On Jan. 29, PicoBrew’s own Annie Johnson joined a distinguished panel of guest speakers at the Pike Brewing Company in Seattle for a discussion on the future of craft beer. The panel covered the latest trends, innovative technologies and predictions for the road ahead in the beer market, and included:

Annie Johnson: Master Brewer in Residence at PicoBrew

Drew Gillespie: President of Pike Brewing Company

Scott Riefler: Vice President of Science at Tarukino

Erin James: Editor-in-Chief at Sip Northwest

Here are some of the highlights from the panel’s captivating discussion at The Spoon’s Food Tech Meetup: The Future of Beer.

Craft Beverage Consumers Increasingly Seek Quality

The market is exploding with a variety of craft beverages in a desire to meet consumer demand for new and different drinks.

In what James refers to as “the adulting of childhood beverages,” many craft beverage companies are producing grown-up versions of nostalgic childhood soft drinks, such as hard root beer, apple cider and seltzer.

Riefler notes that these beverages primarily focus on providing new and different “vehicles to deliver the intoxication,” whether in the form of alcohol or through cannabis-infused beverages, such as those offered by Tarukino. However, consumers are increasingly looking for more than just a buzz, he adds, and are seeking a greater variety of choices and “sensory experiences.”

Panelists agree that a larger shift in the market is taking place: there is a growing awareness and appreciation for quality among craft beverage drinkers, rather than simply seeking variety. While there will always be some demand for “flavor of the month” trends, more consumers are awakening to hallmarks of quality such as flavor, style and freshness — and they’re seeking bars and breweries where they can have unique and memorable experiences with the beverages they love, in the communities where they live.

“People want to come together to have an experience, and local experiences are more genuine,” says Gillespie.

In terms of retail sales and distribution, consumer preferences for bottled craft beer are now shifting toward cans. This also reflects a desire for quality, as many brewers believe cans are superior in preserving the flavor and freshness of beer.

Innovations in Technology Help Promote Consistency

The hallmark of quality is “consistent performance over time,” says Riefler. Craft beverage consumers expect a certain level of performance, and if it’s not the same every time, they will be disappointed by the sensory experience.

“It’s about both the science and the art of making the food product or the beverage,” Johnson says. She adds that the consumer doesn’t care about the work or the engineering behind your product if, at the end of the day, the beer they’re drinking doesn’t taste good.

The best way to offer a consistently high-quality experience, Johnson adds, is by using technology to provide automation. She notes that PicoBrew produces finely tuned machines that consumers can use to create a quality, replicable product at home, making the same great beer in their kitchen that they can buy at their local brewery.

Johnson says that the Pike Brewing Company is a great example of how professional breweries can use high-quality equipment and ingredients to produce consistently great-tasting beer. This makes the Pike Brewing Company’s PicoPaks — which consumers can use to brew their favorite Pike beers in their PicoBrew machines — a perfect marriage of craft brewing artistry and innovative consumer technology.

Gillespie affirms that “people want quality, but they also want to take it home.”

The Future Lies Beyond Hops

As consumers continue to get wise to the brewing process, and the wide range of ingredients that go into creating their favorite styles, panelists hope to see an increased emphasis on the grains, malts and yeasts used in craft beer — going beyond the current hop craze.

While terroir is a familiar concept in the wine world, the terroir of hops and malts is not a concept that’s well-understood in the consumer craft beer market, Gillespie says, and they “are not yet willing to pay for premium malts and grains.” Many Pike beers feature high-quality Skagit Valley malts and grains that hugely contribute to the flavor and quality of the beverage, Gillespie adds, and he hopes that in the future, there is the opportunity to educate consumers on the value of these ingredients.

“If people can get crazy about hops, why not about malts?” Gillespie asks. “You have to raise awareness first, and the Pike will be part of that conversation.” He adds that this conversation will include such elements as where the grains came from, why that matters and what the malt and grain tastes like before it becomes beer.

Johnson adds that yeast is also important, as “it provides about one-third of the beer’s flavor, and you can change the same base beer into several different flavors just by using a different yeast.” She predicts that the future will see the production of “beer/wine hybrids,” where beers are brewed using strains of wine yeast.


Apps Help Consumers Broaden Beer Horizons

Finally, the panelists agree that the use of beer-focused apps, such as Untappd, and social platforms, such as Instagram, have played a huge role in helping consumers discover and share new beers and breweries with one another.

However, it’s notable that these platforms are now being used to draw craft beer lovers to the breweries and bars that serve them, rather than simply promoting home consumption. The panelists agree that this reflects the changing landscape of the craft beverage market: It’s a marriage of old-meets-new, with consumers learning about time-honored brewing practices and discovering the joy of consuming these beverages in traditional breweries and pubs, all made possible through modern technology and efficiency.

At PicoBrew, we’re happy to be on the forefront of technological innovations in craft beverage production — and we can’t wait to see what the future will bring! To learn more, explore our catalog of products that have revolutionized at-home brewing.