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19 Dec 2014

The Beer Goddess: A Sudsy Look Back at the Year That Was 2014—and a Look Ahead to 2015

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La Quinta Brewing Co. has gotten in on the craft-beer canning trend. La Quinta Brewing Co. has gotten in on the craft-beer canning trend.

It’s time to take a look back at another glorious year for the craft beer industry. The year that was 2014 wasn’t just great for beer; it was a push-the-envelope, challenge-the-palate, variety-exploding year.

In November, there were more than 3,200 breweries in the United States, with more than 2,000 in the planning stages, according to the Brewers Association. The majority of Americans now live within 10 miles of a craft brewer.

So, what were some of the largest and inspiring stories and trends of 2014?

Transporting American Craft-Beer Culture to the Old World

History was made in July 2014, when Green Flash became the first U.S. craft brewery to begin making and selling fresh beer in the European market. The San Diego brewery started selling its signature West Coast IPA, brewed and bottled at traditional abbey brewery St-Feuillien, in Belgium.

Around the same time, Escondido’s Stone Brewing Company announced plans to open a Stone facility in the old world: America’s 10th-largest craft brewer will build and operate a brewery and beer garden in Berlin, Germany, with an expected opening in late 2015. The Brewery’s “Stone Groundbreaking Collaborations” campaign on Indiegogo earlier this year had a stated goal of $1 million; the brewery wound up bringing in more than $2.5 million.

These two breweries make in-your-face, West Coast style IPAs. This speaks volumes about the craft beer drinker’s voice and the recent global domination of American craft beer.

This brings me to the next obvious trend.

India Pale Ales (IPAs) Remain the Most Favored Craft-Beer Style

These hop-laden beers have come full circle: IPAs are up 47 percent by volume and 49 percent by dollar sales, according to the Homebrewers Association. The style was the most-entered category at the Great American Beer Festival in September.

Because of the massive popularity, a new, more “sessionable” version of the IPA is now favored by many. At less than 5 percent alcohol by volume, session beers are easier to sip by the six-pack. Try Stone Go To IPA, Firestone Walker Easy Jack, or—one of the newer Los Angeles beers on the block—Three Weavers Stateside, a 4.5 percent session IPA.

Canning Continues to Get More Craft Beer Into More Places

Tin is in!

Can are cheaper to produce, and require less energy to cool down. Less packaging means packing more beer in less space, which reduces a brewery’s carbon footprint.

According to CraftCans.com, there are now 453 breweries with more than 1,600 craft brewed canned beers now available across the United States.

As a matter of fact, the airlines are getting in on the craft canned trend. In early December, Delta Air Lines began stocking carts with a selection of regional craft beers from breweries like Ballast Point, Lagunitas Brewing and Stone Brewing.

On a local level, La Quinta Brewing started canning in February 2014 with The Can Van. New painted cans that are now making their way into stores.

The Rise of American Wild Ales

Sours are made by introducing bacteria and/or wild yeast strains into the beer. And the results? Think bright, tart, funky and mysterious. Building off classic Belgian and German styles, U.S. breweries are harnessing wild yeast, creating beers with novel dimensions of aroma and flavor.

Coachella Valley Brewing started a sour program when they first opened their brewery, more than a year ago. CVB’s sours will be offered in small allotments for Fault Line Society members, and in the tasting room in 2015, starting with Framboys, a boysenberry raspberry framboise. Keep an eye out for Flame Rouges, an American wild brewed with red flame raisins. Both are aged in port and cabernet wine barrels.

CVB will also be releasing Epineux Poire, an American wild brewed with locally foraged prickly pear cactus fruit. Persnickety, CVB’s persimmon sour, will also make an appearance next year. If the beers don’t sell out to the FLS members, the remainder will go on public sale.

“I think in 2015, you will see more and more of beer-style fusion,” said Coachella Valley Brewing’s Chris Anderson. “Think along the lines of a Belgian IPA. I think farmhouse ales, wild ales and Brett beers (created by a funky wild yeast) will all continue to be hot.”

The Rise of the Farm-to-Table Movement

The convergence of the slow-food movement and the craft-beer revolution has led to fantastic events and exhibits, like the Great American Beer Festival’s Farm to Table Pavilion. The Pavilion provided 28 pairings designed and prepared by small and independent breweries and chefs from around the country. Coachella Valley Brewing was specially selected to pour, and was also chosen to present a special “Farm to Glass” tasting for 200 people.

“I found that our beers were very unique and innovative compared to other breweries, and it inspired me to see more breweries jumping into the concept of farm to glass,” he said, referring to the use of more fresh, local ingredients in beers.

Farmhouse ales have also seen a huge spike in sales. With applications of new-wave hop varietals like Citra, Mosaic, El Dorado and Hallertau Blanc, more people are asking for those less-bitter beers and raising their glass to juicier brews.

Breweries, like CVB, are embracing agriculture and sourcing even more local fruits, vegetables and grains. More people are recognizing the compatibility of craft beer and contemporary cuisine, too, with more beer-and-food pairings. If in the Los Angeles area, stop by Hook and Plow. Locally, don’t miss Workshop Kitchen + Bar, which offers farm-fresh heirlooms, wild arugula, watermelon, champagne grapes and lemon cucumbers in season, along with a nice selection of Southern California craft beer.

Nano Breweries Continue to Open

When it comes to beer, size really doesn’t matter. Nano breweries, often started with a single batch of homebrewed beer, typically produce one batch at a time. They represent craft in the truest sense. Also referred to as pico breweries, nano brewers make beer on a three-barrel system or smaller. There were reportedly more than 300 breweries operating in the United States as of the summer of 2014 that would qualify as nano breweries.

San Diego’s Hess Brewing opened in 2010 and produced about 1.6 barrels of beer per batch. Mike Hess Brewing has since grown to include two locations: the original “nano” in the Miramar area, and a production brewery in North Park, San Diego.

Big Success for Local Breweries

In Rancho Mirage, Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse celebrated a massive win this year when the brewery took home a medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The beloved restaurant and brewhouse nabbed its first-ever GABF medal in the “Belgian-Style Blonde Ale or Pale” category for the Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale. Babe’s is also reportedly celebrating a 110 percent increase in off-site sales from 2013 to 2014.

Over at CVB, Tom Del Sarto, the director of sales, spearheaded distribution deals with Young’s Market Company to sell the brewery’s beers throughout California and now Arizona.

It’s a trend: More and more people are eschewing big, mass-market brands in favor of craft beer. Del Sarto noted the fall of Budweiser’s annual barrel sales from 30 million barrels in 2003, to 16 million in 2014. Meanwhile, the craft-beer industry has gone from selling 5 million barrels in 2003, to 16.1 million barrels this year. As a result, more craft beer is appearing in restaurants and grocery stores alike.

“National chains are giving more autonomy to regional stores as customers are seeking local brands, adding to the major breweries’ decline in volume," said Del Sarto.

La Quinta Brewing, as noted earlier, has also had a big year. Owner Scott Stokes said he’s been pleasantly surprised at the acceptance and support of craft beer in the desert in 2014.

“Just the attendance and success of this year’s Props and Hops Festival, compared to two years ago, illustrates the passion that desert residents have for craft beer,” he said.

He went on to add: “We’re proud to say that after only a year, La Quinta is the second-most-widely distributed craft beer in terms of bars and restaurants within the Coachella Valley, just behind New Belgium (Fat Tire).”

Bring on the next round, 2015!

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