The Next Big Thing?

Soviet Kvass advertisement.A few years ago, we didn’t really know what saison was. Nowadays, breweries up and down Britain, especially those with their eyes on the ‘craft beer bar’ market, are producing them in relative abundance.

Phil Markowski’s book Farmhouse Ales has, we suspect, been influential, and the fact that most British drinkers don’t know saison well enough to be able to tell a good one from a bad one with any confidence makes it a forgiving experiment for smaller and (ahem) less technically-minded brewers.

But, while saisons are in no danger of becoming the new ‘boring brown bitter’ just yet, the novelty-obsessed British beer geek is no longer likely to fall into a nerdgasm at the mere sight of the word on a pump-clip or label.

Amongst a certain dedicated crowd, even Berliner Weisse and Gose are beginning to seem a bit ‘old hat’.

So what will come after that? We reckon 2014 is going to see lots of attempts at kvass or kvass-inspired beers — low in alcohol, made with rye bread, herbs and wild yeast. There’s already been at least one and probably others we’ve missed.

Frankly, there’s not much else left in Randy Mosher for UK brewers to plunder.

But that’s just our guess. What’s yours?

For more on brewing traditions in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and beyond, keep an eye on Lars Marius Garshol’s blog and follow him on Twitter. We’re really hoping Brewers Publications will get him to write a book in their European styles series.

41 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing?”

  1. Well, what happens when the ideas well runs dry? Will “craft” eat itself? I think the sour beer bandwagon has some way to roll yet – and we may get more non-Belgian attampts at “proper” lambics. And so far no-one’s staled several tons of porter in a huge oak vat for a couple of years.

    Trouble is the more obscure beer styles are obscure for a reasson – they
    are probably somewhat challenging to the palate / simply disgusting (delete as appropriate). Although I have no doubt that the geekerati will wet their pants on cue regardless of whatever on trend slop is dished up as the next big thing.

    1. ‘Well, what happens when the ideas well runs dry? Will “craft” eat itself?’

      Interesting questions.

      Perhaps we’ll see something like what happened at the dog end of psychedelia in the sixties: the really cool trendsetters (Dylan, the Band) went back to basics and recorded folksy albums without orchestras and overdubs.

      So, in beer terms, a back-to-basics movement where everyone rediscovers the joy and subtlety of bitter and English hops?

  2. I reckon the next trend in beer will be a retro nostalgia for old skool “wife beater”

    A skin full of Stella and a fight. Craft brewers up and down the land will be emulating it in a post ironic fashion and hipsters will say to each other

    “I say, Tristan, fancy a skin full of wife beater and a fight after our web conference on the relevance of social media to the toilet paper industry?”

  3. Well yes – I too have been thinking that we could see a return to what you might call more “traditional brewing” – there’s still a huge market for well made “boring brown bitters” (which may be brown but aren’t boring) and some brewers (Stockport’s Ringway for example)do very well out of it. Perhaps this is how “craft” will finally become mainstream?

    1. There seem to be increasing numbers of breweries who mix and match craft-y styles like saisons, American IPAs, imperial stouts and so on with more traditional ones like best bitters. But I don’t think that’s really a craft beer trend so much as a (welcome) blurring of boundaries between “craft” and “traditionalist”.

  4. Hmm, “the next big thing in the beer bubble” and “the next big thing in the wider beer market” are entirely different. Somehow I doubt whether I’ll be seeing Saisons on the bar of my local Hungry Horse.

    1. Well, to be fair, we couldn’t have made it much clearer that we were talking about ‘the bubble’ here. (Though the reach of that bubble is bigger than you tend to acknowledge.)

  5. I think you’re right that Markowski has been very influential in defining “farmhouse ale”, particularly if you look at Jester King’s thoughts on the subject.

    However, I think Markowski has defined the term much too narrowly, since there are other kinds of farmhouse ales than the French and Belgian ones. I guess you were thinking along similar lines, since you referenced kvass, as well as me (thank you! :-).

