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2018 craft beer trends

Many new trends are expected to hit the craft beer scene in 2018

By Jim Witmer

The new year brings with it anticipation and excitement, new beginnings, and predictions. As someone who watches with interest the trends within craft beer, here are my predictions for 2018. If it seems as if there is a lot on the horizon for craft beer, well there is.

The IPA category continues to rule 

Good quality IPAs will continue to outsell all other craft beer styles. Craft consumers love the big, bold, hoppy, tropical notes of the IPA, and the West Coast style still rules the roost. Whether it’s a session, a white, a black, a red, a double, a triple, an imperial, or unfiltered hazy New England style (NEIPA)—there is an IPA for everyone’s palate now. The continued rise of the NEIPA should be the No.1 trend for the new year, and the numbers show how popular this style of IPA has become. It’s such a popular style, it inspires consumers to stand in lines. Look no further than the success of Yellow Springs Brewery’s Boatshow (among its other limited NEIPA releases this year).

Craft lagers will see an increase

While the IPA remains king, there is a place for those who need a break from the intensity of the resinous hop flavor and bitterness, to satisfy a longing for a well-crafted, flavorful, yet clean and crisp, alternative with a lower alcohol threshold. Small breweries don’t often have the tank space and time to allow for the maturation of lagers, but the consumer demand should make it worthwhile. Sessionable beers such as a cream ale, lager, pilsner, or Kolsch that are well-made tend to be the right alternative to industrial lagers, and usually offer more character. A refreshing, flavorful beer that won’t require an Uber after you finish it has its advantages. One just needs to look at the local success of Warped Wing’s Trotwood Lager to prove the point that not everyone is craving the hop bomb all the time…or willing to pay the price. 

Collaborations between craft breweries Continue to grow

Collaborations between breweries seem to be generally successful, and they help create a buzz around the release among followers of both breweries. It also expands the solidarity between the small independent breweries, which are always looking for recognition and exposure without having the millions of dollars for advertising.

Barrel aging beer trends continue

If a brewery can acquire a truckload of quality barrels, then aging—insert beer name here—is almost a sure bet that it will be a successful special release. A somewhat risky proposition for infection—seems like every brewery has had to dump or recall a barrel aged beer at one time or another—but take your pick from the spirit barrels that are available—bourbon being the most popular, of course, because those are used only once in the distillery—but other lesser used barrels include scotch, brandy, tequila, gin, rum, and, of course, all the various types of wine barrels. Finding the right beer style to age with the right spirit is the challenge, and not everything going into spirit barrels need be a dark beer.

New hop and yeast varieties

I’m just being Mr. Obvious here, stating that there is always ongoing experimentation to find the next best hop flavors. More and more tropical juice flavors and aromas from breeding hops will be produced, as if that isn’t already the case. New hop varieties are of great interest among brewers who will be pushing more and more experimental, hop-centric beers. But perhaps the biggest game changer will be within research already taking place on new yeast strains, so perhaps this year will see a leap forward in genetic engineering that could provide flavors so unique that each brewery could produce distinctly proprietary styles heretofore unseen. 

More mergers and buyouts

The international giants with deep, deep pockets in the industry—Budweiser InBev, Constellation Brands, and Heineken—have only just begun to buy up medium-sized craft breweries to add to their market share. The distinction of being an independent craft brewery will become more of an important classification. Momentum has been building, with the logo of an inverted bottle and the words “independent craft” which can be found on packaging from breweries that are small and independently owned, a recent move by the Brewers Association (BA). Definitions of what “craft” or “independent” actually means will be contentious. As consumers become more savvy about their support of small businesses instead of mega-international corporations, look for more marketing on the ground level from the BA to fend of the “imposter” brands that appear as independents. So which of your favorite local or state breweries will be next to sell?

Local, local, local

The emergence of new breweries will focus more on local communities and tasting room sales than entering the ultra competitive market with packaging lines and wide distribution, a trend back to the pre-Prohibition era when hyper local breweries were the norm. 

Cans on the roll

More and more cans of craft beer appear as bottles slowly disappear, with the exception of special release sizes, which are often the package of choice for exclusive vintage editions. Cans are more economical in so many ways. They are better at preserving beer’s quality, especially fending off the problems of getting light-struck and issues of oxygen ingress.

Growth to level out

The new year will see continued growth in craft beer, but it probably won’t be as brisk as in previous years due to the ever-growing challenges accompanying market saturation. The pace of new breweries, which average two per day opening in the U.S. does not seem sustainable long-term. New breweries will be more cautious in approach, with more sophisticated business plans.

Above all, there will continue to be an increase in the enjoyment and marketing health of the world’s favorite beverage.

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Reach DCP beer writer Jim Witmer at

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