A fad that will not fade, just like the glitter dust you keep finding in your clothes after a bachelor party. Whoever’s bright, sparkly idea it was to add edible glitter to beer must not have kids, package thieves, glitter boots, strippers, unicorns, Lisa Frank posters, or Mariah Careys in their lives. A lot of bad things happened in 2018. Maybe the emergence of glitter was an attempted overcorrection to help drown out the darkness. When people added it to wedding cakes we didn’t speak out. When it turned up in ice cream we still said nothing. But when they came for our pizza and beer we said enough is enough. Beer Instagrams are traditionally boring. They shouldn’t look they were taken the aftermath of an explosion in Elton John’s closet. Yet a year later, here we are. All that glitters is not gold.
Before 2012, every brewery had a flagship beer. This is the type of beer you hang your hat on as a brewery, what you build your brand on. Legacy breweries are built on flagship beers. For Samuel Adams it’s Boston Lager. For Deschutes it’s Mirror Pond. New Belgium has Fat Tire. They’re great beers, yet suddenly it’s become cool to not give a shit about them and only purchase rare, one-off limited releases you have never had before. Sure, trying something new and limited is fun, but the act of not purchasing a brewery’s tried-and-true flagship is actually hurting the industry and making it difficult for breweries to make any money. What ever happened to dialing in a recipe and its formulation so tightly as to make a perfect beer that all others would be judged upon, like Sierra Nevada did with its Pale Ale?
There’s currently an effort underway to fix the problem, with #FlagshipFebruary in full effect, urging devoted beer lovers to go back to the beers that made them fall in love in the first place. But if trends are to be believed, once the month ends and #MilkshakeMarch or something takes its place, the focus on flagships will continue to wane. New is good. But if new means that great beers like Anchor Steam are going to become the beer world’s Jumpin’ Jack Doritos, then we’re all screwed.
When the technology to can 32oz of beer on the spot became available, it was a game changer. No longer did you have to carry around a glass jug growler like some Victorian-era wino: you could simply saunter up to the bar and ask them to can anything. The problem is that most of us just assume that crowlered beer is as good as it is straight out of the tap. Unfortunately, it’s likely getting just as oxidized as pouring from a can into a glass jug. Any contact with the air and it’s going to start to degrade. That, coupled with the fact that beer geeks are using crowlers as a method to trade and ship beers that aren’t conventionally packaged means a lot of this beer is going to taste like cardboard by the time you get it. Even if it’s still good once your beer shipped across the country, you might just be having a hard time racing to drink the equivalent of three beers before it gets warm, unless you have some help.
For those of us who like to try a few beers, or at least get through one before it starts to get warm and less bubbly, crowlers are a nightmare. They’re probably not going anywhere, and they have their uses, but that doesn’t mean we need to like ’em.
Stone Brewing IPA didn’t stop being good just because you can purchase it at an Airport bar just like Portugal, The Man doesn’t suck suddenly because they had a #1 single. Yet there’s a strong, vocal hipster demographic eating up small-release beers that taste like ice cream and acting like any brewery that existed before they turned 21 is irrelevant. Or worse, total sellouts.
On the other end, the minute a brewery sees a modicum of success, former fans cry foul. Just because a brewery has expanded its distribution to a wider audience or opened a larger production facility doesn’t mean that the founders have suddenly become corporate shills. It means your neighborhood brewery that you loved 5 minutes prior is becoming successful and bringing better beer to more people. If that’s selling out, maybe it’s a good thing.
This has, mind you, been the case for a long time: One old-school brewer from the ’80s once told us that they were labeled sellouts the minute they stopped delivering each and every keg to local bars by bike. But there’s become a louder contingent of people crying foul thanks to advances in hashtag culture and a fear that big beer’s got a hand in any expansion. So yeah, just because a brewery has longevity or success doesn’t mean that Big Beer’s pulling the strings. It’s total bullshit, and needs to stop.
If Willy Wonka owned a brewing empire rather than a candy factory, the beers would be something like the so-called “pastry” beer trend we are seeing today. If you ever wanted a Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough blonde ale or a Red Velvet Cake Imperial Stout, then you may be an Oompa Loompa — or, more likely, Augustus Gloop. The rest of us will be hoping this trend goes the way of Veruca Salt: down the chute and out of sight.
It might be a little early to call this a full-blown trend: If so, consider us soothsayers warning of a great evil about to creep across the land. It seems to have started in Portland, where many a beer trend picks up steam. People are lining up at bars, single file, as if they’re waiting to get on the Tilt-o-Whirl rather than ask a bartender to pour them a beer. And we’re not talking about people waiting in line for exclusive can releases or anything like that — that’s its own thing. We’re talking about people standing in line to order a beer instead of just plopping down on a stool and allowing their bartender to do their jobs. In Portland, it’s a common dingbat practice at breweries and regular bars alike. But the trend is spreading… and seems to primarily have infected taprooms. Maybe people are just polite. Maybe they’re confused. Maybe they’re so used to waiting in lines at beer fests. But something is changing. We’ve spotted it across the Pacific Northwest and in cities like Austin, San Diego, and LA. If you see a line, resist it and sit down at the bar like a human being. Stop the trend before it becomes a nationwide epidemic.
The Super Bowl was a lot of things this year: A showcase of the fine art of punting. A chance to remember why you didn’t buy that Maroon 5 greatest hits CD you saw at the store. And it was the day that big beer took a shot at maize. For most people, Budweiser’s boldest moment was allowing the Bud Knight’s head to get crushed by The Mountain from Game of Thrones. But for beer nerds, Bud had its own Red Wedding by going to war with its competitors over… corn. Corn syrup, specifically. Bud Light doesn’t use it. Other lite-beer brewers do. And because corn syrup is shorthand for “Satan’s sweat” to many, it ignited massive debate.
Almost immediately, a million think pieces hit the airwaves about corn’s role in brewing. Apparently, corn and its variants are actually rather common in beer. They use it in Pliny the Elder! It’s part of the brewing tradition! It’s not the devil! But wait, maybe it IS the Devil… and Pliny the Elder is an anagram for “Reedy Hell Pint.” Blah blah blah. We haven’t heard this many hot takes about corn since “Freak on a Leash” won a Grammy.
We’re all for knowing what’s in beers. But we’re not necessarily ready to be told what’s good and bad by the Dilly Dilly dude. It hasn’t even been a week and we’re already sick of hearing about corn in beer.
You know what no one ever wanted? For their beer to taste like a vanilla sundae with sprinkles on top. Whoever thought it was a good idea to take inspiration from a build-your-own soft serve ice cream bar deserves a special place in a dairy-free creamery. “Milk is for babies,” our life coach Arnold Schwarzenegger once said. “When you grow up you have to drink beer.” So grow up beer geeks. Or just start drinking beer floats.
Just because they’re not going away doesn’t mean we’re not going to put them on these types of lists every year.