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Beer, Beer, & Better Beer

Lager Love & Hazy Everything: Our Craft Beer Predictions For 2019
By Adam Roberts, HopCat Regional Beverage Program Manager | January 21, 2019

craft beer in 2019

Every January, beer media publications are full of predictions about what will unfold in the ever-changing world of craft beer during the coming year. Adam Roberts — HopCat’s Regional Beverage Program Manager and a Certified Cicerone — looks into his hazy crystal ball and offers some insight into the beer-style trends that are likely to shape the industry in 2019:

While I’m extremely hopeful that the next big beer trend will be something exciting like a Peanut Butter Brut IPA w/ Sea Salt & Glitter, realistically these predictions might be a little less thrilling. Here’s what I think we’ll see in the always evolving beer world in 2019.

LAGERS

I feel that light, crisp, and refreshing beers have been on the uptick the past few years. The beer schnob (yes, schnob) in all of us has come full-circle and can appreciate just how amazing a well-done Pilsner can be, especially when that’s what the day calls for. I see this continuing into 2019. As long as we don’t overdo it, and revert back to the days of one style fits all, I am fine with this continuing trend.

WHEAT BEERS (aka the original hazy beers)

Not so much a trend as an overlooked fan favorite, I think that wheat beers are right up there with lagers in terms of popularity. Even in the off-season when the breweries bring out their darker, stronger seasonal offerings, I find myself drinking wheat beers. I feel that few breweries notice this, but Michigan-based Bell’s brewing co. makes a winter seasonal, Winter White, and that’s what I’m drinking right now. Take note, breweries. The original “hazy beers” are here to stay!

IPAs

I don’t see standard American IPAs going anywhere anytime soon, despite some predictions to the contrary. They continue to top the most popular beer lists in the many markets. Will they ever stop? This isn’t a trend, this is a fact. People love their favorite IPAs. The trend that continues is the variation to the style we are seeing:

New England-Style IPAs – New England IPAs have experienced an unforeseen boom over the last few years with just about every brewery jumping on the bandwagon, and for good reason. They aren’t quite done yet. The thirst is still there. I think we’ll continue to see new brands pop up in this category through 2019.

Milkshake IPAs - Take a New-England Style IPA, add some lactose (milk sugar) and your favorite fruit. Boom. What you have is a delicious variation on the New-England style. I think you’ll see a few more of these coming out.

Brut IPAs – While not quite as popular as the New-England explosion, I’d wager that we’ll continue to see growth in this sub-category. Brut IPAs utilize an enzyme to convert sugar into much more digestible forms for the yeast, resulting in a bone-dry finish. The secret here (shhhh) is to add a little orange juice and make yourself the best-tasting beermosa you’ve ever had. Brut IPAs are so champagne-esque that the combo works almost too perfectly. Try it and enjoy the trending. Yum.

Hazy everything - With the boom of the New-England IPA style came the trend to haze up everything. Pale Ales, Double IPAs, even lagers. Wait for it. The hazy oatmeal stout is sure to be next.

FLAGSHIP BRANDS

Just like I noted on Lagers, the beer schnob in us all has also come full-circle, and can appreciate just how amazing a well-done core brand can be. Instead of searching for the newest thing, the experienced beer geek has found their favorite, and will drink it over and over again, because it’s good. I expect to see a resurgence in the importance of highlighting flagship brands again. Just look up #FlagshipFebruary.

BIGGEST TREND

Quality craft beers and amazing variety will continue to trend high. Lucky us! Drink up.

 

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What's so good about Belgian beer?
By Adam Roberts, HopCat Regional Beverage Program Manager | July 17, 2018
Belgians, Sours

Belgian National Day is July 21

Belgium is one of our favorite beer-producing nations, and we love our Belgian beers here at HopCat. So much, in fact, that we’re throwing a daylong party on Saturday, July 21st, at every HopCat locations, which happens to coincide with their national holiday. There’s more to celebrate than just Belgium’s strong finish in the World Cup. Here’s a little background on why we’re flying the Belgian flag this week.

Why do we celebrate Belgian National Day?

Belgian National Day can be considered their independence day. We celebrate at HopCat because, without having declared independence, Belgium may have been ruled by another country and lost much of their heritage and culture, including their beer culture!

Belgium produces some of the most interesting, complex, and unique beers styles in the world, using many traditional techniques, processes, and ingredients that have been stiflingly modernized in much of the rest of the world. Belgium holds a special place in every beer lover’s heart because they have been able to maintain much of their traditional beer heritage, a heritage that produces beers unlike anywhere else in the world. We celebrate that!

What distinguishes Belgian beers?

Belgian beers have a great deal of diversity. It’s just not as easy as saying THIS makes it a Belgian beer, besides the fact that it’s brewed in Belgium. However, very generally speaking, Belgian beer styles are known for the contributions from Belgian yeast strains that produce particularly peppery, spicy, herbal notes. Lighter to darker, and almost everything in between will have some of this spicy character. Tripels, Dubbels, Belgian Strong Ales, Belgian Blondes, you name it, all with a particularly Belgian taste thanks to contributions from the yeast.

