by Michael Donaldson
A famous beer person (not me) once said something like: wine is just different grapes done the same way, but beer has infinite possibility.
And it’s kind of true – not that we’re here to diss wine (we love wine in all its incarnations). But because beer uses more ingredients – and within those ingredients there are literally dozens of variables – when you start working it out, there are limitless combinations of malt, hops, yeast and water – yes even the water can be variable.
With that in mind, it’s a bit weird that for the latter part of 20th century the world drank pretty much the same kind of beer – pale lager of some description.
What craft beer is doing now is breaking that stranglehold and it’s doing it so fast, it’s sometimes hard to keep up. It seems like there’s a new style of beer, even a new style of IPA every month.
Just a few years ago, for instance, there was no such thing as American Pale Ale on the New Zealand beer scene and now it’s one of the most consumed styles in the craft segment. And until recently every India Pale Ale (IPA) was cut from the same cloth – similar hop profiles, similar malts.
Pale Ale and IPA are still the most popular styles outside the mainstream, but the range continues to grow and fragment. On top of that we’ve seen a rise of sour beers – and even though sour beers have been around for hundreds of years in Europe, they were almost nonexistent in New Zealand as recently as 10 years ago. Heck, even that once dominant pale lager is getting reinvented as we speak, with Kiwi craft brewers at the forefront.
So, what’s in store for beer in the next year or so. As we approach the year 2020 it’s fair to say no-one has 20-20 vision on what the future will hold but there are a few trends that look set to hand around.
- The rise of XPA and APA. We’ve talked about these styles before and I think the XPA (as in extra pale ale) is going to be a big thing this summer. XPAs have that X factor in that the best of them sit in a sweet spot between a lager and a pale ale. Lager, with its crisp, dry body has been popular for decades for a reason – it’s a great thirst-quencher and easy-drinking. XPA seeks to imitate the pale, dry body of a lager but throws in the wonderful hop aroma and flavour that lager lacks. These beers are fragrant and flavoursome and remain easy-drinking. Example: Liberty Elixir Extra Pale Ale or Panhead Quickchange XPA
- Hazy IPA will continue to grow. Call it New England IPA, East Coast IPA, Hazy IPA … whatever the name, people around the world are falling in love with this style. It’s the opposite of the aggressively bitter (grapefruit and pine) and crystal-clear IPA that originated on the West Coast of the US. East Coast IPA is about soft, fruity, approachable bitterness. And because it’s made using ingredients such as wheat, rolled oats or lactose it has a lush, full body to boot. Ideally these beers are not filtered so more of the flavour goodness stays in the bottle or can – but since they’re not filtered they retain a hazy character because of the proteins and tannins from the malt and hops. Throw in a yeast that likes to make fruity esters and you have a big, juicy, glass of delish. Example: Emerson’s Hazed and Confused (hopefully should be out soon)
- But clear beer still rules. While the haze craze is spreading dramatically, there will always be a demand for crystal clear beer – enter Brut IPA. In many ways I think the sweeter New England IPAs are perfect cool climate beers but when it gets warmer you want that thirst-quenching dryness and they don’t get any drier than Brut IPA. Named for the resemblance in look and mouthfeel to the famed Brut Champagnes of France, this IPA contains no sugar. That’s right. Nil. A special enzyme naturally found in malt helps strip out the sugar to create a super-dry, lean, steely beer. It’s a bit like an XPA except bigger, bolder, drier. The mouth feel is light and bright, full of sparkling effervescent – and because there’s no sugar to offset hop bitterness, the hopping regime resembles a New England IPA – it’s soft, gentle and delicate. Example: Urbanaut Copacabana Brut IPA
- Now is the sour. The demand for sour beers continues to grow – admittedly off a small base – and you will see more and more of them in the summer months. Sour is a bit of a catch-all phrase that nets a number of different styles. First, there’s wild fermented beers – these are quite funky, with barnyard aromas (think silage, horsebox, manure) but all in a good way. These traditional styles are time-consuming and difficult to get right so we don’t see much of them in New Zealand. What we see a lot more of are kettle-soured beers. Here the sourness doesn’t come from wild yeasts in the air but from introducing a lactic acid-making bacteria into the beer-making process. The lacto bacillus is often the same as the one used to make yoghurt and the brew “pre-ferments” the beer with this bug to create acidity. The beer then goes through the usual process of boiling, hop additions (if any), fermentation and storage. Often fruit is blended in with these beers. Finally, there’s barrel-aged beer – here the finished product is stored in barrels (from vineyards or distilleries) and the bugs in the wood along with the original barrel use (sauvignon blanc, bourbon, pinot noir, whiskey, gin …) age the beer and create layers of flavour. Example: 8 Wired Cucumber Hippy
- New Zealand Pilsner – the world’s darling. Pilsner is a form of that pale lager that used to rule the world. Created in the town on Pilzn in the 19th century, classic Pilsner has honey and cereal character to the malt base overlaid with a spicy, grassy hop character. But the style has been reinvented in New Zealand through the way brewers allow Kiwi hops to express themselves. Instead of the spice and grass notes, Kiwi hops bring tropical fruit notes – think passionfruit, grapes, melon – to pilsner. These aromatic beers are starting to grab the world’s attention and there are many experts out there touting them They are uniquely Kiwi and will come to define the taste of summer for many. Example: Bach Brewing Beachstone Pilsner or Liberty Halo Pilsner