What I hope to see in 2015

First off, I’d like to see some trends continue in 2015. Overall, beer sales in America continued to decline in 2014, but while mega-brand beers continued to lose market share, smaller-brand beers continued to see overall growth. According to a recent study, domestic light beer sales are expected to hit a 10-year low in 2015; however, according to the Brewers Association, in the first six months of 2014 craft brewers enjoyed 18 percent growth by volume. (For a look at the current state of beer in America, see our previous report.)

Another trend I’d like to see continue, the increased obsolescence of the Washington Beer Blog’s listing of good beer bars and bottleshops. People keep asking when I’m going to update it, but I’m much more likely to just remove it. The listing no longer provides value. There are now too many good beer bars and bottleshops to make such a list worthwhile. It is like trying to maintain a list of where you can buy a latte in Seattle. Where can’t you find good beer in Washington?

Still, amidst all this continuing growth and hoopla, there are a few things I’d like to see change in the coming year. Here are just a few of the things I’d like to see in 2015:

1 – I’d like to see an end to the bourbon-barrel madness. Not the beers, just the madness. Don’t misunderstand me, I know you love this style of beer, and I am very far from disliking it, but I think it is time to move on. In some ways, bourbon-barrel beers are so 2012.

Breweries that want to do bourbon-barrel beers should continue, because they have a place in the beer matrix and because I like to drink them, but these days it feels like breweries are being pressured into producing this style of beer. Only breweries who make bourbon-barrel beers get to sit at the cool kids’ table during lunch and breweries that don’t do bourbon-barrel beers risk being bullied by the beer geeks.

I don’t want bourbon-barrel beers to go away, but it’s time to find a next coolest thing ever.

2 – I’d like to see more breweries produce good lagers. Especially light or pale lagers. For too long, too many breweries simply mailed it in when producing lighter styles of beer, as if annoyed by the need to produce something for the “I don’t like dark beer” crowd. I know there are temporal, physical, and financial challenges inherent with the production of a good lager, but it can be done and I wish more breweries were doing it.

In my opinion, it is the more sophisticated beer palate that appreciates a carefully nuanced lager. It is the duller palate that must be shocked into consciousness. While I will always admire a brutally assertive ale that kicks my ass like a pro wrestler diving off the top turnbuckle, I also like a well-built, soft-spoken lager that slowly seduces me with its shapely, soft body.

And as far as making a beer that appeals to the lowest common denominator is concerned, I don’t think brewers are doing anybody a favor by serving the plebes subpar beer.

3 – I’d like to see more locally produced sour beers. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Nobody said it was going to be easy. If you have yet to acquire a taste for sour beers, don’t give up. Keep trying. If your brewery is working to master this style of beer, or even achieve basic competency with this style of beer, don’t give up. Keep trying.

4 – I’d like people stop using the term “craft beer.” In my opinion, the term craft means nothing when applied to beer. I am as guilty as anyone and I overuse the term craft beer horribly, but I’m trying to change. I use the term to mean “good beer,” or “not crap beer,” but the term craft beer has lost any meaning it ever had. Jeff Alworth, a fellow blogger, recently approached this subject on the Beervana blog. His thoughts were a bit more complex than mine, but I agree with his basic premise that craft is a useless word when applied to beer.

According to the Brewers Association’s official definition, the term “craft brewer” describes all breweries producing up to six million barrels per year. Harmon Brewing (about 6,000 barrels per year) is exactly the same kind of brewery as Boston Beer Company (about 3.5 million barrels). In fact, Sierra Nevada Brewing (about 1 million) is exactly the same as Lowercase Brewing (less than 300 barrels). I suppose the term makes sense in the context that a craft brewery is one that is not Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, etc.

I know it’s just semantics, but seriously, beer is beer. Good beer is good, bad beer is bad, and defining it as “craft beer” does not suddenly make it good beer. If you need proof, I can point you to some “craft brewers” making crappy beer.

5 – I’d like to see a big Washington-focused beer festival in the heart of Seattle. Also, I’d like to see unicorns dancing on rainbows. I don’t mean to disrespect any of the other beer festivals in Seattle (SIB, Fremont Oktoberfest, Belgianfest, etc), but I’m talking about the biggest beer festival in the state at the biggest park in the heart of the biggest city. An event that compares to the Oregon Brewers Festival, which attracts 80,000 each year.

In case you haven’t heard, Bumbershoot is in deep trouble. The annual music and art festival is reeling, so to speak, and it looks like Seattle Center might be available for Labor Day Weekend. A Bumbershoot of beer? Can you imagine? It could be remarkable.

I love the Washington Brewers Festival at Marymoor Park, which attracts at the very most 20,000 each year. But that event takes place way out there in yonder county. The biggest beer fest should be closer to the highest concentration of people. Also, it should be more easily accessible by public transportation options. In other words, it should be in the city. I know that statement pisses off all you people on the Eastside. Sorry.

There are reasons why a festival like the Washington Brewers Festival (three-day event, all-ages, etc.) cannot happen in the city of Seattle. It’s not because nobody wants to do it. There are laws. There is resistance.

