The past year has changed everything – including a wholesale transformation for the craft brewing industry. COVID’s impact forced breweries across the nation to close their taprooms, causing suffering across the US brewery industry. However, the resilience of craft brewing professionals across the country was shown in the way breweries were able to find new ways to sell their beer and keep their business afloat through innovation and dedication.
While the worst of the pandemic may be over, COVID’s impact will still be felt throughout 2021 and possibly into 2022. However many of the innovations of the past year have brought much-needed change and digital transformation to the brewery industry.
Here are 8 of the biggest trends to watch in the craft brewery and beer industry in 2021.
8 Biggest Craft Brewery Trends to Watch in 2021
- DTC Beer Delivery
- Outdoor Seating Remains Crucial
- Having a Food Menu Is a Must
- Breweries Go Digital with Contactless Software & Apps
- Co-Brewing Spaces & Taprooms
- The Rise in Craft Seltzers
- The Emergence of CBD-Infused Recipes
- 12-Packs Reign King
1. DTC Beer Delivery
One position side-effect COVID had on the craft beer industry was the liberalization of rules around DTC (direct-to-consumer) beer shipping and home delivery. As breweries across the country shut down last year, beer delivery laws were relaxed to allow taprooms to make up for their loss of in-person sales with delivery sales.
According to a report from SOVOS, 25% of craft beer drinkers bought beer from a brewery and had it delivered to their home since the pandemic began – with 7 out of 10 respondents saying they are interested in having craft beer delivered to their homes.
In the SOVOS report, 70% of brewery owners said they would use direct-to-consumer shipping if it was legal in their state. Watch for the rise in DTC craft beer shipping in 2021 to continue to rise as a major area of growth for craft breweries.
2. Outdoor Seating Remains Crucial
Even with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the short-to-medium-term future of indoor dining is still up in the air. Utilizing outdoor common areas for outdoor dining has provided breweries with a way to stay open during the pandemic – and be incredibly important for breweries to be successful over the next year.
For craft breweries and taprooms without a patio or traditional outdoor dining seating, think outside the box! Many cities have put together contests for entrepreneurs to submit designs of new outdoor seating plans such as mini-igloos and huts – with many brewers getting creative with their outdoor seating plans. Other bars and breweries have spent the past winter creating brand-new patios to accommodate more customers on their deck.
Above: Example of outdoor dining igloos, one of the many innovative concepts to accommodate guests outside during harsh conditions.
Some cities have also allowed businesses to use their parking lots, sidewalks, alleys, and other city-owned areas around their business. Brewers should look into their local laws to see if they’re able to apply for a special outdoor permit to take advantage of their brewery’s outdoor space.
Above: Example of DryHop in Chicago using the city sidewalks for outdoor dining through a special city program.
3. Having a Food Menu Is a Must
For many breweries, local and state laws required food service in order to stay open during the pandemic for indoor service. This led to many breweries finding work arounds in order to fulfill this requirement. Some craft breweries partnered with food trucks, others with nearby restaurants that required customers to order food from GrubHub or other third-party delivery services.
However, a food menu provides much more of a benefit for taprooms than just being able to meet this COVID requirement. Breweries with a bar-style food menu keep customers in their taproom 1.8x longer than those breweries who don’t offer food – as well as increase the average bill size.
While a full-service kitchen is most likely out of the question for the majority of taprooms – as a commercial kitchen can cost up to $500,000 to build, acquire food service permits, buy kitchen equipment, and operate for the first year – brewery owners can rely on new, outsourced food services such as 2ndKitchen.
2ndKitchen is a B2B virtual kitchen provider, allowing breweries to serve a robust food menu without an onsite kitchen or food service. Taprooms are partnered with a nearby restaurant, which outsources their kitchen to power the brewery’s food menu.
Taproom receives branded, QR-code menus for their tables, which take customers to an online ordering system accessible via their mobile phone. 2ndKitchen then manages ordering fulfillment, the restaurant partnership and communication, direct-to-table delivery, and any customer issues.
"Customers love our 2ndKitchen menu. It's a fast and easy way to have delicious eats delivery right to their table. Bringing it to our taproom was a no-brainer."
Cress Wrenn, Taproom Manager at Hopewell Brewing
2ndKitchen is 100% free to use and craft breweries can earn income on each customer order, helping to provide a new ancillary revenue stream for taprooms.
4. Breweries Go Digital with Contactless Software & Apps
As breweries safely navigate a post-COVID world, upgrading their taproom’s hardware and customer processes has been a necessity. It has also exponentially increased the adoption rate of new software and apps to improve the operations and efficiency of taprooms.
Above: Example of contactless QR-code menus from 2ndKitchen.
