Phew, we’re glad that’s over. While 2021 was a marginally less bleak year for the craft beer industry and community than 2020, the last 12 months have still been a bitter slog. COVID-19 continued its attempts to sabotage supply lines, imperil taproom staff and customers, and strangle beer events this year, with no corner of the industry left unaffected. At the same time, craft beer was finally forced to reckon with the human cost of its failings as a “Me Too” movement swept the industry.
Still, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. We drank some really amazing stuff, got to host a couple of super fun festivals, and saw new groups emerge to help make beer better for everyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Here’s our thoughts on the year that was, cheers to better days in 2022!
Openings, Closings and Changes
Snarky Loon Brewing Co. (Jenkins) opens
Lift Bridge New Richmond (New Richmond, WI) opens
Wooden Ship Brewing Co. (Minneapolis) opens
StormKing Brewpub (Minneapolis) opens
Little Round Still (Wadena) opens
Warrior Brewing Company (Duluth) opens
Hammerheart Brewing (Lino Lakes) closes taproom, shifts to contract brewing model with plans to open new production-only space in 2022
AEGIR Brewing (Elk River) closes original taproom, opens new, expanded taproom with dog park
Roundhouse Brewery (Nisswa) opens second location in Sioux Falls, SD
O’Shaughnessy Distillery (Minneapolis) opens
Back Shed Brewing Company (Waite Park) opens
Insight Brewing (Minneapolis) rebrands and and debuts overhauled flagship beer line-up.
Stacked Deck Brewing (St. Paul) closes
Town Hall’s Sidecar (Minneapolis) opens
Blue Wolf (Brooklyn Park) closes
Hop and Barrel Spring Valley (Spring Valley) opens
Maple Island Brewery (Stillwater) changes ownership, rebrands as River Siren Brewing
Clockworks Brewing (Minneapolis) closes
Northbound Smokehouse (Minneapolis) opens remodeled taproom, adds expanded cocktail and food menus
Pig Ate My Pizza (Robbinsdale) closes, plans to reopen as Nouvelle Brewing in January
Tattersall Distilling River Falls (River Falls, WI) opens
Vine Park Brewing (St. Paul) closes
Trending Up, Trending Down
Perhaps hoping to influence customers who were shopping at liquor stores more and visiting taprooms less, we saw breweries lean harder into Digital Marketing than ever before in 2021, and you can see the results of that push all over the place. Eye-catching, art-forward beer labels featuring everything from comic book panels to abstract modern designs, to an actual NFT (whatever that means) seemed like they became a prerequisite for releasing a beer into distribution this year. In order to showcase those pretty labels, we saw a flowering of staged photo-shoots for beer that ran the gamut from inspired to frankly a little gross. Do we really need to see another tallboy can and overflowing glass smeared with food residue on a big, messy pile?
Social media also served as the catalyst for a sweeping “Me Too”-style movement of truth-telling that rocked the beer industry on all levels, from local to international. While dark truths can be difficult to confront, we hope the industry continues to reevaluate its practices and seek out ways to make craft beer more welcoming and equitable for of women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color. A great place to start? Forging meaningful, lasting partnerships with advocacy organizations like Brewing Change Collaborative and Deviant Minds.
But what about what’s in the glass? West Coast IPAs made a big comeback in 2021 and we found their piney, resinous snap to be a tonic against the hazy histrionics still dominating the market. Beer continued its love affair with all things smoothie as heavily fruited sours and seltzers continued to be a fixture on menus, with some places even going so far as to install frozen “slushy”-style machines. We saw more low-cal, gluten-reduced, and alcohol-reduced beers enter the market than ever before as well, perhaps in response to drinkers evaluating their hobby in a climate of constant health concerns. Our personal favorite trend? Lagers continued to gain ground, with more breweries than ever releasing summery “crispy bois” and historically-minded dark lagers as the seasons turned.
While we may have seen more fancy can designs than ever before in 2021, many of them were being stickered-on as a year-long aluminum can shortage made it difficult for breweries to source custom-printed cans.
Glass growlers are once again on the wane after enjoying a brief resurgence of usefulness in 2020 as breweries scrambled to transition to a to-go model. Now that many of those scrambling breweries have had time to set-up Crowlering lines, there’s not much use for the outdated and inferior growler in 2021.
