On tap for 2011

The New Year in beer
By JOSH SMITH  |  December 29, 2010

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Unquestionably, 2010 was another banner year for craft beer. Personal highlights include the release of barrel-aged and specialty beers such as Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary Series, and the recognition of Cascadian Dark Ales (or Black IPAs) as a style. Here are seven other trends we can expect to see in 2011.

THE BIRTH OF MACRO-CRAFT BREWERIES. Quick, who is the largest American owned brewery? Give up? It's the Boston Beer Company, aka Samuel Adams. Twenty-five years after Jim Koch decided to take on the establishment and brew a flavorful beer, he now stands alone atop the mountain.

All of which begs the question: when does craft beer stop becoming craft beer? Craft breweries are defined as those that produce less than 2 million barrels of beer annually, but Sam Adams is pushing up against that threshold with 1.84 million barrels sold last year. The birth of nanobreweries makes the contrast between the big and little guys even more stark.

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THE DECLINE OF EXTREME BEERS. One undeniable trend in the past decade has been the rise of extremism among craft brewers. New territory has been chartered by brewers such as Scotland's BrewDog and its beer with a staggering 55% Alcohol By Volume! More disconcerting is the quiet creeping up of alcohol levels in styles such as Pale and Brown Ales that at one time consisted mainly of sessionable beers. As craft beer goes mainstream, look for a return to sanity and tradition by pragmatic brewers.

CONTINUED RISE OF SOUR BEERS. I'm tempted to tab 2010 the Year of the Sour Beer for the style's meteoric rise to relevance. This was all pretty remarkable for such a brash, distinctly flavored beer. While I do not buy that this is the second coming of the IPA, I think that there is still room for the style to grow.

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TWITTERING ABOUT BEER. Like every-thing in this world, craft beer is being shaped by the new social media. As a man from Maine, I'm not sure I'm ready for all of this new technology. But I've got to say, updates on what is now pouring at my favorite beer bar sounds like a pretty fantastic idea!

LET THERE BE CANS! The creation of micro-canning technology has allowed craft brewers of all stripes to put their product out in aluminum. Easy to transport, good for the environment, and just plain cool, this is one trend that isn't going anywhere. 2011 may just be the year that your own favorite local brew shows up in a can!

BORN-ON DATE FOR PACKAGING. Okay, this one may be more wishful thinking than anything else, but can someone explain to me why most beers do not have a born on date on the label? Fresh beer is better and consumers deserve to know exactly what they're buying.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF SMALL BREWERIES. It's easy to get caught up in the euphoria of craft beer's growth — after all, boutique brews earned a larger segment of the market yet again this year. However, this rate of growth hasn't kept up with the number of new players entering the market. While it is fun to rail against the macrobrewers and pretend we are all on the same team, at the end of the day this is a business. And there simply isn't enough for everyone.

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