The New Year in beer: The Growler's predictions for 2016

Photo via R&B Brewing / Twitter

In case you haven’t noticed, craft beer in Vancouver is, like, huge now. It’s officially a Thing, and I’m gonna go and argue that we’re now the Craft Beer Capital of Canada (suck it Toronto; lap it up Victoria).

Sure, the mega-hype of craft beer – that “OMG craft beer is so awesome” exclamation none of us have ever actually heard, but we all know someone somewhere has said / is saying – has died down some. But it’s settled into a more mature, stable and comfortable understanding that craft beer is awesome and here to stay.

Just look at the numbers: craft beer swelled to 21 per cent of the beer-drinking market this year, as macro brands continued to plummet. Twenty breweries opened up in BC in 2015, while Molson announced the closure of their mega-facility in Kitsilano. And a half-dozen breweries were bought up in Big Brands’ attempt to A) survive and B) stay relevant.

All this is a good indicator that people want tasty, quality alcoholic beverages to numb the pain of what was otherwise a mostly horrible year for humanity as we slouch toward the End Times.

And as we ride it out, here’s what’s probably going to happen in craft beer in 2016, locally and abroad.

More breweries to come

We know of at least 15 BC breweries that’ll open by the end of the summer. There another half dozen rumoured as well. If “peak craft beer” is a thing, then we’re dangerously close to it. But I don’t think that’s the case.

The fact is, most beer fans have short attention spans and are profoundly greedy and gluttonous and want more, more, MORE! So any new  brewery that opens up will likely receive a warm reception, even if the beer’s lousy.

Kelowna in particular will launch its beer craze this year. BNA Brewing’s launch earlier this summer set things up, and now with Kettle River Brewing opening early next year, and the at least two more breweries in the works – plus growing Baby Boomer interest in this “new craft beer thing” – the tourism-dependent, wine-fanatic city is primed for a craft beer revolution all its own.

Local breweries will start to feel the pinch

Entrepreneur reported that new craft breweries have close to a zero per cent failure rate, at least in the US, and at least in 2015. But then again, with San Francisco’s beloved Magnolia Brewing going bankrupt in December, it looks as though the reckoning may soon be upon us.

And sure, San Francisco’s craft beer industry is on steroids, but their competitive climate has lessons for us all, and especially here in BC, which is one of the fastest growing markets on the continent.

As new breweries open (particularly in and around Vancouver) and older breweries get better, some of the less-financed, lower quality or generally less well-received breweries will start feeling the pinch. This will be seen more and more on draft accounts across the city, in lower bottle sales at private liquor stores, and dwindling numbers at tasting rooms.

It’s not all going to fall apart, of course. For a variety of reasons, Canadians are largely isolated from the issues that small and mid-sized breweries in the US are facing right now. At least locally, and at least for 2016, there will be a very simple remedy for these breweries: make better beer.

The beer will get better…

The quality of beer in Vancouver alone improved by leaps in 2015, and any brewery that doesn’t step up will be in deep shit. In a crowded market, mediocre breweries can’t depend on the goodwill of the community for much longer.

But the other side of it is, brewers want to make better beer, and there are dozens of talented and experienced brewers working for, or owners of, breweries that opened in the past 12-18 months. They’ll find their footing this year, or will be inspired by the improvements of the peers, or both. Either way, expect the tastiest local beer in history (hyperbole not withstanding).

…and it will be sour and/or barrel-aged

As for beer trends for the year, expect to see more kettle sours made locally across the province. We’ll also be seeing a lot more barrel-aged beers and barley wines this year, as newer breweries start releasing beers they’ve been aging since they opened. Expect release dates starting in the summer and into the fall.

Breweries are also going to be releasing more – or will be putting more emphasis on existing – light, sessionable ales and lagers, as more people are introduced to craft beer province-wide, and as the LDB allows more craft beers in their stores.

Macro will flex harder to annihilate pesky, petulant craft brewers

2015 was the year when Macro Beer, facing crises both existential and financial, made desperate (and, admittedly, fairly intelligent) moves to maintain their dominance as our All-Powerful Lords of Beer. They bought craft brands. They merged. They took control of distribution networks in the US.

This all sets the table for Big Beer’s concentrated efforts to stamp craft beer out, or at least capitalize on its popularity. Expect them to buy more brands. Expect a few more American breweries to shut down, or at least file for bankruptcy. And expect more muscular advertising selling macro-owned craft brands and their staple products, because Budweiser and Coors Light ain’t going nowhere.

More import craft beer locally

Given Big Beer’s purchase of popular craft brands, and given Vancouver’s thriving consumer base, we’ll likely see a greater push of Lagunitas, Elysian, Goose Island and Ballast Point in our liquor stores, private and governmental. The Americans are coming. You’ll see. Just you wait.

The New Year in beer

The New Year in beer


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