    Like you, I think farmhouse ale also has to include kvass, Norwegian farmhouse ale, and Lithuanian. Probably also sahti and Estonian kooduolut. I guess the rather pale shadows that remain of Swedish, Danish, and Latvian traditions should also be included. And Georgian “aludi”.

    Probably there’s more that I’m not aware of, too.

    I agree that probably there’s going to be a surge in interest in these kinds of farmhouse ales. Maybe not in 2014, but probably soon.

    As for the well of ideas running dry I wouldn’t worry about that. In the worst case people will focus on brewing existing styles better. I could imagine worse futures.

  6. That Dutch festival whose name I forget did a whole session on gruits & other unhopped ales, so there’s that. Sounded pretty revolting, I have to say. And there’s always white ale (speaking of ‘revolting’…)

    What bugs me, as I said when we were talking about gose, is how quickly the wheel of novelty turns – the gap between brewery A reviving Willow Bark Ale (ancient East Anglian speciality, very good for hangovers) and brewery B making an Imperial Willow Bark Ale infused with treacle and garlic (it shouldn’t work…) seems to be about three weeks. The idea that you can spend years getting a beer right – and then spend years selling it, unchanged, to appreciative punters – seems to have got lost. Which is perhaps one factor likely to keep the craft bubble a bubble.

    [Borefts – Google remembered it for me.]

    1. Yes, as “craft” turns to more and more obscure, historic or dead beer styles they are likely to be inrceasingly niche (for which read “unappetising” – these styles are not obscure, historic or dead for nothing) so in the end the whole “craft movement” disappears up its own fundament.

      1. “…these styles are not obscure, historic or dead for nothing…”

        You sound like a spokesman for the Brewers’ Society dismissing CAMRA and ‘real ale’ c.1974…

          1. Didn’t Pierre Celis revive it from dead, or as near as? Could reach for a book and check, but need to get me tea on.

        1. Well, not that recently – Hoegaarden was back up and running by 1970. In any event that style is now well established. Some of the other vanished beer styles may be less palatable (note the failed attempts at Devon White).

    2. At the moment, some of this experimentation is driven by the constant demand from bars and festivals for ‘something different’ (we’ve got a post lined up on this). That isn’t likely to go away, but the Wild Beer Company, for example, and Mark Tranter’s new Burning Sky brewery for another, suggest that we might see more breweries settling down and really specialising in one style.

  7. “while saisons are in no danger of becoming the new ‘boring brown bitter’ just yet” – IPAs hold that title now.

    1. As some people use the term in the UK, a ‘craft brewery’ might be said to be one which has an American-style pale ale or IPA as its bog standard beer rather than a bitter or best bitter. (Thornbridge, Brewdog, Siren, Magic Rock…)

      1. I think it’s about time we moved away from use of the term “craft” as it’s now thoroughly debased.

        1. It’s no more ‘debased’ now than it was when it came into frequent usage in the 1980s. It’s always had multiple, vague meanings; it continues to have multiple vague meanings. That’s just fine with us. That’s what makes it useful.

          But you’ll note we are trying to use it less frequently on the blog, mostly because there are only so many times we can be arsed to watch a conversation about something else get derailed by people debating what it means or complaining about it.

  8. Table beers. Brown lightly flavoured ales of 2% abv or below meant to to be poured from large flagons and glugged down after (or during) a hard days work. Small beer. The last place I saw something labelled “table beer” was years ago in Bruges (in a large bottle in a supermarket). Maybe it still exists there? Let’s see the “modern enthusiast” bars punting that at £4 + pint.

    (Although, similar brews are widely available, but marketed rather differently.)

    1. Let’s see the “modern enthusiast” bars punting that at £4 + pint.

      Reality’s caught up with you: here’s 2.7% table beer at £2.10 for 330 ml (plus p+p). Don’t know what it goes for on tap, but I can’t say I’d be surprised if it hit £4.

      1. Insane. And not in a good way. And an enormous missing of the point by the brewers. Unless the point is to maximise profits by cutting down on ingredients and still overcharging the gullible.

