Here are some trends and hot topics being discussed in craft beer circles this summer. Read up if you're interested in beer—or so you can pretend you know what your beer-nerd buddies are talking about.
The Craft Beer Motel
Sure, beer enthusiasts look, sniff, and savor their beloved brews. But sometimes that's just not enough. For the beer lover who wants to take the relationship to the next level—sleeping together—Delaware's Dogfish Head, regularly ranked among America's best craft brewers, opened the Dogfish Inn in July. The lodge's 16 rooms are described as being "filled with thoughtful, beer-centric amenities and design elements," including beer-scented soap and shampoo, with rates starting in the mid-$200s. It's located near the Dogfish brewpub, not far from the popular summer tourist area of Rehoboth Beach, but something tells us a lot of guests will never see the beach.
Sierra Nevada, the second-biggest craft brewer in America (after Boston Beer Co./Samuel Adams), collaborated with a dozen smaller brewers to collectively produce Beer Camp. Yes, such a place exists: Since 2008, Sierra Nevada has hosted brewers, beer writers, and other industry folks to Northern California for an intensive two-day retreat known as Beer Camp. But this year, beer lovers around the country get to attend Beer Camp (sorta) with the purchase of a Beer Camp 12-pack, featuring a dozen beers created by Sierra Nevada and partner craft brewers around the country.
The collaborators include North Carolina's Asheville Brewers Alliance, Maine's Allagash Brewing Company, and Wisconsin's New Glarus. Not only are the collaboration brews themselves special, these are brands that may not be available normally in your neck of the woods. Thanks to Beer Camp, you can get a taste without traveling across the country.
We've Got Monks Who Brew, Too
Authentic Trappist beers, which are brewed by monks at Trappist monasteries, are regularly ranked among the world's best. There are only 11 breweries in the world allowed to have the Trappist label, the best known of which is probably Belgium's award-winning Chimay, sold in fancy corked bottles. As of June 2014, the U.S. has its own monk-brewed Trappist beer, thanks to the launch of the Spencer Trappist Ale brewery, hosted by St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Mass. The arrival of the monks' internationally renowned beer label in the U.S. has drawn the attention of everyone from NPR to the Boston Globe, and "Good Morning America" to UK publications like Independent. And, of course, it's gotten the attention of beer lovers.
The Brewers Association, Thrillist, New York Post, tons of foodie restaurants, and the Serious Eats blog are among the many sources to proclaim sour beer as the style "beer geeks are buzzing over" this summer. This is despite the fact that the latter described a first smell of sour beer as "horse butt dabbed with vinegar and blue cheese."
Despite the sharp, funky smell, sour brews, which have a tart, make-your-mouth-pucker, all-in-all sour taste, are supposedly the perfect accompaniment to a hot summer day. They're not at all heavy or rich, like brews more suited for winter, yet sour beers may be a little extreme for the average Miller Lite drinker. That may be part of the reason why they're so hot among craft beer aficionados.
The Sad (But Righteous) Decline of Light Beer
Any beer nerd worth his salt wouldn't bother talking about a pathetic pale American "beer" like Coors Light or Bud Light Platinum. That is, unless the talk was about how poorly these mass-produced brews have been faring in the marketplace, thanks at least partly because consumers are opening their eyes to joys and superior taste of local craft beers.
Earlier this year, Pete Coors, the chairman at Molson Coors, lamented to the Denver Post about bars removing the taps of mass-market brews like Bud and Coors Light and bringing in craft beers on draught to take their place. "We have a lot of bar owners who are enamored with craft beers," Coors said. "They are beginning to take off the premium light handles and putting bottles behind the bar instead and replacing the handles with craft beer handles."
Light beer sales have been declining for years, as has the market share for big beer brands in general, but lately the drop must put the world's biggest brewers in an especially bitter mood. Businessweek recently cited data indicating that light beer sales fell 3.5% last year, including a 19% dip for Bud Light Platinum, and that domestic light brew sales will hit a 10-year low in 2015. And in beer-crazed places such as Oregon, more than half of the draft beer served is now craft product that's brewed in the state.