Got Beer? The Next Big Thing

What’s the next new big beer style? God, would I love to know.

I don’t mean a style that comes back from obscurity like a gose or a new twist on an existing style like any of the millions of IPA varieties, but a brand new, never-before-seen or duplicated style that has a unique process or flavor.

For the most part, beer is relegated to certain categories. These categories are not etched in stone exactly, but even new or supposedly original styles generally fit into certain molds. It’s hard to make a red malty beer without it being considered an Irish red, and almost no one will have a dark beer that isn’t called a stout, porter or the rare black lager. I’ve even heard of the white stout, and while this albino oddity is certainly different, it’s still just a variation of a traditional style.

It’s almost a catch-22 trying to invent a new beer style. There are nearly infinite possible beer flavor combinations based on the dizzying array of different ingredients, brewing techniques, yeast strains or temperature of fermentation. So you’d think inventing a new style would be simple considering there’s so much room for experimentation, which is something every new homebrewer does. While our store shelves are flooded with varieties and brands, each of them as unique as a fingerprint, there are a few problems with trying to invent a new style.

The first problem is that it’s really really easy to accidentally brew something that tastes just like another style. Maybe you aimed for something unique, but instead brewed a Belgian IPA or a fruit beer. We can throw whatever interesting ingredients in that we want, but it’s hard for any beer not to fall into a pre-existing category.

But also, it’s hard not to base your brew on what’s been done before. As versatile as beer is, it still has limitations. Malted barley gets mashed and boiled, hops are added, it’s cooled, then fermented, and eventually you have beer. Even though you can tweak that process until the end of time, it actually doesn’t have as much flexibility as you might think. On top of that, most homebrewers who experiment want to prove their stuff in competitions where the beers are submitted and judged based on their adherence to style.

So what would make a style new? Weird ingredients? New yeast strain? New hop breeds? Adjuncts?

Bizarre experimentation has yielded some interesting results over the years. I’ve applauded Magic Hat before for eschewing tradition and brewing outside of style guidelines entirely. But even if you deviate wildly from tradition, is it a new style? I’ve recently heard the term “Northeast IPA,” dropped here and there, but again, this is a variation on an existing style.

I’d like to think there are still new horizons in the brewing world. Not just smoked beers or wood-aged or some other small twist on an existing style. I’d like to think there’s new ground to be broken yet. The trouble is that while barley and hops come in so many wild varieties, most of the frontiers have been settled.

Or have they?

In our rush to shove hops into every other style or dig up old German styles, I can’t help but wonder if we’re losing sight of the simplicity. Maybe a new style still lies hidden within the essence of those magical grains.

Let’s keep reaching for the stars, my friends.

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