COLUMN WRITTEN BY MATT BRASCH
For Digital First Media
In the early weeks of January it is easy to fall into a melancholy mood; the parties, gifts and joyful spirit of the holidays are gone. But don’t despair — despite the “back to the grind” attitude of many during this time of year, craft beer fans know that a new year means new brews and new breweries, with an almost unlimited supply of new tastes for the beer explorer. Welcome to 2016!
What should the craft brew fan expect in 2016? Mat Falco, editor of Philly Beer Scene Magazine, expects to see “a movement towards clean, fresh, more-simple beers,” such as German style lagers like Victory’s Helles Lager and Stoudt’s Munich Gold Lager. While brewing a good lager is not simple — in fact, it is extremely difficult — the flavor profile can be characterized as simple as compared to the increasing number of off-the-wall styles and unorthodox ingredients found in ales. Falco believes that “As the industry grows, I see people wanting to drink more lagers.
They’re the hardest beer to make, but when you can find a good one brewed in your backyard, it’s hard to beat. It’s the favorite beer of brewers, and only a matter of time before it’s once again the favorite beer of drinkers.”
Falco also predicts that barrel aged beers will continue to grow as well. In recent years, U.S. breweries have increasingly used “foudres” or “foeders” — large wooden vats — to age their beer. Falco explained, “Tired Hands started aging every batch of their “SaisonHands” in one since they opened their new brewery and it took an already great beer to a new level. Neshaminy Creek’s first saison was treated in a similar way and it was one of my favorite beers from them. The nuance of flavors that can develop from resting beers in wood is incredible and with other local breweries such as 2SP and Free Will having already invested in these massive casks, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see more breweries follow suit.” In fact, on Jan. 5, Hershey-based Troegs Brewing Co. announced that they would be expanding their brewery in 2016 by adding the “Splinter Cellar,” described as a new area “…that adds needed fermentation space for wood-aged specialty beers and serves as the new entrance for our behind-the-scenes guided tours. The room will feature glass exterior walls on the northeast side of the brewery, and three wooden fermenters (called foeders) that stand more than 23 feet tall,” according to “Brewery Update From Chris and John” at http://blog.troegs.com/2016/01/.
From an industry standpoint, Bill Covaleski, co-owner and brewer at Victory Brewing Co., thinks that the big story that will unfold in 2016 is the continued attempts of large brewers such as AB InBev to purchase craft breweries. He explained, “Well funded businesses have bought into a considerable chunk of craft beer and seek to control the market for craft beer on terms favorable to their business models. This is great news for the consumer in the short term as craft beer is getting more funding and push to retailers. If, ultimately, the new owners of craft breweries lessen the flavor and character of their assets, well, that will be an unfortunate loss. But, the consumer can’t really lose as there is no way the 4,300+ American breweries are all going start making inferior beer. Craft beer is mainstream, in a good way, and there is no turning back. That is what we learned in 2015.”
As far as new beer is concerned, Victory announced in a press release on Dec. 22, that it would be launching a new series of beers in 2016 called “The Blackboard Series,” which will be “four adventurous and deliciously distinctive beers brewed with fresh ingredients that are a creative craft riff on restaurant blackboard specials.” The first was released on Jan. 1 — “Agave IPA with Grapefruit” — brewed with four variations of American hops, agave and grapefruit, and will be available in bottle and on draft through March. The subsequent beers in the series will be “The Dry-Hopped Brett Pils,” “Berliner Weisse with Elderflower,” and “Oatmeal Porter with Hazelnut.”
If all these positive thoughts of what’s to come in 2016 are not enough to get you through the winter doldrums, there are plenty of upcoming events to pick you up. On Jan. 15 — 16 the Big Philly Beerfest will be held in the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The Band of Brewers, where local breweries perform in a battle of the bands for the charity of their choice, will be on Feb. 21 at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, and is always a rockin’ time. Information at: http://www.beerscenemag.com/bandofbrewers/).
The FARE Festival will be held on Feb. 27 at the Fuge in Warminster; this unique festival brings together craft beer, small batch spirits, local wines, and an array of restaurants in the Philadelphia area. Information at: http://www.farephiladelphia.com/block/
Columnist Matt Brasch is a Souderton Area High School graduate and a beer enthusiast. For more, check his blog at http://thebrewholder.com.