Predictions for Craft Beer in 2015

2015 MAY BE THE BIG YEAR FOR BEER - By Kerry J. Byrne for the Boston Herald: http://www.bostonherald.com/entertainment/food_dining/2014/12/2015_may_be_big_year_for_beer The past year was the most dynamic in the history of American craft brewing.The combination of entrepreneurial spirit, creative energy and consumer thirst means this will be another explosive year for American beer makers. Here’s a six-pack of predictions for the beer scene in Boston and around the country in the year ahead. 1. There will be a backlash against craft brewery taprooms — Twenty years ago, small breweries made beer that they distributed to pubs and restaurants. They sometimes offered small samples of their beers to visitors, usually for free.Then there were brewpubs — fully functioning restaurants that sold food made in their kitchens and served full-sized, full-priced beers brewed on-site. There was a clear line between breweries and brewery/restaurants. These days, as beer laws have loosened, you’re more likely to see a hybrid of the two: the craft brewery taproom. Beer is made for distribution to pubs and restaurants, but also sold on-site at barroom prices. Taprooms may offer some sort of snack, but they don’t have kitchens. Taprooms offer beer makers the best of all worlds. But here’s the catch: Those packed taprooms are taking business away from local pubs and restaurants — the same establishments that brewers need to expand their critical off-premise business.Expect the restaurant industry in New England to make noise about this issue in 2015. 2. Expansive canned beer programs will hit local restaurants — Craft brewers continued the race to can their beers last year. But high-end beer lists at local pubs and restaurants still focus on bottled beers. Canned beers merely accent the selection.That dynamic will change. Bar managers will introduce expansive beer programs centered on canned drinks. Look for a big announcement soon, for example, from restaurateur Marc Berkowitz, who last year bought landmark Allston beer bar Sunset Grill & Tap from founder Marc Kadish. 3. You’ll find more sour beers and fewer imperial IPAs — India pale ale has dominated the craft beer industry for more than a decade, and the pace has only accelerated in recent years. IPAs have grown bigger, stronger and more bitter, to the point that they can’t go much further.Sour beers, meanwhile, made huge inroads into the craft-beer market in 2014. American beer makers have put a creative spin on this traditional European beer style — much like they did with IPAs in recent decades. The movement has led to speculation in the beer trade media that sour beers will replace IPAs as the great American craft beer style.That won’t happen. But the public is growing more curious and more edu­cated about sour beers, and brewers will be happy to oblige in the year ahead. 4. Consumers will dish out bigger bucks for beer at fancy restaurants — Upscale local eateries have tested consumers’ breaking points in recent years. It’s easy now to find beers that cost well over $100, usually in corked, wine-style 750-milliliter bottles.Those high prices have become a status-symbol selling point, much like they’ve been with wine: Folks with disposable incomes are happy to dish out big bucks to feel special or to show off. A reader poll this week at BeerAdvocate.com, meanwhile, revealed that half of respondents spent more than $2,500 on beer in 2014.Given consumer demand, and the upper-level income of craft-beer consumers, expect a growing number of high-priced beers at the city’s best restaurants. 5. Mother Nature will impact the price and quality of your beer — The 2014 barley-growing season in North America was one of the worst on record, which will have a ripple effect on the industry. According to the Brewers Association, harvested acreage was down 20 percent in 2014. But that was only the start of the issues. Historic late-season rains across the U.S. and Canada rendered unusable much of the harvested crop.The poor state of barley will not only lead to higher prices, it could harm the quality and diversity of beer available in 2015. 6. Old-school restaurateurs will upgrade their beer lists — Younger chefs, those under age 40, have spent their entire drinking lives exposed to craft beer. They tend to build great beer programs when they open new eateries. Quality beer is harder to finder at legacy restaurants, sumptuous steakhouses and eateries owned by an older generation of chefs — folks who came of age before the craft-beer revolution.Those chefs will come around this year, fueled by consumer demand and by the realization that they can charge big bucks for high-quality suds.Davio’s Northern Italian Steak House, for example, is instituting a new Italian craft-beer program, while iconic Boston restaurateur Michael Schlow is looking to do the same at Via Matta and Alta Strada. Others will follow.