Photo: Michael Wolf, in Pike Brewing Co's Beer Museum

Fittingly, we held our Future of Beer food tech meetup last night at Pike Brewing Company’s Beer Museum, which features an epic collection of memorabilia spanning from the invention of beer in 6,000 B.C Sumeria to Prohibition to the craft brewery revolution of today.

But we were concerned with where beer is heading next. To tackle this subject, we brought in Erin James of Sip Northwest, Annie Johnson of Picobrew, Scott Riefler of Tarukino, and Drew Gillespie of Pike Brewing Co. Here are a few takeaways from the experts on what the beer drinking experience of the future might look (and taste) like (yes, robots are involved).

Photo: Catherine Lamb

For beer, new (and fresh, and local) is king
Our panelists all agreed on one thing: in the beer world, consumers are always looking for what’s new. That can be new ingredients — like different varietals of grain, CBD and THC, wine yeast, or even glitter (gag) — or new drinking experiences, like cans instead of bottles or breweries with child play areas.

It can also be a new twist on beer itself, like different styles or infusions, or even new drinks that beer-like (carbonated, with low-ABV), such as hard kombucha and boozy sparkling water. James called the latter trend the “adulting” of traditionally non-alcoholic beverages. She explained that this new wave of beer-ifying non-beer drinks is feeding the demand for two things: “more” and “new.”

Millennials are leading the charge
Millennials love beer. No, but really love it. According to James, in the millennial demographic, beer has surpassed spirits as the most popular alcoholic beverage. However, this audience is not just driven by taste. “They’re also very value-driven,” she explained. And they value both ingredient sources (local is king), opt for local craft breweries and prefer cans to bottles (for environmental reasons).

Turns out, they’re not so keen on brewing at home, at least with Picobrew’s countertop brewing and distilling device. “At first, we thought our customer was a millennial,” explained Johnson. “Actually, it’s more of an engineer.” Millennials prefer to drink their beers straight from the source: local craft breweries.

Beer drinking isn’t just about the beer itself
According to Riefler, when medical marijuana becomes legal in a state, alcohol consumption drops 15 percent. “It gives people a choice about how they intoxicate,” he said. Beer is one such vehicle, but not the only one, and when people have more choice, they might move away from booze. That doesn’t mean that you can’t fuse the two: In October 2018 Tarukino launched Reeb, a cannabis-infused barley soda “reminiscent of a pale ale.” But instead of alcohol, Reeb has THC.

Gillespie isn’t worried that cannabis will take too much business away from the alcohol industry — or at least the craft beer industry. “Craft [beer] is different than general liquor,” he said. He believes craft beer drinkers want a specific drinking experience, one that’s “sensory and social,” not just a new way to get intoxicated.

Photo: Catherine Lamb

Science can enable better beer drinking
Craft beer brewing may be an art, but it still relies on science and technology. “There’s a lot of science going on in the ‘back room,'” said Riefler. That can be relatively basic technology — like brewing tanks and taps — or more futuristic stuff, like Picobrew’s countertop brewer, which some would categorize as a robot.

Johnson, who has a strong craft brew pedigree (she won the American Homebrewer Association’s Homebrewer of the Year award in 2013), still thinks that in order “to get good beer, you need automation.” That’s true whether you’re a craft brewery or just an avid home brewer: automation helps ensure that beer is consistent and tastes good. Which means that, with Picobrew’s tech, you could make a batch of Pike Brewing’s Monkey’s Uncle beer at home using the same ingredients and brew method — and it would (at least theoretically) taste just as good as if you’d gotten it fresh from the source.

We can talk about glitter beer and robotic brewers all we like, but as Johnson put it, “at the end of the day, all that matters is the taste.” Consumer tastes and brewing technology can change, but appreciation for quality and consistency will never go out of style.

For the short term, there is one type of beer you should expect to see dominating the taps at your local brewpub: lager. James explained that, after the IPA craze, lager is coming back in popularity with a vengeance. Johnson made another prediction for what’s going to be the next big thing in beer (you heard it here first): wine/beer hybrids. Cheers to that.

Keep an eye out for our next food tech meetup coming soon! 

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