Year in Review 2021: The Year Craft Beer Became Boring

Was 2021 the year beer became boring? Or to put it another way, when was the last development in beer that was really exciting?

Apparently it’s not just us who have this impression, because Susi von Thunbier writes: “I have the impression that craft beer is stuck in terms of excitement and news. There are no fresh ideas.” Jay from Kajüte, Max from Five Points, Eric from Brasserie La Mine and Harley from Unterbad think the same.

How can this boredom be explained? We’ll try it by making three points:

Point 1: The lost year

The year 2021 was a lost year. Yes, there was the occasional ‘breather’, but we rode more waves this year than highly motivated surfers in Hawaii. The constant back and forth, the anticipation and disappointment, the caution and heedlessness was tiring and frustrating and didn’t inspire much uninhibited joy, community and comfort or, indeed, fresh ideas. While in 2020 we were in survival mode, as a community, business or people, 2021 was a conflicting year that offered both nothing and everything.

Point 2: 100 beers are not 100x better than 1 beer.

Boredom has a lot to do with marginal utility. This describes the fact that the benefit or pleasure is greatest the first time and then decreases with every additional time. This is not an argument for drinking each beer only once. The first Bourbon Barrel Stout will always remain a unique experience, because marginal utility also plays a role in beer styles. Along with the dominance of DDH Hazy/Juicy IPAs and the lack of fresh ideas, marginal utility steadily decreased over the year and boredom increased.

Point 3: The insane dominance of DDH Hazy/Juicy IPAs

Even when IPA was the undisputed dominator, there were still Ambers, Browns and so on. But DDH Hazy/Juicy IPAs are currently displacing everything, like an invasive species. So breweries like West Coast heroes Stone and even Budweiser offshoot Blue Moon are being coerced into brewing a Hazy beer. Among many others, Lana bemoans, “The overabundance of NEIPAs continues to hurt. It remains difficult to find anything else in a taproom. Moreover, these beers tend to blend into a generic, similar-tasting beer.”

Pierre from BIERlab comments: “It’s a pity that only one style can ever be popular in Switzerland”. Currently, these are Hazy/Juicy IPAs and will probably remain so for the time being. But as already written, the marginal utility of unrestrictedly interchangeable, always the same, over-alcoholised and unbalanced DDH Hazy/Juicy IPAs is rapidly decreasing. In our case, so rapidly that we are now only reluctantly trying such beers.

And as every year, we like to quote Jeff from Bagby at this point. So this year he says “Hazy/Murky is still and will always be annoying.”

Craft beer goes retro – as a substitute for fresh ideas

Whether fresh ideas will return in 2022, we don’t know. But that doesn’t mean 2022 has to be equally boring.

We have been drinking craft beer for more than 10 years now. And at regular intervals, a new beer style has been rediscovered or reinvented, Saison, Black IPA, White IPA, Berliner Weisse, Pastry Stout, New England IPA. This is exactly where we see the opportunity for beer to become interesting again: When beer remembers its roots and makes what is old new again. We can already see the first signs of this.

Just as the young are currently running around in clothes that made us look like dorks back in the 90s, craft beer is once again taking its cue from the past, e.g. West Coast IPAs are being rediscovered (but sometimes shamefully brewed with oats and wheat as West Coast Hazy). We are curious to see how this will continue. 

And what’s more, we’re curious about this:

  • #metoo has shaken Craft Beer 2021 up a lot. Will this important and necessary discussion also reach Switzerland at some point?
    (See, for example, the contributions by Ken from L’Improbable, Fredrik from Brekeriet or Katie from the great project B.I.E.R., which was awarded this year’s gold medal by Julien from A tue-tête).
  • Craft beer is close to nature, so sustainability is an obvious concern. Which breweries are making their first efforts in the area of sustainability?
    This is particularly important because, as Patrick von Strättligen notes, climate change is “endangering the availability and quality of brewing raw materials”. (See also the contributions by Tristan from Dr. Gabs or Guido from the Wiggerli brewery, who wants to brew a beer in which all raw materials are grown and produced in Switzerland (barley, malt, hops)).
  • Are low-ABV beers overcoming their bad image (which Samuel von Blackwell attests) and is the trend towards beers with reasonable alcohol content continuing?
    (see e.g. contributions by Rolf Wicki, Lana, Markus von Probier or Luc ‘Cayon’).
  • We’ve been talking about the lager revival for years. Will this finally reach the customers in 2022?
    (The love has already arrived with the brewers, see for example contributions by Chris from Fuerst Wiacek, Richard from BFM or Eva from Qbeer).
  • Are we learning to find joy in the familiar again?
    A joy that is too often circumvented, or as Julien from A tue-tête! Writes: “I sometimes find it frustrating when I can’t find and drink a beer more than once….”
  • And of course, will DDH Hazy/Juicy beers lose their dominance?
    (Which would be to the delight of countless participants).

