Five Reasons to Look Forward to 2019

Sure, it’s the dead of winter and the holidays are finished. Brewery volumes are down and closures are rising. Everyone’s tired of overly experimental beer; we have choice-fatigue. But fear not! Here are five good reasons to get excited about the new year. 

1. The quality of beer. I recently discussed this, and there’s no reason to repeat myself. Simply put, there’s more good beer available right now, across more beer types and styles, than ever before in history. This is true in many places, but especially the US. If you’re in a gloomy mood about beer, you need to step back and look at it in a larger context—or just spend more time at breweries you know are excellent. Don’t trust me, trust your tastebuds.

2. Cool new breweries. We all have new-brewery fatigue; it’s real and legitimate. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still new projects on the horizon that can generate excitement, however. Because, as many breweries as there already are, this endlessly-diverse beverage provides a canvass for anyone with an original vision. Have a look at the Ezra Johnson-Greenough’s round-up of planned Oregon projects as an example.

3. Hop tech. We have the great fortune to be living in this moment of evolution, when the way people make beer has radically expanded the potential of hops. For centuries, breeders introduced new varieties at a snail’s pace. Now they bloom like mushrooms after a rain. They are accompanied by new hop products purpose-built for our new style of brewing, along with research about how agronomy, chemical compounds, and biochemistry affect the ways hops taste and smell. For decades whet we knew about hops were defined by the needs of the mass market lager-makers who used them. Craft brewing has sparked an entirely new relationship with hops, and it has resulted in a quantum leap in our understanding.

4. Lagers rising. The lager trend has been unfolding for a few years, but 2018 gave us the first inkling of a new era in lager brewing. Brewers are pushing beyond familiar styles and starting to make overlooked styles like Czech tmavys, rustic Franconian lagers, and Japanese lagers, among others. More interestingly, brewers are taking the Bavarian and Bohemian templates for beer and experimenting with different techniques and flavors, not to Americanize them so much as letting them breathe with some less-hidebound approaches. Lagers have become, at long last, a frontier of exploration for craft breweries.

5. Place-based breweries. As breweries start to permeate every corner of the country, people are starting to think about what it means to be place-based. In some cases that means foraged or locally-grown ingredients. Farm breweries are starting to find their footing, and we’re at the dawn of “estate beers,” a concept that will continue to gain traction. And of course, breweries that follow the lambic model of natural, local fermentation are starting to pop up all over the place.

In many cases, though, place-based breweries just reflect the character of their locale in a way the generic brewpubs of yore did not. Below is a description of Long Timber Brewing, a new project Ezra described in his new-project roundup, that will open in tiny Monroe, Oregon, founded to support a sawmill in 1852:

 “Hull-Oakes Lumber Mill owners Todd and Amy Nystrom, the owners of the Hull-Oakes Lumber mill are pivoting into the brewpub business with Long Timber Brewing. Construction got underway with a groundbreaking celebration last October. Old logging and sawmill equipment will feature heavily in the breweries decor and 218 beams of old timber logs will be featured in the construction.”

The more beer becomes an established fixture in American life, the more these ultra-local breweries can become centers of life in small towns—and reflections of them. 

It’s a fantastic time to be a beer fan and pub-goer, and there’s every reason to anticipate 2019 as another great year of exploration and discovery. I’m looking forward to it. 

Jeff Alworth