Craft beer consumers of today are always searching for new beer styles and playful interpretations of existing styles. And breweries on are a constant quest to fulfill the ever expanding wants of the consumer. On this quest, brewers occasionally uncover lost beer styles and re-invent them for the modern craft beer market. Beer styles like Gose and Saison are perfect examples of styles that have been pulled out of the history books and released to consumers in an attempt to excite. The response can be sketchy, historical style trends being sometimes long, and other times short. Saison, for example, stuck. Gose, maybe not so much. A search on Systembolaget gives 50+ different Saison beers available around Sweden. Gose, only 7. So what are some potential trends for 2017? Which styles might be revived from the history books and given a shot this year?
We start with a beer style that has already made a slight comeback. The Mild. Many of the classic British styles, including the Mild, have been lost over the years, overshadowed by American hop forward pale ales, IPAs and session beers. But people are beginning to notice that the classic British styles offer wonders in flavor and are, in fact, very drinkable. The Mild is basically a British session ale, the name given to help distinguish it from the stronger, more bitter Bitters and IPAs. It was also commonly a ‘fresh’ beer, or not aged. In nearly all cultures, there is one beer style that was brewed and sold as quickly as possible. The Mild was most likely this everyday beer that was brewed and out on tap the fastest. The style is marked by beautiful caramel and toffee malt character with earthy, light hop character. They are typically 3 to 4% ABV, seemingly a brown ale, but far less sweet. There are currently 5 Milds listed at Systemboalget, and with lower alcohol beers really taking off in Sweden, is a wonderful choice for a contradiction to hop forward, American session beers.
Second on the list is Bière de Garde. This beer style is often compared to a Saison, but does differ from this historical Belgian style. The name Bière de Garde means ‘beer for keeping or storing’. It was a style traditionally brewed in Northern France during the late winter months, then cellared after bottling and saved for the warm summer months. It was often brewed as a blond, a brown or an amber, similar to Belgian styles, and was truly an early craft beer, artisanal. Strength ranged from 6 to 8% ABV with balanced malt character. While dry and clean, it was still full flavored with little to no hop character. And since it was cellared in bottles with corks, it had a musty, ‘corky’ character that most modern versions of the style will lack. Because this style is historically artisinal, it holds weight among craft beer drinkers and brewers. And with barrel aging and other conditioning techniques leading a chunk of the market today, you may see more and more microbreweries starting to produce their very own version of the classic Bière de Garde.
Finally, the Wheat Wine. While not a very old beer style, ‘invented’ in the late 80s, it has seemingly disappeared, or never appeared, on the European market. It is a style of beer derived from a combination of classic American styles, so it is not connected to classic German wheat beers in any way. The style is marked by bold, full-bodied bready wheat flavors and is high in alcohol (8-12% ABV). Like its’ nearest relative, the barleywine, these beers are usually lower in carbonation and are really sipping beers. Some breweries are aging them in oak barrels, Sierra Nevada even aged one in bourbon barrels. If you find one, it is certainly a beer to keep in your cellar for a few years. This past winter, the barelywine caught a decent amount of interest in Systembolaget. The only natural next step is to a wheat wine, right?. Keep your eyes open for those brave Swedish breweries willing to dive into unknown territory and produce a wheat wine for the 2017/2018 winter.
What is brought to market from the craft brewing industry goes hand in hand with what flavors and styles are popular. But many times a success can be made out of these little known, lost beer styles seemingly brought back from the dead for another shot. And if you really like any of these lost styles, the real way to find them on the shelves of Systembolaget is to talk. The more talk, the more likely something different will be bottled and available to you. Hopefully we will see all three of these styles making a comeback in 2017!