & keg versions of those beers alongside each other, I'm short of empirical evidence on this issue.

  15. I reckon...

    WhitePA's... wheat beer/US style IPA hybrids will rear their heads this summer and we won't be able to get enough of them.

    More breweries opening their own bars/taprooms... and if we're lucky they'll sell beer by the 2.5 pint growler to take away.

    American Craft Breweries will pull out of the UK to expand their american markets... There's more money in it for them. Odell's only distribute to 8 states but still ship to the UK and when was the last time you saw any Dogfish head beer on sale over here?

  16. I think the biggest thing to look forward to is better quality beer festivals featuring not just cask. Time to really showcase the best of British

  17. My prediction is the same as Matt—White/wheat IPA will boom in 2012. In the US, at least.

  18. Kegs....cask...*yawns* who cares?! Dispense it via fisherman's welly if it gets the best out of the beer - if only 2012 is the year we just celebrate great beer and not bunfights about stuff that shouldn't matter.

    That and Sharp's doing some good things. Mind you that one's kind of in the bag.......