        Ah.

  9. I have to concur with my esteemed colleague Mr Clarke. I also think Sour has a bit to go yet. Saison was last year. Barrel aged Saison was the new black this year but Sour will overtake it for next year. That’s the talk in a lot of the beer geek bars, anyway. I do think you’re on the money with breweries settling down in specialist areas: that seems a logical step. As for “craft” being dead, well, no, not until the bubble has overtaken and enveloped Curmudgeon!

  10. I’m actually (unusual for me) quite cynical about Saison. I’m not convinced that some brewers are really understanding what a saison is – I’ve spent many hours in the last year or so drinking ersatz IPA’s fermented with ‘Saison yeast’ to simply impart a bit of ‘wild’ life into it. I planned to rant about it on the blog, but decided against it in the end. Thinking now, I can only think of a couple out of the 25 + I must have tasted that actually captured anywhere near the balance of a Saison. So in many ways I agree with John on this front. Too many breweries throw around style terms without actually honouring the style (look at Lager, or worse, ‘Cask Lager’, for example…..)

    1. I agree there is more to saison than juatbrewing any old thing and chucking some saison yeast in it. Black saisons, while fun drinks, are a particular nonsense since they are invariably just Belgian-y dark ales really. The St Feuillien / West Coast ‘black saison’ – the Belgian brewed version that is – was a lovely liquorice laden dark bere but a saison? No way. I also tried the USA brewed version and I thought it totally missed the mark all over the place. I quite like “farmhouse IPAs” as you know what you’re going to get there – and much more honest than pretending they are saisons.

      1. Very much so, John. As it happens, I’m just about to review a Saison that I felt actually lived up to it’s name (you’ll have to jump over to see what it is)

        1. Just had a look Leigh – sounds excellent. Not come across these people yet but I’ll certainly be looking out for them now.

          1. John, None in Manchester, yet. (I’ve been getting mine “over the hill”) Raj at The Liquor Shop in Whitefield is going to stock the range soon. The India Pale Ale & Espresso Stout are simply superb too!

    2. Leighgoodstuff:

      > Too many breweries throw around style terms without actually honouring the style
      > (look at Lager, or worse, ‘Cask Lager’, for example…..)

      Absolutely true. Lots of beers labeled sahti, gose, grätzer, lichtenhainer, broyhan etc are nothing of the sort, and that’s a real shame, as brewers are really trying cash in on the name, while at the same time teaching customers that these styles aren’t really any different from established styles.

  11. What will the next big thing be in the non-beer-bubble world? Whereas craft* lagers, stouts, the occasional kegged craft ale, and a whole load of New World hopped cask ales have made it into the mainstream, I have yet to see a saison or a black IPA make it into a normal pub. Are these really on their way? I think we’ve got a long way to go yet.

    *By craft I mean marketed as craft, nothing more, nothing less.

      1. How about Cornish/Devon white ale? At one time a genuine British specialty. There is considerable 19th century guidance on how to make these. One need only look back in one’s own yard … and of course that’s just one example.

        Gary

        1. We’ve been quietly nagging breweries on this, mostly because we want to taste it. One local brewer, Penpont, made one as an experiment, but didn’t dare make it publicly available because of the raw eggs. And because it wasn’t very nice.

          There is a recipe in Mosher, though, so wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two attempts.

          1. A brewing blogger did try this the other year & found it disappointingly ordinary; as I remember he thought he’d probably used too little flour, eggs, chicken feathers etc.

  12. Dvorak. “Table beers. Brown lightly flavoured ales of 2% abv or below meant to to be poured from large flagons and glugged down after (or during) a hard days work. Small beer.” Given the amount of sub 3% abv knocking about at the moment, is THIS the new “next thing” or is it the current thing and has simply been unheralded?

    Given the excellent examples from Quantum, Buxton & Five Towns Brewery of Wakefield that I’ve had recently, I’m all for leaping on to this parrticular bandwagon!

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