As we look ahead to 2018, it’s pretty remarkable to consider just how far the B.C. craft beer scene has come in such a short time. And with 26 new breweries opening in our province last year—the most ever!—it begs the question, what’s next? Well, allow me to posit my proverbial two cents on what the next year will bring for craft beer.
The return of lagers
You heard it here first: 2018 is the year of the craft lager. Here’s why: we’ve basically run out of weird, esoteric styles to revive and when it comes to crushing six-packs, imperial brett-fermented triple IPAs aren’t what a lot of people are going to reach for. While the craft beer movement in North America began as a revolt against the thin, tasteless, watery industrial lagers that your parents still drink, this generation of lagers will be made with quality ingredients and have something those in the craft beer industry like to call “flavour.” Instead of cheap adjuncts like corn and rice, craft breweries will use quality malts. Instead of cheap hop extracts, they’ll use actual hops.
Lagers (which include pilsner, helles, kolsch, altbier and many other beer styles) are technically challenging beers to brew, are expensive and time-consuming to make, and when properly executed, are sublime. These beers will appeal not only to neophyte craft beer consumers transitioning from Bud and Kokanee, but also to seasoned craft beer nerds who have finally come full circle to appreciate the subtle beauty, craftmanship and balance of these styles.
Vancouver-based contract brewer Slow Hand Beer Company has recognized the trend, and will be focusing solely on craft lagers. Their initial offering, a Czech-style pilsner, launched last month.
“In the US, pilsners are experiencing a huge renaissance,” says co-owner Kurtis Sheldan.
“We want to be the guys who’re known for lagers when everyone up here comes around.”
In addition to traditional German- and Czech-style pilsners, look for breweries to try more obscure varieties like Dortmunder export, schwarzbier and rauchbier, as well as West Coast dry-hopped lagers.
Keeping it local
As breweries continue to explore the notion of terroir, look for more local ingredients to find their way into your beer. B.C. hops have always been in demand, and local grain is becoming increasingly popular as well, with breweries like Phillips and Longwood relying on custom B.C. malts. However, to truly capture the taste of B.C., brewers are turning to foraged flavours. Tofino Brewing helped popularize the use of local spruce tips and kelp, and tiny Mayne Island Brewing Company’s lineup features seasonal foraged beer series. B.C. forests abound with flavour: perhaps we’ll see a beer brewed with Nootka rosehips and salmonberry? Salal? Labrador tea? The possibilities are endless.
The future is small…
B.C. saw 26 new breweries open last year, the most ever. There’s at least another 15 in the works that I know of, and I’m sure a whole bunch more that are still under wraps. The trend of small community breweries will continue until every Main Street in the province has its own brewery (right next to the butcher and the baker). These community breweries require little in the way of initial investment, and they don’t have to worry about packaging and distribution. The trend is dovetailing nicely with the growing “locavore” movement, too.
New breweries opening in crowded urban areas like Vancouver and Victoria are going to have to specialize if they want to get the attention of the public, so look for them to do one thing, and do it well. In the case of Victoria’s Île Sauvage Brewing Co., that means focusing on just oak-aged sour beers. Meanwhile, Real Cask Ales (operating out of Callister Brewing) is all about UK cask-conditioned ales. It’s a matter of time before someone goes 100% IPA.
Who says you even need a brick-and-mortar location to make beer? Thanks to contract brewers like Factory Brewing, anyone with a great recipe and a snappy marketing plan can get their beer on shelves and on tap without having to invest in building an actual brewery. The success of brands like Superflux and Boombox will no doubt inspire countless new brewery-less breweries. What about brand-specific craft beer tasting rooms, offering the brewery experience, but without the actual brewery? Denmark’s Mikkeller has been doing it for years, and it’s a matter of time before the concept comes to B.C.