Expert Outlook 2022: Where Do We Go From Here?

Innovation is on the lips of most craft beer and beverage makers all the time. Creating something that is unique to the brand they run and can be an easy identifier while creating a connection with a consumer is always top of mind.

Going into a new year, plans by many experts in the craft beer field have been sorted out through many meetings with managers and staff and even looking to other fields of industry to see what the consumer needs, wants, and doesn’t know yet that they must have.

One such expansion of a trend of sorts is adding more to the Lager category. Many breweries find this option to be more than just a low-ABV, classic style. It can be either a nearly blank canvas from which to work from, or a familiar item for a craft-curious individual.

“Our Mexican Lager has been a growing beast since we placed it in a can back in 2017,” said Lone Tree Sales & Marketing Director, Dennis Stack. “This only supports the trend of lighter beers gaining momentum.”

While there’s still a huge demand for NEIPAs, Pastry Stouts, viscous fruit beers, and such, Josh Gilbert of Temperance Beer said they are seeing the beginning of a move toward more traditional styles.

“Beers that taste like beer,” he said. “We’ve also had a focus on quaffable traditional beer styles, and we’re looking to expand on Basement Party Unfiltered American Lager in 2022.

“We’ve just sent out the first 12-packs to our local distributor.”

Seeing that consumers are burnt out by overloaded beers, DuClaw has noticed there is a shift back towards traditional basics. Based on demand, Marketing Manager Rachel Bradley said that the Baltimore veteran facility is elevating classic styles through its DuClaw Foundations series, which will feature styles such as Maibock or Dark Mexican lager.

“We’re also introducing new cores like our ‘Low Key’ low-calorie wheat ale and ‘Relaxed Fit’ Session IPA,” she explained.

Lone Tree’s fruit-forward beers are also seeing some great traction.

“We will look to expand and experiment in both of these categories in the coming year,” Stack said. “I think this echoes the increasing trend of easy-drinking craft beer options we see in the market today.”

Cali Squeeze is Firestone Walker’s most dramatic innovation-chasing consumer trend in a while, admitted founder David Walker.

“It’s a bold fruit-infused Hefeweizen, rich in flavor, color, and texture,” he said of Cali Squeeze. “It’s almost as if all the elements consumers are seeking in FMBs (Flavored Malt Beverages) and Hazy IPAs merge.”

Firestone Walker has always made a Hefeweizen for pubs but Walker said they were never confident enough to release something different enough to forge a strong relationship with consumers.

“We think this might work,” he said. “As much as our West Coast IPAs of 15 years ago are iconic and still in demand, they are beers of another time in the fast-paced world we live in.

“We are always looking forward as a brewery.”

And variety is still the spice of life when it comes to the hardcore craft consumer that is constantly looking to build ticks on social media apps or shares with friends.

Bootstrap Brewing just released an Adventure Series, a rotating six-pack.

“The first style we released is our ESB-Style Amber which is one of our favorites that we’ve brewed since opening day in 2012,” said co-founder Leslie Kaczeus. “We’ve only been able to enjoy it in the taproom until now. For the next beer in the series, we’ll release a new Hazy IPA and after that, we’re still exploring which styles will follow on.

“This is a super fun way for us to package our taproom favorites and put out new recipes seasonally to see how they do.”

Hazy IPAs are one of the Top 3 most popular categories continuing to grow, Kaczeus pointed out, so Bootstrap will explore turning its Adventure Series Hazy IPA into a standalone product to join its already popular seller, Lush Puppy Juicy IPA.

SweetWater CMO Brian Miesieski sees today’s consumer as all over the map.

“They’ll have maybe a couple of beers if it’s a day-drinking occasion, and maybe it goes something a little bit higher up the spectrum in terms of IBUs or AVBs and get into the IPAs,” he said as an example. “Maybe it’s a sporting event, they want to get into seltzers, it just seems to be all over the map.”

And as the Atlanta-based brewery continues to expand — along with the opening in the fall of 2021 with a brewery in Colorado to help deliver fresh brands to the West Coast — they do need to take care of the core craft beer consumers as well.

“Even with all the innovations, we need to make sure that we’re making damn great beer still,” Miesieski said. But what the brand has decided to do is have a diverse portfolio, and capture consumers in different occasions.

“They might want a certain type of beer or even something outside beer, and we want to have something that’s there for them,” he said. “I think even consumers that have been around for quite some time in craft beer, also realizing that maybe they want to have something that’s a little less calories or something that’s a little more refreshing or a little lighter tasting and pick what they want from the cooler when it when whenever suits are fancy for that particular occasion.”

Expanding the portfolio is in view also as Temperance just launched a spin-off brand called Scarce Goods which Gilbert said they will use as an experimental playground for small-batch beers that may be one-offs or may someday “graduate” to become a Temperance beer.

“We’re excited to see where we can take Scarce Goods in 2022,” he said.

Since its initial launch in 2011, Sweet Baby Jesus continues to be one of DuClaw consumers’ favorites, so the brewery also is planning on diving deep and creating a few variants like a Chai Tea Porter, a White Stout, a Nutella version, and more.

“This will be a fun test to see which flavors fly off shelves,” Bradley said.

DuClaw has also seen increased interest in nitro options, so Bradley said the brewery will look into launching more brands including Sweet Baby Jesus variants, dessert-inspired PastryArchy variants, and additional one-offs. The glittery Unicorn Farts line has historically been a buzzy fan favorite, but Bradley said they wanted to keep the momentum going without remaining stagnant.

“That’s why we’ll be releasing an ‘after dark’ Unicorn Farts variant,” she said, “and can’t wait to tease that to market.

“Our lineup for 2022 reflects the creativity of our team coupled with our desire to diversify our customer reach. The impact of COVID-19 was reflected in our lack of keg sales, which forced us to set aside a lot of barrel-aged beers, which was disappointing for us, and consumers. That’s why we’re going to revitalize our barrel-aging program in 2022, and all of our dessert-inspired PastryArchy series variants will be barrel-aged too.”

Photo courtesy Firestone Walker

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