As we begin a new year, it’s fun for me to look forward and try to see where the beer industry is headed. In the case of Iowa, I find it even more interesting to observe because we are still feeling the effects of raising our beer alcohol limit in 2010 from 6.25 percent alcohol by volume to 15 percent alcohol by volume (a standard domestic lager is about 4.2 percent).
Iowans are slowly reaping the rewards of this change with more and more diverse selection of local and national brews, and it is just going to get better throughout 2013. Here are three trends I believe are on tap for beer drinkers in Iowa in the coming year:
“Session Beers,” aka, low alcohol craft beer, will gain popularity.
High alcohol, high hop beers are still quite the rage among craft beer drinkers in the Hawkeye state, and that isn’t going to stop. I also see the opposite end of this extreme steadily gaining popularity. As the pendulum swings back a bit after the lifting of the alcohol limit and as the beer drinker exhausts their palate with imperial everything, I imagine the session beer will gain popularity in Iowa. A session beer is typically defined as a full flavored malt beverage that is 5 percent alcohol by volume or under (I prefer them to be around 4 percent). The low alcohol, full flavored beer is really just another way for the brewer to experiment and, in my experience, the results can be just as exotic as its high alcohol counterpart. Look for low alcohol to be the new high alcohol in 2013. Around these parts, seek out Stillwater Table Beer, Pilsner Urquell, Stone Levitation or Millstream Schildbrau.
Farmhouse ales and Berliner Weisse are styles to watch in 2013
In a segway from session, we go to farmhouse ales and Berliner Weisse. While the idea of a “farmhouse” beer has come to encompass a huge grouping of beers across many shapes and sizes, what brings them together is that they are brewed with Belgian yeast strains that add spicy complexity, and sometimes some of the sour components that are finding a sturdy foothold on the taste buds of beer connoisseurs. Berliner Weisse is a tart and refreshing German-style wheat beer that we are just starting to see trickle into Iowa from various brewing epicenters around the United States. I imagine Berliner Weisse and variations of Farmhouse beers will be more common in Eastern Iowa in the coming year. Look for: Bell’s Oarsmen, Peace Tree Cornucopia, Boulevard Tank 7, or Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca.
Increased prevalence of beer, food pairings
As the complexity of beer and its diversity become more apparent to gourmands and professional chefs, expect to see restaurant beer lists become longer and have menu descriptions that more often incorporate beer as an ingredient in your dinner. Wine still has a commanding presence in minds and on menus, but I believe the versatility of beer lets it match, if not exceed about any wine pairing. For example, at Brewed Café in Cedar Rapids (disclaimer: I do the beer and wine ordering there so I have a bias, but I would be a regular customer even if I didn’t work there) on Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m., they offer three specials, each with a suggested beer or wine pairing. Chef Brian Jones and his team come up with amazing combinations every week.
A lot of great things are happening to the state of craft beer in Iowa over the course of the next year. If you already love the vast array of beers that are available to you, it is just going to get better as more breweries pop up in the state and more existing craft breweries seek to get in on the growth that is possible here. If you swore beer off a long time ago because of what you thought beer was, it may just be the year to rethink your dinner pairings.