Things evolve quickly in the beer world—just see this issue’s cover story about Alberta craft beer explosion. Here’s a quick rundown on some of the recent trends, advances and innovations in the beer world.
Gluten-free tastes good (now)
The growing awareness about celiac disease and gluten intolerance has sparked an industry in gluten-free beer. The first generation of GF beer—made with alternative grains like rice, millet and buckwheat instead of barley—tasted awful, to be frank. If it was your only alternative, I could appreciate drinking it, but the beer was substandard.
The latest generation, on the other hand, is starting to figure it out. Montréal brewery Brasseurs San Gluten has a line-up of alternative-grain beers called Glutenberg, which actually appeal to any beer drinker. Their hoppier options—the pale ale and India Pale Ale—are preferable as they mask some of the other less pleasant flavours, but there is no question they are heads above the other offerings. Consumers who are not strictly celiac also have a new option: beer made with barley but with the gluten removed. Look no farther than Alley Kat’s Scona Gold Kolsch, which not only meets the parts-per-million standard for gluten-free, but also won Canadian Beer of the Year in 2015.
Kettle sour is sweet
Sour beers have long been a niche product. Most people don’t expect a lemonade-like tartness in their beer. They have also been hard to make, meaning very few breweries do it seriously. However, a new trend is emerging that might just make sour beer the “in” thing: kettle sour, a fast version of the historic style. Traditional sour beer requires months of aging in oak barrels to develop the tart sharpness. Kettle sour adds only 24 to 36 hours to the brewing process. Before boiling, the brewer will inoculate the wort with lactobacillus—usually a dose of live yogurt will do—and let it sit for a day or so. When desired tartness is reached, the wort is boiled and fermentation occurs as normal. The result is a light, citrusy tart beer. Kettle sours aren’t as complex as traditional sours, but that might make them more accessible in the end. Lacombe’s Blindman Brewing is making a regular thing of it, releasing a new version every few weeks.
Imperial out, session in
For the last few years, bigger is better was the mantra among craft breweries. Everyone was upping the hop level, the alcohol level and the overall flavour level. Imperial versions of styles were popping up everywhere (copying the name of the high-alcohol imperial stout) and palates across the continent were getting exhausted. As these things happen, a counter-trend has emerged. You can still see lots of imperialized beer, but I am seeing increasing numbers of session-ized beer—a toned-down version of a style. It began with IPA, keeping the hop character but lowering everything else, and has spread to other styles, including pale ale and stout.
Can-do on the cans
Craft beer in cans—no longer an oxymoron. Most of the new breweries who have opened up in the region in the last couple years are putting their beer in cans rather than bottles. There are arguments on both sides regarding its merits but, regardless, get used to crushing a can rather than downing a bottle.