Annick De Splenter takes a look at the changes the beer market has been through and what’s on the horizon for the coming year

Now we are in the final months of 2018 it seems right that we look back on a year in the ever-evolving beer industry and look forward to what we can expect from a brand-new year to come. As new breweries burst onto the scene with innovative flavours and brewing techniques it seems as though 2019 could see a whole new wave of exciting brands and beers to entice beer lovers all over the world.

Lighter beers continue to grow in popularity
As we start the list, we’re looking into the most popular styles of beer from the past year, and one of the new up and coming ones is light beer. For an easy drinking option consumers are looking towards lighter beers as they are generally low in calories and low in alcohol – making it easily drinkable, especially when you’re having more than one. They’re perfect summertime beers, great for enjoying in the garden as a refreshing beverage, and we often get that feedback from drinkers of our Gruut blonde brew. However, looking beyond the always popular IPA, we have identified a handful of other styles that have done increasingly well in 2018: American lager, wheat ale, blonde ale and kolsch have taken pride of place in our drinking repertoire this year. The future of light beer is looking bright, and for all the right reasons.

Reduced or no hops
Ever since the craft beer boom, breweries have been ‘hopping’ on the bandwagon to increase the amount of hops in their ranges. We’ve seen the rise of double-hop, triple-hop and even quadruple-hop in the past few years, to meet a rising demand for the distinctive taste that hops provide. While some can’t get enough of the hoppy taste of beer, others are turning to a brew with reduced and even no hops at all.

Often for those people who say ‘I don’t like beer,’ they really mean ‘I don’t like hops,’ as this is the primary source of bitterness in beer and it is that bitterness that turns people away. In the process of evolution, our brains now register a bitter taste as poison. As we have evolved throughout the years so must the breweries that cater to consumers tastes, and where some people may still enjoy a bitter taste, evolution has also created those who aren’t as welcoming to the taste.

Here at Gruut we revive medieval methods of using herbs to deliver bitterness to beer usually provided through their hops. As we predicted more breweries will begin looking for more alternative methods for some of their beer styles, moving away from the reliance on hops and find new and exciting beer tastes.

Sour beer
They say that history repeats itself and sour beer is a trend that has taken beer geeks back to the very beginning. Being the oldest type of beer in history, every beer journey started with a somewhat sour element to it, as its tart taste originated from when beer came only in an unpasteurised form and was teeming with bacteria.

Fast forward to 2018 and thanks to modern brewing methods we can now enjoy that tart taste without worrying whether it is safe to drink or not. For 2018, the sour beer market has grown and it’s only in these recent years that brewers have learned to safely produce all of the taste, without the health issues.

It also seems as those who shout about not liking beer are also giving sour beer a go, and actually enjoying it. It’s a welcome relief for many who were exposed primarily to hoppy craft beers, and had no choice but to turn to wine or cocktails. Sour beer is enticing these individuals, and helping open their eyes to a more layers and distinctive flavour brew.

Low Alcohol Beers
We’ve all seen a rise in the strength of beer this year, as beers begin to push the eight per cent and above mark and it’s no surprise that the reverse effect is also becoming popular with those who don’t necessarily choose a drink based on its strength.

As low alcohol beers have rightly earned a spot in the beer world, the focus has shifted on mindful beer lovers who love a tipple and find great taste in low alcohol beers under three per cent ABV. While there’s still that gap the market for zero per cent or low alcohol beers to make their way into a brewer’s core range, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we saw this boom in 2019 as including this new love could become a point of difference in a crowded market.

Popularity of craft beer
It’s not breaking news independent craft brewers are fuelling the growth of the UK beer scene. Last year saw more than 300 new breweries launched in the UK, and this 18 per cent rise on the previous year brought the UK to a grand total to over 2000 breweries.

Although craft beer goes from strength to strength, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a noticeable shift in the way consumers are purchasing it. As we move from 2018 into 2019, the combination of the art, technology and experience is something of importance to consumers of craft beer. All these independent brewers offering gluten-free, hop-free and alcohol-free beers, could see the continued effect on flagship brands and their overall decline in the market.

Annick De Splenter is the founder and master brewer at Gruut in Ghent. The exceptional properties of four of the Ghent Gruut beers stem from the fact they are brewed without hops. As you would expect, research into alternatives for replacing hops is no easy task. It was only after a course in biochemistry and various collaborative links with a range of universities that Annick’s Ghent City Beer saw the light of day. There are now five different varieties: Ghent Gruut White, Ghent Gruut Blonde, Ghent Gruut Amber, Ghent Gruut Brown and Ghent Gruut Inferno. Gruut’s beers are available from James Clay in the UK.