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At The Table With: Daniel Goh

30 October 2019

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If you’re ever inclined to type “craft beer” into Quora’s search bar, you’ll be amazed by not just how many conversations are brewing around the topic, but also at how seriously some forum members take them. “Where are the new opportunities in craft beer explosion”, “What major developments do you foresee in the industry” and “When do you think the industry will stagnate” are some of trending topics that are getting serious, well thought responses from brewers around the world.

The craft beer market has been making waves in Asia, so much so that Anheuser-Busch InBev (the world’s largest brewer) is considering listing its Asian operations in Hong Kong or Singapore. The market, while much smaller compared to its western counterparts, is seeing steady growth over the past few years, with more and more independent breweries cropping up in countries like Vietnam, China, India, Thailand and Singapore.

But it’s not just about flavour – topics like sustainability and tech advancements are part of the conversation too. We sit down with FHA Craft Beer Awards Assistant Head Judge Daniel Goh to find out more on the future of craft beer.

Sustainability is a hot topic these days – is this something important to craft breweries? What are some practices that are adopted?

Sustainability is increasingly a huge focus for many breweries around the world. So even though breweries generally rely on hops and malt which are less susceptible to environmental pressures as vineyards are where there’s only one harvest a year, a number of craft breweries have embarked on sustainability initiatives and reduce their environmental footprint.

Many breweries are adopting sustainability practices, mostly in the energy and waste disposal side of things. For example, Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Mendocino County, California is fully solar powered, and so is Mountain Goat from Melbourne, Australia. Beerfarm in Margaret River, Western Australia sends its spent grain to feed their own herd of cows rather than dumping it into a landfill. Increasingly, it’s also about proper water usage; breweries use a lot of water, and much of the affluent can impact the environment negatively. New York’s Brooklyn Brewery uses an anaerobic digester to turn waste water into methane gas which in turn is used to produce energy.

There are many innovative ways to be sustainable, and even big beer is doing their part. Asahi, for example, turns plastic bottles into fibre which is used to make the uniforms for employees at their breweries!

Will climate change affect the production of craft beer in the future?

Climate change definitely will have an impact, although probably not as much as in winemaking. As mentioned earlier the growing of hops and barley (malt) is less susceptible to environmental pressures as compared to growing grapes.

What does matter is the availability of water – drought is an increasingly challenging problem for many parts of the world, and without access to sufficient clean water you can’t make beer.

Has there been any advancement in technology that has aided or disrupted the brewing process?

Not particularly, no. Brewing is a process that’s been established for centuries. Technology can make the brewing process easier – for example, computer automation can help to identify problems or bottlenecks in the beer brewing process. But so far there’s no innovation that’s helped cut beer fermentation cycles from weeks to days, for example.

Why do you think craft beer has become so popular over the last few years?

There are many contributing factors to the growth of craft beer, but essentially the main reason is that craft beer offers choice to the consumer. Thanks to the exploding number of craft breweries around the world, beer drinkers can choose from many different styles and expressions that was inconceivable just 30 years ago.

As consumers become more health conscious, some craft breweries have started creating ‘healthy’ beers – what is your take on this? Trend, or something that will become the norm?

How do you define a healthy beer? Zero or low calorie beers? Those are created to serve specific consumer demographics – designated drivers, pregnant women, or people who have health or religious restrictions. Otherwise if you want to be truly healthy, drink water.

What’s more important in the ‘health” space for beer is the development of gluten-free beer, which addresses a serious health concern where there is a number of people who suffer from celiac disease or are otherwise allergic to gluten in beer.

Finally, what are some major trends you think will lead the way for craft beer?

I think we will continue to see a push towards “sessionable” beers, essentially beers that are slightly lower in alcohol but still deliver where flavour is concerned. Not zero or low calorie beers, but beers that fall between the 2.5-4.5 per cent ABV spectrum and are generally refreshing, easy to drink and more “responsible”.

One big trend is collaboration beers, where brewers from different breweries work together to create a special one-off beer for the market. Collaboration beers allow them to express their creativity where they otherwise couldn’t, and many of these special brews push the boundaries where brewing is concerned.

But growth in craft beer actually has plateaued, especially in markets like the UK and US. We’ll continue to see consolidation in the industry where big players will buy out smaller competitors during these more challenging times, as we’ve seen in the past couple of years.

The Craft Beer Awards will be hosted 3-6 March 2020 at FHA Food & Beverage. Witness the finest showcase of premium brews and label design from around the region, or take part in the competition. More details here.