The Next Big Thing in Craft Beer

The future will remain hoppy and the IPA will continue to reign over our beer aisles. Credit: Getty Images

The first craft breweries grew out of homebrew operations, and that trend continues decades later. In fact, the tie between homebrewing and craft innovation is so great that Bart Watson, economist for the Brewer's Association, found that popular styles at homebrew competitions several years ago could partially predict today's taste in beer. Looking at entries from the 2011 National Homebrew Competition, Watson saw that four of the six top categories (Belgian and French ale, stout, IPA, and fruit beer) saw at least 50 percent market growth from 2011 to 2015.

Homebrewers appear to be largely ahead of the curve when it comes to beer trends, so we analyzed the 2015 NHC entries to see what we can expect to find in beer aisles and on tap in the years ahead. We totaled the entries for each of the 23 beer style categories — everything from Wood-Aged to English Pale Ale — which registered 7,026 brews. Here are the top 10.

  1. IPA – 666
  2. Stout – 608
  3. American Ale – 563
  4. Belgian and French Ale – 524
  5. Specialty Beer – 410
  6. Belgian Strong Ale – 407
  7. Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer - 385
  8. Smoke-Flavored and Wood-Aged Beer – 350
  9. Light Hybrid Beer – 331
  10. Porter – 303

The style buckets can be a little ambiguous, American Ale, for example, includes pale, amber and brown ales, and Belgian and French Ale covers witbiers, Belgian pale ales, and saisons, but you can find a breakout with all the substyles here.  

If we can assume that, just like Watson's data, these numbers are a roughly accurate representation of style and category growth in the next five years, then it looks like American craft breweries will still be riding the IPA train when we hit 2020. Additionally, we see a large number of entries for Belgian and farmhouse styles like saison, witbier, and some of our favorite Trappist-style offerings. And the rise of the catch-all category Specialty Beer, which can include anything from an imperial rye malt liquor to a smoked honey weiss, shows that we can expect brewers to keep pushing boundaries with delicious results.