Hot beers

New brews are trending from fruity to hop monsters, but the biggest trend is experimentation.

Do you remember when "lite" beer was trendy? Actually, as someone who ignored that trend, I totally don't. But I am keen on some of the current beer fads.

What's hot changes when you talk to a mainstream beer drinker versus a craft beer fanatic. The big breweries have been pushing "white" beers and fruit-flavoured light lagers, while craft brewers are rocking the extreme styles, like bitter IPAs or extra-strength double IPAs.

"I would say the biggest trend right now is IPAs, the more hops the better, to the point of absolute ludicrousness in some cases," offers Gord Hutchinson, who selects beer for Premier Wines and Spirits in Halifax.

Brewer Greg Nash's recent brews at the Hart & Thistle, including the Hop Mess Monster, have definitely been pushing the limits of how much bitterness the human tongue can take, but that's what the peeps are demanding.

"If I had to pick a trend right now I would say it is fruit beers and lime beers," says John Allen, owner of Propeller Brewing Company. "The lime thing is interesting and I wonder if its race is run after this summer. I don't see the mania for it I did last summer."

Propeller has released brews that are in line with some trends: a hop-laden IPA, an extreme Russian Imperial Stout in the winter and two versions of wheat beer---a Hefeweizen and their newest release, a Kristall Weizen, basically a filtered, non-cloudy version.

"I'd lump fruit/wheat beer into one trend," offers Bobby O'Keefe, a local beer enthusiast who has probably sampled more brands than any other Atlantic Canadian. "The fruit beers in the craft scene are almost always wheat beers, and the only reason Moosehead doesn't follow suit is because of the pain of using wheat."

He feels the number one trend is seasonal beers, which used to be the domain of brewpubs, but are now being bottled by breweries. "These have long been a trend elsewhere but it's only recently that Atlantic Canadian brewers have really jumped in on it," explains O'Keefe, citing examples such as The Granite Brewery's 25th Anniversary Ale.

"I think the next big local trend will be organic beers," adds O'Keefe. "It's started---Granite, Picaroons and Sea Level have all done one---but not really out there enough as a trend. I'm betting Garrison will have one before long."

Garrison makes the groundbreaking Imperial Pale Ale, a Raspberry Wheat and a new Blackberry Wheat. Brewer Daniel Girard has a few other irons in the fire, too.

"What's new," Garrison owner Brian Titus says, "is a general sense of exploration and openness to test out the latest creation, even if the style is otherwise unfamiliar. We've really noticed this since we started launching rotating seasonals several years ago."

A trend in the rest of the beer world that O'Keefe and others have noticed is wood-aged beer, and Garrison is on top of this trend. "We've had some barley wine maturing in Glenora whiskey barrels since late-winter, and should know what it's like soon," teases Titus.

There's no doubt that these various style variations are all hot, but, as Gord Hutchinson concludes, "the biggest trend seems to be that people have realized beer can be as much an adventure in diversity of flavour and style as wine, rather than just a thirst-quenching alcohol delivery system. More than anything, people seem thirsty to try new things."

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