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Where is craft beer going in 2020? Although it’s impossible to predict everything that might happen in such a varied industry, there are trends that come and go from year to year. Here are four that I think will shape beer styles in the coming one.

1. Non-alcoholic beers that actually taste good.

There are many reasons why people may want to moderate their alcohol intake, from taking care of their health to wanting to stay out longer while drinking socially. There are also people who are “sober curious,” meaning they take regular breaks from alcohol. It seems like a good idea for breweries to offer options that appeal to this growing crowd, but it hasn’t been easy to accomplish. However, thanks to some recent updates in brewing techniques and research, there are now breweries that specialize in non-alcoholic beer or have added that option to their lineup. I don’t know of a Maine craft brewery that has brewed a non-alcoholic beer for purchase, but several national brands are leading the way. Brooklyn Brewing Company recently released a beer called Special Effects that is alcohol-free and marketed for its great taste without the buzz. Connecticut-based Athletic Brewing Company is a craft brewery focused on non-alcoholic beer. Offerings from Athletic include a brown ale and an IPA, both tasting as promised but with none of the booze. Athletic’s beers are distributed in Maine, so it is a good one to seek out if you are starting your new year with a beer time-out.

2. Barrel-aging becoming cool again.

I touched on this a bit in last year’s predictions, but barrel-aging sometimes has a reputation of always going for the sweet, the boozy and the heavy. Not so in 2020, however. Thanks, in part, to a boom in craft spirits, more varied barrels are becoming available to the market, and brewers are freer to get creative with some unique combinations. Barreled Souls uses a huge variety of barrels for aging and flavoring their beers. If you want to more fully explore the differences these barrels can bring, Barreled Souls is a great place to stop. They have a beer called Honey Pot that is a wheat wine made with local honey and then aged in different spirit barrels. Right now, they have three available, aged in rum and bourbon barrels. And if you need to fill yourself up with holiday spirit, they also offer a bourbon barrel-aged stout with peppermint called Sgt. Peppermint.

3. Subtle sweetness – without overdoing it.

Lactose, a sugar that can be used in the brewing process, is often used to take the edge off the harsh bitterness that comes with certain hop styles, including some hops that are popular in the hazy/cloudy IPAs, often known as New England IPAs. The lactose, which is not completely consumed by the yeast in the beer, leaves behind a slightly sweet signature. While in past years this was used in many ways that might stretch the limits of what one would consider “beer” to taste like milkshakes, donuts or candy, I’m seeing the pendulum of lactose use beginning to turn around. I don’t think that it will go away, but maybe brewers who are more adept at using it in a more balanced way will win out in the end. For the same reason that you wouldn’t want to drink two very bitter, stinging hop bombs back to back, it has been difficult for people to follow a super sweet beer with a second. By building in balance of sweetness and hoppiness, a magical middle ground might emerge that will make more people happy.

4. Fruit, and not just for summer anymore.

When fruited beer popped into popularity in 2013, it was mostly via summer beers that were released as some kind of a special edition with fruit added. Suddenly, all summer long, mango, pineapple, raspberry and guava beers started showing up. While these stayed in the lane of tropical fruited drinks, they seemed to disappear when the winter months came around. However, by using a different variety of fruits and other blends, the fruit beer offerings in Maine continue to abound, even with snow on the ground. For Thanksgiving, we saw breweries like Foundation and Rising Tide using cranberries and oranges. Recently, Oxbow Brewing Company and Novare Res Bier Cafe collaborated on a beer called Black and Blau. This farmhouse ale is aged on blueberries and then fermented again with the addition of blackberry juice, resulting in a funky and subtle application of fruit that would not be out of place outside of summer. Look for more creative applications of fruit, especially when it finds its place in harmony with the rest of the beer, rather than just as an added flavoring on top.

In general, it seems as though 2020 might mark a return to creativity, but with a little less affinity for extremes. I think we could all do with a little bit more balance, and I hope that we get some (in our beverages at least) in the year to come.

Carla Jean Lauter is a freelance beer writer and blogger who lives in Lisbon. Follow her beer adventures at:

Twitter: beerbabe

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