It took me long enough, but I finally made it to see The Hobbit. There's a lame pun in that last sentence, for you Tolkein fans, but I digress.
Before the film, an extended trailer for the new Star Trek picture came on, set a good 200-plus years in the future. I always thought it was wise to give ample headspace for one's futuristic visions — the most well-known novels by Arthur C. Clarke and George Orwell continue to be relevant and important works of modern literature, but couldn't they have just added an extra hundred years in there, just to be safe?
But while sci-fi novelists can be as creative as they like when predicting the future, writers tasked with making yearly trend predictions don't have that luxury. It's inevitable that a few will flop embarrassingly. Still, it's fun to speculate, and thus I offer my six beer trends for 2013.
Barrel-aging becomes ubiquitous: In 2011, barrel-aged beers were a curious oddity to most and a rare treat for others. Now, it's hard to walk into a beer retailer or craft beer bar and not see at least two or three for sale. As the public's palate continues to broaden, breweries will look for new ways to challenge them; beers aged in rum, whiskey, wine or even tequila barrels (a la Cigar City's El Mucielago) are often highly agreeable and quite complex, making them ripe for experimentation.
Growlers take off: Despite Florida's absurd growler laws — 32 oz. and 128 oz. are perfectly fine, but 64 oz.? Absolutely not! — the popularity of buying draft beer in bulk and taking it home will increase. In some cases this is the only way to enjoy a smaller brewery's output off-site, but more and more regular beer bars will offer growler options in 2013.
Estate beers: When Sierra Nevada's Estate Homegrown Ale won the gold medal for fresh-hopped beer in last year's Great American Beer Festival, it got me thinking. A brewery that makes beer from its own barley, hops, water and house strain of yeast is in a position to market its beer to a whole new segment — wine connoisseurs and foodies. While the effect of terroir in beer is debatable, the self-sufficient brews from Sierra Nevada, Rogue and others have a unique angle that may have crossover appeal to the wine crowd. The approach is also similar to that of the farm-to-table trend, which is and has been red-hot among the foodie crowd for some time now.
More smoked and sour beers: In the olden days (four years ago), I could shock people at will by introducing them to extremely sour beers or beers made with smoked malt ("it tastes like it's on fire!"). Today, sour beers have caught on with the average enthusiast; centuries-old styles such as lambic, oud bruin and Flemish red are more popular than ever. These will continue to gain acceptance as will beers made with smoked malt, giving them a pungent, earthy quality. Breweries will experiment with smoked versions of traditional styles that normally don't receive such treatment, such as pilsner (a la Evil Twin's the Cowboy), Belgian-style ales, IPAs and even beers infused with exotic and flavorful fruits, providing strange, bold tastes to rival even the most creative gourmet fare.
Big Beer invests in Small Beer: I'm not talking about alcohol content here. As sales of big-name, corporate beer threatens to stagnate, major beer conglomerates will look to get a piece of the thriving craft market to stay profitable. The most notable example is Goose Island's sale to Anheuser-Busch InBev. While I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with this, it will blur the issue of what exactly constitutes "craft" beer and how much that designation actually matters. In the meantime, one side effect is a sure thing: Wider distribution for smaller brands that get picked up by the big guys.
The rise of the nanobreweries: We're seeing this already right at home, with the growing popularity of Rapp, Seventh Sun, Barley Mow and Cycle Brewing, among others. Although the output of these operations is small relative to most craft breweries, their beer is extremely popular, highly acclaimed and much sought-after, even by savvy out-of-towners. In 2013, more and more folks will seek out beers produced on-site and served in taprooms at small-capacity nanobreweries.