What Causes a Trend to Last?

The first episode of the last season of Game of Thrones aired last night, and social media was full of hot takes by people who think the series is so over. The final season will still get huge ratings, but this was nevertheless a curious turn of events—when season 7 ended, there was a a collective shriek of longing for the yarn to continue unfolding. 

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This is an example of how weird humans are. You love a thing one day, are vaguely embarrassed by it the next, and a year later that thing is the butt of a million mocking memes and nobody cops to having loved it back when everyone did. Beer trends are just as weird. The past five years have been fed by a thirst for the new, so “styles” are born every few months. (A style is actually an end place, established once a beer has survived a few seasons—all right, years—and a number of breweries are making recognizably-similar examples.) Some of them don’t make it, but some do, and trying to guess in the midst of a boom what will happen next is a mug’s game.  

Take hazy IPAs. Few styles have gotten more popular faster than they, and for about six months around the end of 2017, it seemed like a backlash would end hazies faster than Belgian IPAs. Instead, the opposite happened. Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada released versions and they became fixtures at nearly every brewery. Hazies may slowly fade out, but there’s an organic, enduring interest in them that won’t be extinguished anytime soon. 

With trends, there’s a push-pull, and the pull is what establishes the style. First breweries gamble with something new—that’s the push. With a style like gose or a technique like kettle-souring, the push may last for years before a brewery scores a hit. But then that organic interest comes and customers start asking for the new thing. Brewers have been pushing saison for 20 years and Americans are just not taking the bait. But hazies? That’s all pull now. Even brewers who hate them feel compelled to offer their ravenous customers what they want. 

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Brut IPA is a perfect current example. It’s got established parameters and a formed definition. But no customer was asking for it. Brewers invented it, launched it, and brut IPA has been in a “push” phase for about 18 months waiting to see if there will be any pull. Signs are murky at best, so we’ll see. It’s definitely no hazy IPA. 

As always, I throw it to you. How do trends become a thing, and why do some things never become a trend?

Jeff Alworth3 Comments