In discussions lately, I’ve noticed a changing trend in people’s tastes in craft beer. Right now, the American IPA is the largest selling segment of the craft beer market. (Source.) It’s such a highly marketable product that I’ve seen breweries change the name of long standing beers to add the three letters IPA to the name so they can market the beer as an IPA. Although on the surface that sounds deceptive as originally the IPA was just an IPA, or American IPA. However, now we have session IPAs, red IPAs, double IPAs, imperial IPAs, Belgian IPAs, Rye IPAs, Black IPAs, etc. What this nomenclature has done, in some ways, is help consumer awareness that they are purchasing a well hopped beer. It also helps those who don’t like heavily hopped beer to look into another variety, so I don’t find it a bad thing.
However, the changing trend I’m noticing lately isn’t the trend toward IPAs, but the trend away from them, or at least expanding desire for alternatives to them.
Let me offer up some personal observations. I currently produce two IPA recipes and test them out at tasting parties. I usually offer up three to four types of beer at each party. I’ve set my IPAs up along side blonde ales, pale ales, porters and stouts, a Scotch ale, a farmhouse ale, a bock, and others. I’ve noticed that among a wide age range, people are actually gravitating away from the IPA as their first choice.
At one party, the group (ages 25 all the way up through 60+) started to heavily consume the Scotch ale. When I cut that one off since I needed part of the batch for a second tasting event, they all went for the blonde ale I had on tap, staying away from the IPA and pale ale.
At another party, the group (ages 23 to 30) went right for the farmhouse ale. The third time that happened. They devoured the farmhouse ale. Then they seemed to collectively go to town on the pale ale I was offering up, instead of the IPA.
In frank conversation, I ask if my IPAs are undesirable, and I get the opposite reaction. People state they like my IPA offerings because mine are less hoppy and more balanced. I’ve received particularly strong support for my Balanced Rock Rye IPA since it has stronger earth notes to the hop flavor and aroma and minimizes the floral and citrus flavors. This surprises me since floral and citrus IPAs are huge in the market right now. Hopefully, these people aren’t just being polite in their feedback.
What people commonly state is that they’ve had so many IPAs they are looking for something different; or, in some more frank statements, that they are over them. So right from the start at my tasting events, they will look to my other offerings.
I certainly don’t think the strong desire for IPAs is going anywhere soon, but I’m curious to see if a new trend is emerging in the data that is harder to spot because it doesn’t have a simple three letter moniker to identify it. At the brewpub, I plan to have up to 16 taps running and hope to fill most of them with my own beer. That should allow me to have a decent variety including an IPA or three at any given time. I’ll be curious to see what beer becomes my best seller.