Another yeast that Belgium is known for is Wild yeast, which comes from, you guessed it, the wild. Most of the funky sour styles that are produced in Belgium are a result of a process called spontaneous fermentation. When making the wort, instead of pitching yeast into it, brewers keep in a large bathtub-like container called a coolship and open the windows, letting the wild yeast floating around in the air to take hold. Because of special microflora in certain areas, interesting, unique, and delicious results can be obtained.

Belgium is also well known for its hop varieties. Belgium grows some specific varieties that are aromatic and herbal, but not overly bitter. The hop varieties balance and blend into the other flavors rather than being a focal point like the hops native to some other countries.

Processes are a huge part of what makes a Belgian beer so tasty as well. Boils last two to five hours or even longer. That’s unheard of in most countries, where boils tend to last an hour and a half at most. Some styles like Lambics age their hops for up to three years before using them -- again unheard of in most countries.

What’s the deal with the monks?

Don’t forget about the monks! Many of Belgium’s styles originated from Trappist breweries where the beer is still made today, entirely brewed by the monastic community. They brew beer for their sustenance, with all profits going back to their abbeys or donated to provide social services.

What are some entry-level Belgian beers for novices?

Stuff everyone will like:

  • Lindemans Framboise – Sweet, sour, and fruity raspberry flavors; brilliantly reddish purple. A marvelous beer that is great in cocktails. It’s lower in alcohol, but add a shot of chocolate vodka, and tell me you don’t love it.
  • Saison Dupont – Very approachable  for entry-level drinkers, but die-hards love it too. A well respected, highly rated, traditional saison in all its peppery, super-carbonated glory. Rate Beer gives it a 98/100

How about for the more experienced Belgian fan?

These are darker, luscious and full, perfect for the moderate Belgian enthusiast:

  • St. Bernardus ABT 12 – Brown sugar, raisin, bitter chocolate. Rated 100/100
  • Chimay Premiere – Sparkling , toffee, dry finish. Excellent. Rated 98/100.

And some picks for the sour/funky lover:

  • Monk’s Café – Only brewed once a year. Tart, but not overly sour. Cherry notes. Dry finish. Red wine drinkers often find this pleasant, and sour lovers…love it.
  • Rodenbach Classic – A lighter, less tart, very approachable entry level sour. Made from a blend of 75% young to 25% aged sour, the young beer expresses more fruit and cherry flavors, whereas the aged beer provides a subtle tart balance. They’re aged in gigantic wood barrels known as Foeders, and their vinous oak character attracts wine drinkers.
  • St. Louis Gueze – One of the only Gueuzes available on draft in America. Dry, fruity apple and peach flavors. Tart and funky. Earthy, wood and hay notes are present in this delicious entry-level funky beer.
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Ignore the haters: The American lager is your friend
By Adam Roberts, HopCat Regional Beverage Program Manager | May 10, 2018
lagers

Odd Side Ales - Beer Me American Lager

Evil macro beers! Flavorless fizz water! We've all heard these phrases, or worse, coming from even the most experienced craft beer connoisseurs when talking about American lagers. But do they really deserve the bad rap? And how did it all start? Read on, my humble beer geek.

Also known as an adjunct lager, American lagers are a variation on traditional German pilsners or Czech pale lagers, but use a high percentage of corn or rice, along with barley, to produce a beer that is know for its neutral flavor. These adjuncts provide highly fermentable sugars that are used to increase alcohol content, adding subtle sweetness, while retaining a light-bodied mouthfeel, brilliant clarity, and pale color that is difficult to achieve using barley malt alone, and at a much cheaper price.

The result is a rather bland beer that finishes crisp and dry with an almost unnoticeable hop character or bitterness. High carbonation provides a tingle on the tongue sometimes perceived as metallic in taste, yet head retention is fast to fade. Further stifling what positive flavors and aromas this style might possess, American lagers are often served very cold, with some establishments even emphasizing this by serving in ice-frosted mugs.

Despite the stigma that has elitist craft beer snobs snubbing the style, American lagers are experiencing a resurgence in the world of craft. Among the misinformation, it's easy to forget that these beers can be refreshing and easy drinking when that's what the day calls for. Many craft breweries are rising to the challenge by producing their own versions to compete with the dominating macro breweries.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not exactly true that the evil corporate macro breweries were responsible for the demise of more flavorful styles preceding the modern craft beer movement. By the 1800s, German immigrants had already brought their beer recipes to America and found the ingredients had different qualities than their native counterparts, producing some unwanted flavors and a hazier appearance. They found balance by using the neutral quality of adjuncts to dilute the proteins causing the problem.

The public at the time liked the mellow flavors, although these were much more flavorful than today's examples, and demand was born. During prohibition in the 1920s & 30s, many existing breweries went bankrupt, and the American public further forgot what a flavorful beer could be. Upon repeal, the breweries that were left started brewing with the cheapest ingredients, and only what they knew would sell quickly. During World War 2 in the 1940's, brewers saw a restriction on grains, further limiting the availability of more flavorful ingredients. Soon there were few breweries, and fewer beer styles.

As you can see, American lagers are not the horrible creation they are made out to be, but as a conscious craft beer consumer, when I do drink one, I choose to give my money to local producers rather than the big guys looking to bring us back to the old days of one-style rules all.

Adam Roberts is a Certified Cicerone.

 

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