Stylistically, we continued to see Belgian styles lose market share, perhaps most obviously exemplified by Lift Bridge transitioning Farm Girl from a saison and into a blonde ale. UK-style pub ales like ESBs and milds, once a fixture of menus during craft beer’s early waves, proved increasingly hard to find as well.
Brian Kaufenberg (Creative Director): J. Carver Trifecta Single Malt Whiskey
When I heard that J. Carver Distilling was coming out with a single malt whiskey, I knew I had to try it. True to form, the distillery produced a fine whiskey with complexity, depth-of-character and that finishes rich and round. Notes of chocolate, espresso, and candied orange peel fill the glass and keep you sipping to the last drop.
Zach McCormick (Marketing Coordinator): Fair State/Schell’s Union Lager
I got to taste a ton of really awesome stuff on the job this year, from European ciders to huge hazies and even a historic Finnish farmhouse beer, but if you were to take a peek into my fridge, you’d probably find Union Lager. This collaboration between two of my favorite local breweries is refreshing and deeply comforting, with just enough hops to keep your taste buds intrigued. In a year that saw several more craft breweries and distilleries take a bold and necessary step towards unionization, Union Lager was the ultimate populist thirst-quencher.
Nick McAndrews (Events Coordinator): Insight Avant Pilsner
When Insight announced they planned to refresh their branding and wipe the slate clean (for the most part) with regards to their core brands, Avant was the first of their new offerings to really catch my eye. It’s a super clean pilsner dry-hopped with New Zealand Wakatu hops, that’s sessionable and doesn’t sacrifice on flavor and aroma. It’s got the spicy, floral Noble Hop characteristics you’d hope for in a German-style Pilsner, but with some bright citrusy notes from this contemporary, en vogue hop varietal. The price-point on this bad boy can’t be beat, either, and it should definitely earn consideration as your new go-to Crispy Boi.
Jordan Wipf (Videographer): Boulder Shake Porter
Before I started working at Beer Dabbler, I was pretty much out on dark beers, so this classic ending up as my favorite is kind of a big deal. It feels like I’m drinking a warm hug! Shake is brewed with dark chocolate, making it a less-sweet version of a chocolate porter, which is what I prefer, and I love that this beer has a round, full body without becoming thick and sticky. It warmed me right up without filling me right up! Plus, Boulder’s newfangled branding and graphic design might be some of my favorite across the nation.
Best Beer Names of 2021
In no particular order:
- Fish Top, Fish Bottom – Modist Brewing
- For Heaven’s Cakes – Junkyard Brewing Co.
- Enthusiastically Naive – Ursa Minor Brewing Company
- Split Happens – Fitger’s Brewhouse
- Little Stitious – Broken Clock Brewing Company
- Reverse Centaur – Falling Knife Brewing Company
- Chin Diaper – La Doña Cervecería
- ifeelcream – Oliphant Brewing
- Can I Speak to Your Manager? I Don’t Intend to Pay for This – BlackStack Brewing
- Your Car’s Extended Warranty – Lift Bridge Brewing Company
Drain Pours – Bummers and Grievances
Craft beer’s “Me Too” moment shone a light on a variety of festering issues within craft beer like covert racism, misogyny, and toxic workplace cultures, sometimes at breweries that we once considered favorites. If there’s only one thing that we get to leave behind in 2021, let it be all of the retrograde people and policies that made our community members feel unsafe, unheard, and unwelcome.
While we’re at it, we’ve had enough of our favorite breweries, bars, and restaurants closing due to the financial impact of COVID-19. As we trudge into the third straight year of pandemic-related bad news, we’re seriously hoping that the worst is behind us.
Now that we’ve gotten the serious stuff out of the way: We’d love to see an end to the trend-chasing homogeneity that has seized craft beer over the last few years end in 2022. Whether your pet peeve is double-and-triple dry-hopped hazy IPAs, increasingly indistinguishable seltzers, or cloying pastry stouts and sours, we can all agree that beer menus need more stylistic diversity. We hope brewers look to historical and global flavors as inspiration for recipes–rather than just keeping up with the Joneses.
Speaking of which, we would love to see the industry take its foot off the gas a little and slow the rate of new beer releases in 2022. True ideation and innovation are incredibly hard to achieve when you’re expected to fire off a new recipe every two weeks, and quality control often goes out the window when duds magically vanish from the market in less than a month. But it goes both ways: As consumers, we’ve gotta be okay with a little commitment and resist the temptation to chase shiny new baubles.