While the majority of these new technologies found in taprooms are customer-facing – look for brewery owners to adopt new software and tech for all-in-one management of the back-end and operations side of their breweries.
Craft brewers should specifically research the following types of B2B brewery software:
- Brewery POS Systems
- Brewery ERP Systems
- Beer Inventory Management Software
- Sales Management Software
- Keg Tracking & Tracing Systems
- Beer Quality Assurance Systems
- Brewing Regulation and Scheduling Systems
5. Co-Brewing Spaces & Taprooms
Physical space and commercial property rentals are expensive – especially in the wake of the pandemic. That’s given momentum to new types of commercial brewing concepts that had begun to form before COVID – specifically co-brewing spaces.
Co-brewing spaces are similar to co-working spaces such as WeWork, but designed uniquely for the needs of craft brewers looking to expand their operations to the public. They come with brand new facilities for brewing, packaging, and distributing beer – with many licensed to offer full-customer experiences in built-in taprooms.
The benefits of these spaces are perfect for new, up-and-coming breweries who may not be able to afford to build their own brewing space. Outside of the facilities and property space, co-brewing spaces also bring brewers together to help share ideas and resources.
An example of a co-brewing space is District Brew Yards in Chicago. The company purchased an old warehouse just west of downtown and re-modeled the space to meet the needs of craft brewers with a revamped and massive 18,000 sq. foot facility.
Above: District Brew Yards indoor seating, as well as the pour-you-own-beer stations for Around the Bend Beer Co.and Bold Dog Beer Co – both of which are tenants of the facility.
District Brew Yards has signed three breweries that now use the space as their permanent home – Burnt City Brewing, Around the Bend Beer Co., and Bold Dog Beer Co. – as well as offer rotating limited-time spots for guest brewers to be featured. In all, District Brew Yards is able to produce 15,000 bbl per year.
The co-brewing space also accommodates customers, with a food-hall style, pour-your-own-beer concept featuring a full cafeteria, merch store to include brewery apparel and to sell beer, as well as a massive patio area.
6. The Rise in Craft Seltzers
Seltzers have been on the rise since 2019, and that trend will continue in 2021. Last summer, seltzers accounted for 25% of all Drizly sales. White Claw and Truly recorded over $3 billion in sales last year. Other large beer and beverage companies took notice, with just about every major alcohol brand releasing their version of a hard seltzer last year.
Look for the rise of craft seltzers to start eating into the White Claw and Truly market share this summer as independent and local craft breweries branch out with new hard seltzer recipes.
If you’re looking to experiment with your own craft seltzer recipes or just want to try one for fun, try your hand at one of these hard seltzer recipes from the best craft brewers across the US in 2021:
- Fort Myers Spyk’d Seltzer
- Solemn Oath Brewery City Water
- Evil Twin Brewing Evil Water
- Kona Brewing Spiked Island Seltzers
- Oskar Blues Wild Basin Boozy Sparkling Water
- DC Brau Full Transparency Hard Seltzer
- Two Roads Brewing H2ROADS Craft Hard Seltzer
7. The Emergence of CBD-Infused Recipes
As hemp becomes more widely accepted and available across the US, craft breweries have begun to brew up CBD-infused brews. In the UK, Hop and Hemp Brew Co. is a brewery that launched in late 2019 that exclusively brews CBD-infused beers
Above: Hop & Hemp Brew Co. in London, UK.
What are the main benefits of CBD-infused beers?
- Low ABV means no hangovers
- Fewer calories than most typical beers
- Pain relief
- Overall relaxation
With the benefit of relaxation and pain relief, craft breweries can look to capture new audiences to sell their product too – and prepare the infrastructure for future brews that potentially could be infused with THC.
CBD-infused beers typically have a very low to non-existent ABV. Many breweries are taking advantage of this by marketing these brews as “hangover-free”, allowing them to also target non-alcohol drinkers aimed at taking the edge off.
A few examples of CBD-infused brews to use as inspiration for your own recipe (or to simply try out at home) include:
- General Washington’s Secret Stash
- Two Flowers IPA
- Hemperor HPA
- Hemptails Hemp’d
- Hop & Hemp Brewing Co
8. 12-Packs Reign King
The pandemic saw consumers increasingly purchasing items in bulk – including beer. According to data from 2020, 42% of all beer sales on Drizly were purchased in a 12-pack – and increased throughout the year by 15% into November.
Packaging is always high on the list of craft brewery trends – from dank designs using bright colors to stand out, to the evolution from cans to beer growlers to crowlers back to cans, and now back to the economical 12-pack. Keep an eye on new packaging trends to emerge in 2021 from the innovations of craft brewers.