In this era of choice, it’s important to take a step back and appreciate the amazing flexibility of the brewing process. No other process can create the amount of different tastes; a wine will always taste like a wine, a spirit like a spirit, and so on. Not true when it comes to the brewing process. Fermentation can take on several different tastes depending on the yeast used, temperature of the fermentation and the time taken to ferment. The Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) looks at a brewer as someone who brews an alcohol. But that can take many forms and shapes.
Beer Still Rules the Brewery Roost
Most brewers produce a beer as it’s the most popular beverage. Even though beer consumption is dropping each year, it still ranks the highest. We are used to seeing ales and lagers fermented with the appropriate yeast. Is it still a beer if it doesn’t have malt? All you really need is some kind of sugar to feed the fermentation process . . .
Flavored Malt Beverages
Flavored malt beverages or FMBs are a rapidly growing category of beverages produced by fermentation, but not flavored much like a beer. Hard sodas and seltzers fall into this category. They are very trendy, but usually don’t stay on the shelves. We have seen several kinds of FMBs come and go. Remember Zima?
Seltzer is the New FMB
Now that seltzers are taking off many people are asking if they will stick around, unlike many FMBs. I personally think that seltzers have a much longer life cycle than most people realize. This is because seltzers possess all the good parts of craft beer without the calories of beer. It’s not well known that beer is the most caloric alcoholic beverage. It is possible to consume an entire meals worth of calories in one can of beer. That is problematic for anyone who needs to watch their weight. Seltzers are fun to drink and cater to many different tastes. To date we’ve only seen one fruit flavor at a time. Once the craft brewing industry embraces this trend, we will see many more innovations with flavor.
Low or High Alcohol Seltzer?
The shelves are full of 5% light seltzer. The 100 calorie, 5% ABV single fruit tall can is beginning to take over. Thankfully, I’m seeing the beginnings of innovation. I’m starting to hear whispers of a high ABV seltzer. All that’s required is the sugar necessary to ferment to a higher ABV. It will be interesting to see what the marketplace is seeking. Is it the lightness of seltzer that is wanted, or the higher ABV experience?
Birth of the Brewed Cocktail
We know that younger people desire choices. In fact, they want multiple choices when visiting each brewery. In a single night, they will consume a beer, wine and a cocktail (with cocktails taking a larger and larger market share). What if breweries could brew a product to use as a base of a cocktail? That would allow for a whole new experience at the taproom. I’m seeing more and more brewers try their hand at a high ABV ‘soda’ or ‘seltzer’ to be used as a base for a cocktail. That is going to yield many interesting variations as brewers experiment with creating a whole new and different experience. The only drawback is that most health departments will not allow taprooms to serve fruit without an official kitchen. That will limit the number of breweries who can truly create the cocktail experience.
Hop Water, CBD and THC Beer
Seltzers have proven that we don’t need malt as a base or even hops to create an interesting drinking experience. So, what about taking the malt (and the associated alcohol) away entirely and creating a hop water? Again, what does the marketplace want to see? That hop water could be used as a base for CBD or even THC to be added. Now we have blended the cannabis and beer worlds into a ‘beer-like’ experience with the cannabis high.
Today those drinks are sold without alcohol as a CBD drink or in a dispensary as THC beer. With the difficulty of getting to a dispensary, I don’t see demand increasing until more dispensaries are allowed at the state and local level. I will say that craft brewers are some of the best positioned to make a quality CBD beer. Current rules prohibit the creation of CBD beer in a brewery. It will be nice when those laws are relaxed with the increased adoption of cannabis.
If there’s one thing that I know about the craft brewing industry, I know that they are a creative, artistic bunch and will continue to surprise me with innovations and change.