Following a trend for potent alcoholic and aromatic concoctions, creative brewers are now increasingly turning to uncomplicated beer styles that with high drinkability. Their journey takes them straight to traditional varieties such as lager, pils and wheat beer – but with a highly experimental twist.
Whether in the U.S., Belgium, or Germany, the creative beer market, still in its infancy, is undergoing rapid change. In addition to their heavily hopped, alcohol-rich India pale ales, imperial stouts, and barley wines, many new but also more established specialty breweries are increasingly focusing on classic German beer styles. The reason? Alongside the popular explosions of flavor, consumers also want solid, low-alcohol brews that they can enjoy several glasses of without falling off their chair after a few sips.
The creative beer market, still in its infancy, is increasingly refocusing its attention on drinkability
Some brewers have recognized that they can only conquer new markets if they align themselves – beyond their traditional areas of experimentation – to a broad spectrum of customer wishes. Hence they are now increasingly dedicating themselves to uncomplicated classic brews, but with a modern interpretation. Drinkability is the buzzword of the hour. And what beer styles are better for this than pils, lager and wheat beer. U.S. brewers recognized this a lot sooner, proving themselves once again to be pioneers for this trend. For example, Ken Grossman, head of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in California and illustrious U.S. craft beer pioneer, has sworn for some time: “Highly aromatic brews with less alcohol and high drinkability are the future of the international beer industry”. He himself has Bavarian wheat beers and pils in his portfolio – but to his very own taste.
Even though traditional German-style typologies are on the rise, especially in the U.S., they are still among the most widely drunk types of beer in Germany – although the trend in total output for pils, lager and wheat beer did tend to decline in recent years. Current statistics from the German Brewers’ Association in Berlin also illustrate taste behavior in Germany. Pils is still Germany’s drink of choice. According to the Association’s figures, the share of total output is more than 55 percent, with the share of sales even as high as around 70 percent. It is followed by export and wheat beers. Nevertheless, the highest growth rates recorded last year were for specialty beers and individual lagers.
How is the creative beer scene tackling the preference for pils and co.?
This development is giving a particular boost to those creative brewers who are increasingly adding classic beer styles to their portfolio. The young market players have learned that it’s not easy to please even die-hard beer drinkers with highly refined beer concoctions à la IPA or imperial stout. The general preference for pils and co. even plays to the brewers’ strengths. As a common market strategy, they are therefore now trying out their skills on established beer styles, adding a moderate amount of hops while still lending each variety an individual taste. For Dario Stieren, the master brewer at Munich Brew Mafia, there is a simple reason for this change in strategy: “We need new target groups that promise us sustained industry growth.”
Whether or not traditional beer styles like these can actually still be classed as part of the creative beer scene doesn’t really seem to bother beer fans. “It’s more important that the brews preserve their individual character,” emphasizes Wolfgang Stempfl, the long-time Managing Director of the Doemens Savour Academy in Gräfelfing near Munich and a veteran of the German brewing industry. He said that even when it comes to traditional varieties, creative young brewers were well aware that they were by no letting their beers degrade into a commonplace drink.
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