Cutting-edge CRAFT

It’s safe to say that I’m not a stranger to a number of Northeast Florida’s excellent craft beer shops. Establishments like Beer:30 in San Marco and Alewife Bottle Shop & Tasting Room in Five Points are regulars on my rotation. Of late, I’ve noticed a few trends in the industry and in the beers served at these institutions. The biggest trends are the shifts toward New England-style IPAs and the continued growth of the sour beer sector.

Rather than the crystal-clear appearance of traditional or West Coast-style IPAs, New England-style IPAs (NEIPA) have a hazy look, reminiscent of wheat beers. The cloudy character can also lend creaminess and roundness that’s not in typically crisp, dry IPAs. The flavor of this new style also differs from other IPAs in that it’s less in-your-face bitter, more fruity and soft in the hops.

The style was first introduced by legendary Vermont brewery The Alchemist with its Heady Topper IPA. Long a beer fanboy (or girl) favorite, Heady Topper has reached cult status due to limited supply and astronomical demand. At one time, the beer was at the top of every beer trader’s list of ISOs (in search of).

The clamor for Topper didn’t go unnoticed; other breweries, such as Other Half Brewing Company and Tree House Brewing Company, soon began experimenting with their own versions. Locally, Southern Swells Brewing Company in Jax Beach is making a name for itself by producing crowd-pleasing NEIPAs.

Another industry area to keep an eye on is the sour sector. While big, bitter IPAs and now smooth, creamy NEIPAs still dominate, acidic sour brews are claiming more and more tap handles at beer bars and shops.

Sour beers fall into several main styles, including lambics, goses (pronounce go-zuh) and Berliner weisses. All these styles originated decades ago in Europe–goses and Berliners in Germany, lambics in Belgium–but, thanks to American brewers, they’re gaining popularity and becoming standards in an American beer drinker’s rotation.

Often brewed with fruits, sours open the beer world to exotic flavor combinations that would be difficult to pull off with other styles. One such combination is in Sierra Nevada’s Otra Vez, combining lime and blue agave flavors in a refreshingly tart gose with just a hint of saltiness. Locally, Springfield’s Main & Six Brewing Company has been experimenting with sour brews like Silver Street Sour and a recent variation, Strawberry, Raspberry Silver Street Sour. Another local brewery that’s long embraced sour brews is Aardwolf Brewing Company. Quaffs like San Marco Sour, Hipster Popsicle and Sarah Lovely solidify the San Marco brewery as a bastion of sour beer production.

Other trends to watch for in 2018 will be the practice of brewers eschewing bottles for more beer-friendly cans, the continuation of the session beer trend and more collaborations between breweries.

Whatever way the craft beer market goes, you can be sure your local beer shops and beer bars will try to keep up with the changes. My suggestion? Take advantage of their efforts and try new styles—you may find a new favorite.