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What's in store for craft beer lovers in 2014?

Last January, I gave some predictions for the new year, an idea of what I thought could be the big trends for craft beer in 2013. Some were dead on, while others didn't quite pan out. Let's take a look at both, as well as a few predictions of what we might look forward to in 2014.

I predicted that barrel-aging would become ubiquitous, with more and more brewers opting to age their beers in wooden casks, adding depth and complexity to the brews inside. This held up, as imperial stouts aged in whiskey, rum and brandy barrels continued to pop up everywhere, along with sour and wild ales aged in Bourbon and wine barrels.

I also felt that smoked and sour beers would continue to rise in popularity. Two weeks ago, I stopped by Tampa's Three Palms Brewing to sample a new collaboration beer brewed with Sarasota's JDub's Brewing — a smoked, sour saison. How about that? Unfortunately, smoked beers failed to take off in any big way in 2013. However, sour beers really caught on with mainstream drinkers. Seminole's Rapp Brewing began offering its sour, salty Gose in kegs to area bars, making it the brewery's unofficial flagship brand. At Peg's Cantina in Gulfport, the 2nd annual Berliner Bash drew huge crowds willing to line up to try examples of "Florida Weisse" — fruit-forward takes on the classic, tart Berliner Weisse style — crafted by brewers from all overt the state.

I hoped that 2013 was the year that 64-ounce growlers would become legal, but alas, it was not so. However, the concept became plenty familiar with consumers, with growler fills becoming a standard option at breweries and beer bars alike. Two ABC Fine Wine & Spirits locations in Florida even began offering growler fills in store, including the Kennedy Boulevard location in Tampa.

My prediction of more "estate beers" was a bit ambitious and didn't really pan out. I also thought my prediction of more craft-brand acquisitions by big-name conglomerates was a lock, and it didn't stick, either. Instead of trying to invest in the continually-growing craft segment, the big guys seemed to focus more on silly can and bottle design gimmicks instead. This was surprising to me, especially given my outlook for the big beer's competitors in 2014, namely:

In 2014, craft beer will reach a 10 percent market share (by volume). Craft beer grew from 5.6 percent to 6.5 percent between 2011 and 2012, and although the figures for 2013 aren't in yet, it seems safe to say that 8 percent isn't a stretch for craft beer's biggest year ever. In 2014, I expect growth to continue rapidly, hitting the 10 percent landmark by the end of the year. This is a risky prediction, but I'm comfortable with it. 2013 blew most growth predictions out of the water, and there's no sign of things slowing down.

My other predictions are much safer, focusing on flavors and fads. For example, I think that experimental hop varieties will be commonly used. In 2013, breweries had an insatiable appetite for new and exotic hop varieties. Even Citra and Nelson Sauvin seemed to grow passé, with hops like Galaxy, Motueka, Mosaic, and Calypso dominating new pale ales and other hop-forward beers. Many breweries, including local guys Cigar City and 7venth Sun, turned to hops so new that they didn't even have names yet. And the beers were seriously good! Expect to see more beers with names like Experimental 7921 Session IPA on tasting room chalkboards this year.

Speaking of session IPAs, those are going to keep getting bigger. But the trend will get even more extreme, with an arms race to the bottom, to see who can make the lightest "IPA" imaginable while still maintaining enough flavor to make the beer interesting. Eviltwin Brewing's 2.7% abv Bikini Beer was a common sight on beer shelves last year — any challengers?

Finally, I think the most fertile grounds for experimentation in 2014 won't be barrel-aging, or sours, or 1,000-IBU IPAs, but rather, lagers and saisons. We've pushed the pale ale about as far as it can go, we've got porters with every flavoring treatment available, and we've used every edible fruit out there in wheat beers and sour ales. But there are still a few big, blank canvases like lagers and saisons, the former a criminally underexplored category amongst craft brewers and the latter a style so broad that it practically demands experimentation and high levels of creativity. There's so much room to play around with both that I expect many brewers to really push them to their boundaries this year.

Regardless of how well my predictions do, I'm as excited as anyone to see what craft beer will be up to in 2014. One last foolproof prediction that we can all agree on? It's going to be delicious.

— jg@saintbeat.com

Growlers: Still on the wish list.

Daniel Wallace/tbt* files (2012)

Growlers: Still on the wish list.

What's in store for craft beer lovers in 2014? 01/01/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 3, 2014 11:03am]
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