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6 Major Craft Beer Trends You'll See This Summer

As the season sees us into more outdoor festivities, small brewers plan to remain the life of the party.
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This week, an iconic New York City restaurant just reopened as one sign that summer could see life as a little more "normal." With a promising outlook for outdoor summer gatherings—and American Craft Beer Week celebrations from May 10 to May 16—we huddled up with a few small brew insiders to find out what you should expect when you reach for a cold, independent one this summer.

Keep reading to learn the six major craft beer trends to watch for this season.

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Yes, craft beer sales have grown a little quieter.

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According to the Brewers Association, craft beer consumption in the U.S. dropped 9.3% in 2020. However, that shouldn't put brewers' spirits too deep in doubt. Bars and dine-in restaurants continue to open steadily, and besides: At the heart of brewing is a flair for problem-solving and creativity—speaking of, check out The Best Tips for Cooking with Beer.

It's not just a drink… it's an experience.

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Anyone who's ever been to downtown Asheville, North Carolina knows: If you haven't tried a local beer, did vacation even happen? Similarly, in recent years, some of the most resilient craft breweries have recognized that to stay competitive against the big dogs (like Anheuser-Busch) that occupy so much key visibility in the retail cooler, the independent guys have to bring the customer to them.

To accomplish this, some craft beer brands have learned the value in establishing themselves as a destination to deliver a customer experience that goes beyond the bottle. In fact, even Las Vegas recently announced the city's plans for "Brewers Row," a craft beer destination in their downtown aimed to draw tourists and support "pioneering brewers," as one city councilwoman said.

With that, "food attached" is a growing concept.

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Of course a beer and a burger is a natural pair at the pub, but even the world's biggest beverage giants, including Starbucks, are fighting hard for consumers' food business these days. Straub Brewery—a 150-year-old family brewery in the Pennsylvania Wilds—recognized this in 2019 when they opened their Tap Room: A kitchen and restaurant space, complete with an outdoor beer garden. "It was a great way to do something fun and unique in this region," says executive chef, Bradd Celidonia. "We offer basic tap room fare, with a little spin off regular bar food that we thought our beer drinkers would enjoy, like buffalo chicken tacos, which pair really well with our lager."

With its crepes, house-made bagels, and a beverage menu to match, Straub's Sunday brunch quickly became a popular weekly event—especially with the beer garden's outdoor seating during the pandemic. "We created a beer cocktail, the brass monkey," Celidonia says, "which is our IPA topped off with a little orange juice and a bit of jalapeño for a pepper kick." He adds that the brass monkey is a frequent pick for fans of their huevos rancheros.

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Independent brand collabs are also trending.

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Celidonia points out that when patrons enter in search of a drink and a meal, they're typically motivated toward trying something very specific to that particular area—a trend which has also created an occasion to "showcase other local brands, like our regional distilleries," he says. Area cheeses and sausages also bring a fresh, hyper-local vibe, which, yes, can delight customers… but also, some brands have found this neighborly approach to be a great way to spread the love over a tough past year.

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People want bevs with benefits.

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If you found life on lockdown an opportunity to instill a little more consciousness and balance in your routine, you're not alone. From the new "weed seltzer" to a greater choice in non-alcoholic beers, it's clear there's a growing audience for drinking to enjoy the beverage, and maybe even experience some holistic benefit, without necessarily aiming for a buzz.

Besides, there's a certain elegance to beer.

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This week's report that the British Royal family has even started their own craft brewery is proof: The down-to-earth nature of beer is what makes it beautiful… and that will never go out of style.

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Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at Eat This, Not That!, managing morning and weekend news related nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more