Top six trends from the Great American Beer Festival

Savoury sours

Sour beers with fruit are nothing new, but vegetable and savoury sours are a whole new ball game. One of the hottest beers of the Festival was a Spaghetti Gose from Weldwerks Brewing Co. Brewed with roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, oregano, sea salt and spaghetti pasta it tasted just like a plateful of pasta smothered in tomato sauce! Also on point was Odell Green Coyote Tomatillo Sour, a bright, crisp take on a classic German-style Berliner Weisse using a bountiful spring harvest of tomatillo fruit to create a slight sweetness and tangy bite with subtle notes of kiwi, cucumber and lemon to complement the tartness. Other beers featured kale, mint, rosemary, jalapeno peppers and shiitake mushrooms to name but a few. Are these styles likely to become a mass-market trend? Probably not, but they demonstrate the ground-breaking creativity of American craft brewers.

Grape and grain

Whether this is a trend or a gimmick remains to be seen, but the use of wine yeast, wine barrels and wine ingredients served to blur the lines between grape and grain, for example, new Oskar Blues Guns n Rosé is a rosé style ale brewed with hibiscus and prickly pear and based on rosé wine while Orpheus Chaos Night and Dark is a fruited barrel-aged wild ale blended with spontaneous and wild ales for two years in barrels then re-fermented with merlot and old vine zinfandel grape must, blackberries and blueberries.

American craft brewers like to experiment with just about anything, edible or otherwise! Beers using tree sap, spruce tips and pine needles were in evidence while spices, herbs, chai, tea, coconut, key lime pie, peanut butter etc were all fair game for the curious brewer.

And finally, not only was brewing creativity in evidence at GABF but beer names were too with clever, witty and downright bizarre names front and centre. Favourites included: Gotta Pay the Pils, Punch You in the EyePA, Rye the Hell Not, Brettrospective, New Kids on Maibock, These Pretzels are Making Me Thirsty I Just Want to Drink Beer for Breakfast Stout and Watermelon Zombies from Outer Space.

The Stats

In the States there are now over 6,700 small and independent craft brewers who represent 12.7% by volume of the overall American beer market. Global export of American craft beer grew 3.6% in 2017 to total 482,309 barrels with a value of £125.4 million (the latest figures available). Canada is the largest export market for American craft beer with 51.3%, followed by the UK with 10.5%, Sweden with 6.7%, Korea with 4.6% and Australia with 3.8%. The global thirst for high quality, diverse and innovative American craft beers shows no sign of relenting and once the above trends ripple out from the States expect to see yet more craft beer options in Europe.

db full disclosure: Lotte Peplow attended Great American Beer Festival as a guest of the Brewers Association.

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