One thing the last two years have taught us is that predicting the future is impossible. It’s difficult to imagine what will happen in the next few weeks, let alone during the next year.
But that’s not stopping us from taking a look at what’s going on in the East Bay beer scene and talking to breweries about what gets customers excited, both in their pint glasses and in the taproom.
East Bay breweries have been put to the test since the pandemic started, with shutdowns, Covid variants, supply-chain issues, the need for additional workers, rude customers, smoke from fires, and a long-awaited reckoning with sexual harassment and diversity in the beer industry hitting Modern Times, in Oakland, as well as other breweries in the Bay. Most of the 48 breweries in the East Bay have done a great job continuously pivoting throughout the pandemic and have adapted to be hyper-focused on what their customers look for.
SF Beer Week is back!
SF Beer Week happens in mid-February, often a slow time for Bay Area breweries. In 2021, the event canceled its opening gala and focused on to-go beer collaborations. This year, the week-long event is fully back—with a notable difference.
Instead of holding one large kickoff in San Francisco, five opening-night kickoffs will happen on Friday, Feb. 11, in San Francisco, the South Bay, the North Bay, the East Bay and the coast. San Leandro’s 21st Amendment Brewery will host over 20 East Bay breweries that night, with VIP tickets and regular beer-tasting tickets available to the general public. Because it is smaller due to Covid precautions, this event will most likely sell out.
Oakland’s Temescal Brewing is partnering with Del Cielo Brewing Co., in Martinez, and Headlands Brewing Company, in Lafayette, to brew the 2022 official SF Beer Week Collaboration East Bay release. Intrinsic, an enhanced West Coast IPA, will be available at the opening kickoff and at each taproom. Details for all events: sfbeerweek.org/activities—click on EB for all East Bay activities.
2022 East Bay beer trends
After talking with a few breweries and Joanne Marino, executive director of the Bay Area Brewers Guild—a nonprofit supporting local craft beer, brewers and community members, and the producer of SF Beer Week—I noticed some trends regarding what beer-loving customers look for in the East Bay.
Beer lovers still love their IPAs, but the style has evolved. As the pandemic caused breweries to slow down kegging their beers, their reliance grew on to-go beers and outdoor patios to stay connected with customers. This also caused brewers to focus their brewing efforts on styles that customers were asking for, and West Coast IPAs with crisp hop-forward flavors are once again a staple for many breweries. Others offer a few hazy IPAs or double IPAs, and many are adding fruit to the brewing process, bringing different flavors to the hop-centric style. Instead of listing one traditional IPA on the menu, breweries now offer, on average, three to four IPAs for customers to enjoy. The Double IPA Festival also returns to Hayward’s The Bistro on Saturday, Feb. 12.
Continuation of lactose and fruit. IPAs are not the only beers customers are excited about. Adding lactose to the brewing process can add sweetness and fuller body mouthfeel to beers. Customers in their 20s, and those who typically favor hard seltzers and wine, tend to order “smoothie beers,” also known as pastry sours. These beers can be found at many East Bay Breweries, such as Armistice Brewing in Richmond. Their Raspberry Coulis, a smoothie sour ale, tastes like an Otter Pop mixed with a Jamba Juice Razzmatazz.
Cold brew is in. And no, I don’t mean coffee. Beers brewed with lager yeast take longer and need cold storage to keep the fermentation going, so they’re not always easy to make. On top of that, there is a stigma that lighter beers are too similar to the corporate beer styles that dominate most grocery store shelves. Thankfully, that stigma is going away, and East Bay Breweries often have a lager or pilsner on tap.
Lighter alcohol, or session beers, are often a favorite of millennial parents visiting outdoor patios with their families. Even IPAs are getting in on the action. Epidemic Ales, in Concord, had a cold IPA on tap as an experimental beer back in January. The first batch in their What The Ferment series was available only in their taproom and featured a generously dry-hopped IPA fermented with lager yeast. The finished beer had hoppy aromas, like an IPA, with the clean, crisp yeast character and light malt base of a lager. For SF Beer Week, Epidemic Ales is collaborating with Hop Dogma Brewing Co., out of Half Moon Bay, to offer a collaboration beer called “Swim Shady Cold IPA.”
Dessert first. The pastry sour and dessert-based beer styles are everywhere now. Epidemic Ales offers a seasonal brown ale brewed with a real pecan pie—from Guilty Pleasures Bake Shop, an online bakery—thrown in the tank. In fact, Guilty Pleasures’ desserts, along with the plants offered by a local succulent shop, will be available at a pop-up at the Concord brewery for Valentine’s Day on Saturday, Feb. 12, from 3–6pm. instagram.com/p/CZU3citP1xL/
Flight of the beer styles. As people head back outside and revisit East Bay Breweries, they are likely to notice these new styles in their local pubs—and they may want to grab a flight of 4+ tasters instead of automatically grabbing a pint of an IPA on tap. With pricing generally being higher than what they were pre-pandemic, and the increase in beer styles, both regulars and new visitors are trying tasters before buying full pints. Advice to those planning on getting a flight: sample a few styles, but also ask the beertender for a suggestion or two. They may suggest a new beer, or one that becomes a new favorite.
Nonalcoholic and alcoholic beverage varieties. One trend gaining popularity is the rise in health-conscious lifestyles. People want to get out instead of feeling stuck at home. Breweries that make nonalcoholic drinks available to their visitors who want to mix up their beer drinking with a kombucha, juice or local brand of soda have become even more important lately. More breweries now also offer beer slushies and hard seltzers on their menus.
Diversity in beer. We are seeing more BIPOC, women-owned—like Epidemic Ales—and LGBTQ+-owned breweries talking about their experiences on social media. People want to support small businesses that share their values. Temescal Brewing is a leader in making the beer industry more diverse, equitable and inclusive overall, and is taking concrete steps toward changing both itself and the industry by reexamining hiring practices, adopting a code of conduct, forming a committee, hosting industry panels and brewing several fundraising beers connected to diversity and inclusive efforts. Check out Burlesque, Beers and Queers at Armistice Brewing for live burlesque and drag acts. sfbeerweek.org/profiles/armistice
Experiences vs. bellying up to the bar. The rise of food trucks in the Bay Area has definitely benefited breweries, allowing visitors to enjoy a few pints with dinner instead of getting one pint and heading off to a nearby restaurant. Experiences beyond food trucks are also sought after. Trivia nights, bingo, yoga classes and paint nights, all popular before the pandemic, are finally beginning to return. Del Cielo Brewing will host a salsa dance class during SF Beer Week. delcielobrewing.com/event/salsa-class-with-sabor-latino
The rise in varying styles of beer and experiences at taprooms has expanded craft beer to a much larger audience. Now there is truly something for everyone.
As breweries adapt to hurdles thrown at them, the path to recovery may be hazy—yes, that is a Hazy IPA pun—but East Bay breweries strive to excite their customers and continue to bring people together. And that’s really what beer is all about.