In 2015 I would at least like to see someone start the conversation. I’m ready and willing to help put some pressure on the Seattle City Council.

That’s it. Not too much to ask for 2015. If I can only have one thing, I’ll settle for unicorns dancing on rainbows.

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  1. I’d prefer to see local breweries addressing #2 and #3 by brewing more gose like offerings. Lagers are lost on me and they tie up temperature controlled fermentation space for an inordinate amount of time anyway. I’m eagerly anticipating seeing more sours from Urban Family and Holy Mountain in the future.

    As to #5 I’m not much of a beer festival fan and I defiantly won’t be trekking out to Marymoor. If we can have Hemp-Fest for years before pot became legal there must be some way to have a decent beer festival in Seattle. I’m curious to know what the current barriers to having one in town are.

  2. Thank you! #3 I’ll disagree — the sour thing is overrated. #2 — we soooo need more good lagers out there. #1 — yes. BB is hard, and at the end of the day, it’s more of an excuse to get to 12-13-14-15+% ABV, in a bourbony flavored, high alcohol mess.

  3. Hmmm.

    Point 1) – I think of the bourbon barrel issue in the same way that many thought of the hoppy beer issue here in the NW. “You have to have an IPA,” one fairly new brewpub owner told me recently. “But my heart isn’t in it, really–it’s just the market demands it or I can’t make $.” $ = survival, so I get that. Plus I like bourbon.
    Point 2 – I adore lager. Every brewer I talk to about it quotes the significant extra cost/time to do it reasonably well. $ = survival.
    Point 3 – I enjoy sour beer. But I enjoy lager more. If a brewer has to pick $ = survival and can only pick one or the other to survive, I would pick lager.
    Point 4 – totally agree about calling good beer good beer, especially since the big corporates are starting to sleeze into ruining the phrase “craft beer” anyway. Let’s all make this our big 2015 resolution.
    Point 5 – this is the year we switch to district based voting for the council. A downtown fest sounds like a great litmus test issue to me!

    You can’t stop doing the updated list/map. It is a crucial public service. We look at it a lot. Puhleeze don’t axe it!

  4. 1) It’s reasonably easy and affordable to get bourbon barrels. They come, unsurprisingly, filled with bourboniness. If I want to make a beer that has the sort of light, complex age and whisky notes that I prefer, first I have to make a big aggressive bourbon bomb that mellows out those barrels. Fortunately, people just eat that $#!% up. Put some Citra in somehow and it’ll be gone in 60 seconds. So what I’d like to see is less “ooh ahh” about it all. Put good, well made beer in a bourbon barrel and VERY good beer will come out. Put poorly made beer in a barrel, it will come out worse. It’s not magic.

    2) I like brewing lagers! I like drinking lagers! I also like paying my employees. No lagers.

    (Unless you’re happy to pay $8 for a pint of pilsner.)

    3) I like making sour beers. It’s a challenge, and it’s fun. They are a good use of old barrels (see 1). But we make them more for advertising than anything else. Beer geeks talk about them, maybe a happy account might buy a keg or two of something actually profitable after, but at the end of the day it took me two years, it was fun, and we didn’t really make any money. Which is why there are so many gose and berlinerweisse sours out there. Quick and dirty wins the race, love of the game doesn’t pay the rent.

    4) At least it’s fun to watch the BA wriggle. But craft is as good a word as any.

    5) It’d be nice to have a big festival in Seattle. I wonder if it’s ever possible to get anything like Oregon’s though. Frankly, I’m super burned out on festivals. My staff is burned out on festivals. I wonder if the public is too. We are actively being more choosy, every year there are more and more new brewfests. It’s asking a lot of the breweries that don’t have dedicated sales and marketing staff. So you can those breweries showing up and you get Fremont Oktoberfest. Frankly, I just don’t see what’s in it for us anymore.

    What I’d like to see this year:

    Some kind of order come to ‘Pumpkin Creep’, where seasonal beers are being released earlier and earlier.

    People calling a spade a spade. There are bad beers out there. It’s not ‘artisan’, or ‘creative’. It’s Bad. Poorly made, poorly served. BAD. Call people out on it. I honestly believe some brewers think their cloudy, astringent, poorly carbonated phenol-bomb is good. Time for some tough love.

    Drink more WA beer! Enough with the endless grass is greener BS, celebrate what’s in our backyard! Soon enough you’ll be able to go to a new brewery every day of the year in this state. Isn’t that enough?

    But it’s New Years and that all sounds rather down. Frankly, it’s a great time to be drinking beer in WA. An amazing time! So go enjoy some beer! Happy New Years everyone and thanks Kendall and Kim for keeping this blog rolling!

  5. Seattle center is awful for northenders. The bus options are horrible. Getting to the cask beer festival takes allot of favors. Something in sodo would be much better.

  6. For a Major Beerfest, open up Safeco or Clink and have it on the field!We did it here in Spokane last year and by all accounts that I saw, it was a great success. Now granted opening up Avista stadium here vs. Safeco/Clink are probably worlds apart, but I would think someone with just a little bit of imagination could make it happen. I would probably fly over for it since getting there requires little effort.

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