The 7 Beer Trends You Need to Know This Spring

By Danya Henninger  |  March 11, 2015

Despite rumblings that we might be approaching a saturation point, America’s craft-brewing boom hasn’t slowed down a bit — there are now more than 3,000 breweries operating across the U.S., and the number continues to grow. It’s great for beer lovers, who get to choose from an increasing number of varieties. From brews inspired by ancient styles to entirely novel blends, here are seven hot U.S. beer trends to watch.

  • Session IPAs

    After several years of making the biggest, strongest, most powerful IPAs they could, American craft brewers realized drinkers didn’t always want to choose between great flavor and being whacked over the head with booze. “Session” beers are lower in alcohol content (think 4.5% ABV or less instead of 6% and up), and get their name from the idea that you can toss back several in a single session without passing out.

    For example: Founders All Day IPA was an early vanguard of the trend, and it’s a favorite among the Michigan brewery's staff. New Belgium paid homage to the company theme of bicycling by introducing Slow Ride Session IPA, and Firestone Walker created Easy Jack as a low-alcohol sibling to its ultra-popular Union Jack and Double Jack IPAs. 

    Where to try it: As drifts of snow finally start to melt, Bostonians can toast the spring without putting themselves in danger by seeking out the session IPAs on the 40-draft beer list at Lord Hobo in Cambridge (Victory 19th Anniversary is on tap there right now).

  • Marijuana-Inspired Brews

    Pot is creeping into the mainstream of American life — it’s legal for medical or recreational use in 23 states plus DC — and brewers are more than ready to embrace the trend. It helps that hop flowers are already very similar to cannabis buds in scent and character (the plants are genetically in the same family).

    For example: Oskar Blues recently introduced Pinner, a dry-hopped session IPA whose cans bear the tagline “Can I be blunt?” Terms from the world of weed are also the name of the first offering from The Hop Concept (a new brand from Lost Abbey/Port Brewing) — Dank & Sticky is a piney and complex double IPA. Since 2013, Red Hook has offered a beer called Joint Effort, which is actually brewed with hemp seeds and has a tap handle shaped like a bong.

    Where to get into it: Denver’s Falling Rock Tap House boasts more than 75 beers on tap and tons more in bottles and cans, and if you’re into marijuana culture, Oskar Blues’ home state of Colorado is the place to be.

  • Brett IPAs

    Long a tradition in Belgium and France, sour beers (lambics) and farmhouse ales have become more and more popular in the U.S. over the past five years, but recently a new style has emerged, one that’s a hybrid between those wild yeast brews and hop-heavy IPA. Brett IPAs balance the sharp tang and deep funk of brettanomyces (a specialized yeast) with the floral scent of hops (and often, a soothing backbone of malt) to offer an entirely unique sip.

    For example: Stone has been producing IPAs in a series called “Enjoy By,” each bottle marked with a freshness “drink by” date, but the brewery’s latest goes the opposite route: Enjoy After is a Brett IPA that has a “drink after” date, the better to allow funky flavors time to develop. Evil Twin makes a killer version called Femme Fatale, and brett experts Crooked Stave came out with Hop Savant, which isn’t officially an IPA but is a pale ale loaded with so many hops that it might as well be. In Illinois, Penrose Brewing melded two trends into a recent taproom-only release called Session Brett IPA.

    Where to get into it: Rely on the beer-savvy bartenders at NYC’s Blind Tiger to introduce you to this hybrid style, and ask them for a cheese plate that will complement the bright, sour flavor (look for a rich blue to stand up to the complexity).

  • Gose Beer

    A style of wheat beer that originated in Germany hundreds of years ago, gose beers (pronounce it “go-zuh”) are salty as well as very sour — in other words, not for everyone. They’re coming back into favor thanks to drinkers’ desire for novel flavors, and once you acquire a taste for them, nothing else quite compares to their crisp bite. Gose beers are also usually low in alcohol, which fits right into the overall trend for session-able bottlings.

    For example: Hibiscus flowers tossed in near the end of the brew process provide a unique aroma to Boulevard Hibiscus Gose, while fresh juice added during fermentation gives new Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose a citrus kick. Recently, South Carolina’s Westbrook Brewing created a very well-received traditional gose. There’s even a limited-release Samuel Adams gose called Verloren.

    Where to get into it: The 42 taps at San Francisco’s Mikkeller Bar are controlled by a special pressure and temperature board dubbed the “flux capacitor” — the only other one like it in the world is at its sister tavern in Copenhagen. Beer service here is fine-tuned to the hilt, making it perfect place to try something new.

  • Craft Lagers

    Lager beers are bouncing back from the sullied reputation they picked up at the beginning of the American craft-beer revolution (“Don’t drink a flavorless lager, drink real ale!”). Fact is, lager beer is much harder for small, independent breweries to make than ale, since it takes longer to ferment and is usually subtler in flavor, which allows flaws to show through. Those flavors can be beautiful, though, and many local and regional brewers are now diving into the lager game.

    For example: Victory Brewing recently expanded distribution of Helles Lager to 35 states (the beer was one of the first Victory ever made, but was previously only available in the Philadelphia region). Sixpoint came up with a new can and label for The Crisp, a German pilsner whose name hints at its taste, and Sierra Nevada just released Beer Camp Hoppy Lager, a brand-new seasonal.

    Where to get into it: The first lager in the U.S. is said to have been brewed in Philadelphia, and at draft-only pub Standard Tap, the owners have a special appreciation of the style. Sit at one of two bars or slide into a wooden booth and sample one of the several craft lagers that are usually on tap.

  • Can Growlers

    When is a can more than just a can? When it’s a Crowler. Invented by Oskar Blues, the Crowler offers an alternative way to take home draft beer. The table-top machine lets brewpubs and bars pull a taphandle, fill a huge 32-oz. can, and then seal it on-site. Beer inside the airtight Crowler will stay fresher much longer than in a regular growler jug, which is usually sealed by screwcap or swingtop, and it’s also easier to transport.

    Where to get into it: Crowlers have been such a hit with consumers that you’ll see them spreading like wildfire, but one of the first spots to install them outside of Colorado was Lone Star Taps & Caps in Lewisville, TX. Pull up a stool at the bar to explore the 50-plus offerings on draft, then order for your favorite in a giant can to take home.

  • Wastewater Beer

    Environmentally conscious breweries have for years been concerning themselves not only with the cleanliness of the water that goes into their beer, but also what comes out — for example, New Belgium uses bacteria to clean its wastewater and captures some of the methane gas byproduct to generate electricity. Now there are two new ways wastewater and beer are coming together in the name of sustainability.

    Avery Brewing has hatched a plan with its home city of Boulder, CO, to use “weak wort” (the liquid left over after fermentable sugars are extracted from the malt) produced at its new brewery to help treat municipal wastewater. In Portland, OR, things are headed the opposite direction: a recycling company is petitioning the state to allow them to sell repurified wastewater to breweries. The idea still needs government approval to go mainstream, but 13 homebrewers have already tried it out and the results were served (and enjoyed) at a private tasting event.

    Where to get into it: As of now, your only chance to taste the forthcoming homebrew versions of beer made from recycled water are at an event hosted by Portland-based Oregon Brew Crew