Paradise with a flaw

Actually, compared to earlier years, today we live in paradise-like conditions. Years ago, the number of available beers was so small that one could easily buy each one of them. Today it is no longer possible. There used to be a few festivals, but today you can spend your weekends almost exclusively at festivals. Today there are great Swiss breweries on the one hand, and on the other hand so many breweries, only BOV and TTT can even try to cover them all.

Now, if we can get bars and restaurants to offer a variety of beers instead of just one, if the quality of Swiss beers improves significantly (criticised by as many as it is praised) and if we can finally leave COVID-19 behind, then the future looks very promising.

Our participants at least are optimistic and looking forward to discovering new places and going to festivals – both as guests and as brewers. The brewers are also looking forward to planning security. But above all, everybody is looking forward to drinking a beer with friends, “unburdened and tipsy”, as Stefan from Braufwolf says.

  • Andreas Quendt, LägereBräu AG
  • Biit,
  • Chris Treanor, Fuerst Wiacek
  • Christian, bierversuche.ch | wortspiele.org
  • Christian , Zipf
  • Elliott Hébert, Brasserie des Vagabonds
  • Eric, Brasserie La Mine
  • Eva Roffler, QoQa / Qbeer
  • Fabio Colombo, Independent brewer
  • Fabricio Ataide, Totally Beer
  • Fred Ramseier, Aathaler Brauerei
  • Fredrik Ek, Brekeriet Beer
  • Gregor Völkening,
  • Guido Felder, Brauerei Wiggerli
  • Harley Williams, Unterbad Brewery
  • jan de ruijter, brausyndikat & wortspiele
  • Jay Tanoa, Cafe Kajüte
  • Jeff Bagby, Bagby Beer Company
  • Jérôme Rebetez , Brasserie BFM
  • Joel Wirth, Brau- und Rauchshop GmbH
  • Joshua, Brauerei BAF
  • Julien, À tue-tête!
  • Julien, Chien Bleu
  • Julien Brändli, Brasserie Cinq 4000
  • Kaspar Scheidegger, Shrinkbrew Ales
  • Katie Pietsch, Feldschlösschen
  • Ken, Brasserie de l’Improbable
  • Lana Svitankova, Freelance
  • Luc “cayon”, Cayon’s brewery
  • Marcel Thurnheer & Adrian Probst, HellsKitchen Brewery, HellsKitchen Brewery
  • Markus Forster, probier.ch
  • Markus Hausammann, Vaat Brewery
  • Martin, Sudwerk Brauerei
  • Matthias Koschahre, Altes Tramdepot Brauerei & Restaurant AG
  • Max Descloux, Five Points Brewing Co.
  • Michael , Brasserie Meduzin
  • Michael McGarty, Brauerei Thun AG
  • Michael P, Dr. Brauwolf
  • Moritz Künzle, BK Bierkultur AG, Öufi Brauerei
  • Patrik Feller,
  • Pierre, BIERlab
  • Reto Engler, Dr.Gab’s brewery
  • Reto Widmer, hopfeNerd
  • Richard Brady kilcullen , BFM
  • Rolf, Prime Drinks AG
  • Rolf Künzi, Hohenbräu
  • Rolf Wicki,
  • Roli Singer, VIB Verein Interessierter Bierbrauer
  • Samuel Aeschlimann, Brauerei Blackwell AG
  • Sandro Wirth, Zurich Beer Tour
  • Schneider, Tüüfelsbräu
  • Sébastien Chazaud, VLK Distribution
  • Stefan Gysel, Bodenseebräu
  • Stefan Hahn, Getränke Hahn AG, Frauenfeld
  • Stefan Wolf, Dr. Brauwolf
  • Stephan Zwahlen, Amstein SA
  • Susi Lutz, Thunbier
  • Thiago Gross, Brasserie Hoppy People
  • Tore Haugholt, Fjord & Fjell Nano Brewery
  • Tristan Trevissick, Dr. Gabs
  • Urs Egger, ECM Bräu GmbH
  • Valentin Schilter, LAB63 Mobile Canning
  • Xavier Righetti, Brasserie l’Apaisée
  • Yannick , au coin mousse
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