Condensed and edited by Ben Swenson
Ten years ago, you’d have been laughed out of the room for predicting craft beer options like peanut butter milk stout or cannabis-infused lager. It’s been a long and interesting decade for craft beer enthusiasts as we watched the number of breweries in the United States grow from about 1,800 in 2010 to somewhere in the area of 7,500 last year. The question as we head into the next decade is: What exactly will the craft beer scene look like in 2030? We’ve asked several Virginia craft brewers to gaze into their crystal balls and see what the future holds. Here is their take.
Jim Lantry, co-founder, Big Ugly Brewing, Chesapeake
I think in 10 years we will see more of a trend to small, hyper local breweries with tasting rooms that serve as a locals’ pub or gathering spot. Brewers will see their own backyard as a place where they can be successful and bring quality craft beer to their community.
You will see the demographic of the craft beer drinker become more diverse and widespread to include all ages, genders and races as people move away from the mass-produced flavorless offerings of big beer.
Kevin O’Connor, president, O’Connor Brewing Company, Norfolk
I think the next 10 years will continue to bring innovation to the craft beer industry. From different styles to unique business models, I feel craft beer is here to stay and will continue to capture more fans and market share in the overall beer category. On a personal level, I would like to see more lagers continue to increase, but know that IPAs will continue to turn people into fans.
Eric Tennant, founder, Benchtop Brewing Company, Norfolk
I think that we will continue to see more female craft beer drinkers. It will likely be a slow and gradual increase until we get somewhere close to their percentage of the population.
I don’t think IPAs are going anywhere. There are just too many combinations of new yeast strains, new hop varietals, and overall innovation behind this style for it to really fade. I think overall the extreme popularity of intensely sweet beers with high percentages of residual sugar remaining unfermented will fall back down to earth once there is more awareness on their nutritional impact.
I don’t think we should assume that craft beer will automatically take the market share that big beer is vacating. We will also have to compete with craft cider, craft distilleries, and potentially even some craft kombucha with higher alcohol content.
Phil Norfolk, co-founder, Brass Cannon Brewing, Williamsburg
Barring further legislative changes, I think that we have about plateaued on craft beer. Some new breweries will still open, some others will close, but we’re probably about there. Craft alcohol in general seems to be growing, so I expect to see more growth beyond breweries as we’ve been seeing more craft distilling and cideries, and hard seltzer is growing.
I dare not think about the tastes of today’s preteens and teens, but in 10 years the adults they become will be who we are marketing to. Today’s 21-year-olds can develop their tastes based on so many more options than many of us had when we started.
A trend I expect to be even stronger in 10 years is localization. When Brass Cannon was planned in 2010, the only route to go was distribution. Since then, we’ve completely stopped distributing and the only way for people to try our beer is to come to the brewery.
Neil Burton, owner, Strangeways Brewing, Richmond and Fredericksburg, co-chair of Marketing & Tourism, Virginia Craft Brewers Guild
Craft breweries in Virginia will continue, as they always have, to innovate, and there is a lot more exploration for beer, including emerging hop and barley varietals and new brewery processes with equipment. Alcohol will still be enjoyed by consumers despite some recent trends such as dry January, but there will most definitely be shifts in market share between different segments of the adult beverage industry.
Retailers will continue to work on more convenient ways to get products to consumers, through ways such as e-commerce, and laws around the country will adjust to assist states and municipalities in grabbing tax dollars. Virginia will not want to be left behind. The legalization of marijuana will occur, and the Virginia craft beer industry will adjust appropriately and continue to remain robust and unique in an ever-changing environment.
Taylor Smack, co-founder Blue Mountain Brewery, Nelson County, and owner, South Street Brewery, Charlottesville
We definitely have not plateaued with the number of breweries in Virginia. Every small town in the commonwealth is on its way to having a brewery by 2030. With over 8,000 breweries in the country now, we are well past the days of “brew good beer and you’ll be fine.” It takes way more than that.
Remember when you look at the beer set at any of your local chain retail grocery stores that what you are looking at is not as full of independent beer as you think: half those IPAs and craft-looking beers are owned by the big guys.
At Blue Mountain, we got laughed at in 2007 for opening a brewery on a hayfield along a country highway in a county of 12,000 people with one stoplight. Now people talk about Nelson County and Route 151 as if it were always destined for success. Every new idea is a dumb idea until someone proves it will work. There are plenty more great brewery models left out there.
Greg Zielske, co-owner Rising Silo Brewery, Blacksburg
For the foreseeable future there is going to be space for the corner brewpub model. Distribution is always going to be there. If someone wants to be that space and fight for it, maybe there will be vacancies, but I think it’s a trap unless you know what you’re getting into. Local tap rooms, and small-scale packaging is where there will be opportunities.
As long as people are pulling money out of their pocket and spending it, they are going to want an authentic experience. That’s the human factor. It’s cool to be a new-age bar where you can swipe a card and pour yourself a pint. That’s a novelty, like going out for fondue or a hibachi grill.
But there is always a need to make your way back to real, enduring, authentic experiences. People’s noses are getting better and be able to sniff out deception more easily in the future. They are able to walk into a place with a smartphone and say, “They don’t make their own beer here? I’m out.”