By all accounts, it’s a charmed time to be a craft beer drinker. There are more than 1,700 breweries in America, with more than 700 in the planning stages. Pint by pint, brewers are forging a new identity for American beer, creating suds that are respected— and lauded — on an international stage.
But still, I want more. Forget the socks, sweaters and new toaster: This holiday season, I’d be happier than a clam in its shell if some of these wishes came true. Hanukkah Harry, are you listening? Here are 10 items on my wishlist:
1. Lower-Alcohol Beer With Flavor
Let me make this abundantly clear: I’m five-foot-four and weight about 145 pounds with my belly full of holiday ham. Though I adore imperial stouts and double IPAs, I can’t drink more than two or three bottles without my head swirling down a drain. Give me flavor, but don’t knock me out with booze. No one’s pretty when they’re plastered—especially me.
2. A Return to Hoppy Balance
On that note, brewers need to bring back balance. While tossing heaps of hops into the brew kettle may work to attract drinkers’ attention, I don’t always want my palate bashed into bitter submission. Case in point: 10 Barrel Brewing Co.’s India Session Ale.
3. Cleaner, and Fewer, Tap Lines
Bar owners, I get it: You want to offer customers the greatest variety of the greatest craft beer. It’s a noble endeavor, but your efforts are for naught if you don’t regularly clean your tap lines or pour through your product fast enough. Even a bottle of Bud is preferably to a months-old IPA poured from a fungus-filled tap.
4. Police Your Shelves for Old Beer
While the quality of American beer is at an all-time high, there’s no guarantee that you’re buying a quality beer. I’ve shopped at too many grocery stores, beer shops and bodegas selling dusty, skunky, past-its-prime product. Beer isn’t a Twinkie.
5. Real Pints
At bars lately, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in glassware. Penny-pinching bars are serving beer in thick-bottomed, thick-lipped “pint” glasses that only hold 14 ounces of beer—or less, if a bartender dispenses a foamy draft. Either make it abundantly clear that drinkers are only getting 14 ounces, or pony up for 16- or, preferably, 20-ounce glasses. I’ll gladly pay an extra buck for a proper pour.
6. More Pint Cans
Once the domain of watery lagers, cans have won over the craft-brewing movement thanks to their lighter weight, ability to block sunlight and imperviousness to oxygen (two known killers of beer flavor). While 12-ounce cans are commonplace, I’d like to see more breweries switch to the 16-ounce format. It’s an honest pint, a pounder at home in your palm.
7. Embrace Twitter
Brewers, if you’re not on Twitter yet, make haste to the social-media site. One of the biggest advantages of being a small craft brewer is putting a face to your product and interacting with your rabid fans. A single tweet can sell hundreds of beer.
8. Dig Up Old Styles
The history of brewing is littered with styles of beer that have gone out of fashion like last winter’s clothes. But increasing ranks of intrepid brewers have begun digging into history books, resuscitating old styles such as Germany’s salty-sour gose and the summer-friendly Berliner weisse. What’s old is new again. Next year, brewers, how about you give Poland’s smoky grätzer (grate-sir) a go.
9. Keep Innovating
One of the great hallmarks of the craft-brewing revolution is endless creativity and innovation. If brewers can dream it, they can likely brew it. Just when I think I’ve drank it all, I sip the Mangalitsa Pig Porter from Michigan’s Right Brain Brewery, or the green-hued Spirulina Wit from Texas’ Freetail Brewing. Never stop experimenting.
10. Drinkers, Remember to Have Fun
Look, I’m a beer geek with the best of ’em. But even I tire of talk of ABVs and IBUs, exotic hops and wild yeast strains. At its core, beer should enable conversation, not drive conversation.