When I look back over the last half decade* there has been one clear trend. Things are getting a bit out of the control of central command.** It's to be expected if for no other reason than the tripling of the number of breweries. At the end of 2009, there were 1,630 US breweries. By the end of 2016, we are likely to be pushing 5,000. This is good. The vast majority of them are never going to serve more than the local market and will make beers you will never hear of, let alone try. That is also good. Fresh local beer is better than stale beer from a distance. Fresh local beer is more available now in North America than perhaps it has been since the advent of the railways which - as opposed to the prohibition myth - were actually what destroyed the era of local beer.¹ Fabulous. Consumers have more local choice.
The top 20 US craft brewers in terms of scale at the outset of 2015 are pretty much the same as they were in 2010 but they are less relevant to most beer buyers. Bulk big craft is distancing itself from the micro scale more and more. Established beer interests will seek to minimize the division - and even work to regulate against it - but the recent sales of big craft as well as the establishment of national and international branch plants makes it clear that there really three sorts of brewers these days: large macro, middle big craft and small micros. This is also good. Consumers now have more say as to where they are spending their dollar at a variety of price points and are less prone to being guided by the voices of central authority of big craft. The era of the rockstar brewer is long gone. And the "small brewers = bad quality" big craft campaign against small brewers has about as much hope of success as their stunned "crafty" campaign against big beer. All good. It's not just that there are more breweries. The structure of the marketplace positioning itself to maximize consumer offerings. Good.
And the beers themselves have diversified. It's not just how "IPA" has become practically meaningless through representing a massive range of styles, either. In large part through the co-opting of the largely unacknowledged or at least unpaid work of Ron Pattinson, beers like gose and grodziskie enjoyed by past cultures were first revived and then converted - when they were discovered to (i) have sorta died off for good reason and (ii) be open to branding manipulation as much as IPA was. Result? As Jeff illustrates, every beer now can have its own unintelligible brand promising the welcome delights of something perhaps as understandable as "lemon basil gose" to the less welcome and perhaps incomprehensible confusion of "chestnut corn lager"² or, worse, that gak known as radler. This is still good. Just as each one of us has a directly relationship with the favorite song and not the singer, we love the beer and not the brewer. Conformity is dead. Now there is a beer for everyone to love based on nothing more than their own discretion... even if some of it is objectively terrible. You are free to have bad taste. So, Mr. B was never truer than as he was today - in the every taste works world of beer, you can have whatever the hell you want. Even if it is actually hellish.
Diversification of breweries, of classes of breweries and of the beers themselves. That is the top theme of the last five years.
*More here on Platinum Pints.
** Yeats wrote "Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...."
¹You'd think the voices of anti-neo-prohibitionism would be more anti-modern-transport-systemists if they were actually on the ball.
² I know... wait a few months, however, and we will have to face that new reality.