Sour beers have been bubbling away in popularity for some time, with local breweries experimenting with the lip-puckering style. Lots of us have now developed a real taste for them, then, and Chris Scullion of Independent Spirit of Bath reckons this could well be their year.
“Last year, many customers were introduced to the world of sour beers and, as such, it’s one of the more exciting beer trends for 2020 – encompassing everything from classic Belgian lambics to more contemporary kettle sours from our own fantastic South West breweries. Mills Brewing in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, in particular, is gaining a phenomenal reputation.”
Another local brewer of sour bevs is Wild Beer Co, based in Somerset. You might know this brand best for its Wapping Wharf bar.
“We are seeing a spectrum of ‘quick’ sour beer styles and flavours across
a number of national retailers; gose, Berliner Weisse, kettle sour and others,” says Wild Beer’s co-founder, Andrew Cooper. “Hopefully, in the year ahead we’ll get an authentic, long-matured barrel-aged sour beer becoming more widely available.”
It’s not just about sessioning, either – sour beers are gaining popularity in food-focused venues, notes Andy, having worked with Michael O’Hare on a new sour brew at The Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds.
“The restaurant market is developing and we are seeing greater variety, particularly in high-end restaurants. The market has come a long way, as people crave a wider range of beer styles available in many more locations and type of outlet.”
(Psst: prefer cider to beer? These sours might be right up your street, then, reckons Chris Scullion.)
When it comes to spirits, gin – you may be wholly unsurprised to learn – is going nowhere. But the range of styles is developing, says Chris, blending old-school with the 21st century.
“We’re seeing a lot more experimental, flavoured gins, but the strongest sellers are more traditional styles, albeit made in a more contemporary fashion.
Recently, for instance, The Cotswolds Distillery unveiled its new Old Tom gin, with botanicals such as ginger, cardamom, caraway seeds and liquorice.
“In the past few years we’ve seen a resurgence in the popularity of Old Tom gin, which dates back to the 18th Century,” says Debs Carter from the distillery. “And this coincides with the recent growth in different styles of gin that have entered the market. Consumers are always looking for something new to try from their favourite brands, and seeing as Old Tom gin is traditionally a sweeter alternative to the classic London Dry style, it has a broad appeal.”
And we seem to be drinking more sprits at home now, too, playing bartender in our living rooms. Chris at Independent Spirit is seeing customers invest in backbar staples.
“More traditional liqueurs seem to be making a comeback; Benedictine, Frangelico and even creme de menthe have been huge sellers this past Christmas. This is a trend likely inspired by the great-quality cocktail bars in the South West, which continue to improve.”
The no- and low-alcohol market is another area of growth, as drinkers look to curb their boozy habits (and so cut their pain-killer consumption). It’s unsurprising, really – not only are we all more health-conscious than ever, but we’ve been obsessed with hard-hitting bevs like craft beer and gin in recent years, both of which are notorious for their merciless hangovers. Wince.
Hard seltzers (basically sparkling water with a drop of booze and a dash of flavour) have become big news in the US, notes Danielle Bekker, co-founder of The Good Living Brew Co, makers of low-ABV Binary Botanical beer.
“It will be interesting to see what happens with hard sparkling water, which has caused such a phenomenon in the USA,” she says. “They have tapped into an under-served market.”
Usually around 4-6% ABV and with low sugar content, these drinks appeal to those looking for a ‘healthier’ option, without going entirely ABV-free.
Along with the concern for our own health comes the growing need to care for that of the planet, too. So, with single-use packaging on everyone’s mind, don’t be surprised to see this transcend the food sector and start to shape the way our drinks are served, too.
You may remember that, back in the autumn, Wiper and True did away with its recognisable glass bottles in favour of cans (it was for reasons of flavour as well as the environment, founder Michael Wiper specified at the time, as the aluminium alternative allows “drinkers to get closer to the bright, bold flavours of the tank-fresh beer”), and the canned wine market is expanding too (check out contemporary new businesses Nice Drinks and Cannd).
“We think this sector will grow in 2020,” says Rich Hamblin, founder of sustainability-focused wine supplier More Wine. “Most fillers (i.e of bulk wine or own label for supermarkets) have added or are adding canning capability.”
Refill stations for beers and wines have been proliferating too. Bars like Bristol’s recent addition Kask is serving wine on tap to drink in or take away in reusable glass bottles, while locally based More Wine has been championing bag-in-box vino for some time.
“More Wine is over 30% up for revenue in a shrinking wine market,” notes Richard, “mainly through wholesale of bag-in-box wine to small independents. And When in Rome, a fellow bag-in-box wine specialist, is having great success in Unpacked branches of Waitrose.”
Speaking of eco-vino, we may just be in for a bit of a natural wine revolution this year, thinks Clifton Wine School founder, Ruth Wiles.
“As with craft beer, there is no definition of natural wine,” she says. “However, it looks like the movement could be just as powerful and transformative. More winemakers are turning towards ancient winemaking practices to produce less commercial, more interesting wines. Visit Kask to taste some.”
This wine pro is also noticing more interest and uptake in lighter styles of red in the industry, less oaky and more easy-drinking (“We’ve seen a large increase in sales of Beaujolais,” she tells us) and has her eye on Corpinnat, a new Spanish fizz that reps a departure from Cava.
Lots of thirst-quenching excitement for 2020, then. We’ll drink to that.