I don’t think many beer drinkers will be sad to see the back of 2023. Last year was a bit of a mixed bag, with at least as much bad news as good news, so I thought I’d peer into the suds at the bottom of my beer glass and try to discern some beer predictions and trends for 2024.

One thing is for certain: it’s not going to get easier for bars and breweries any time soon. We have a new government which was elected primarily on the basis of a desire for change, a recognition that we’re in a cost-of-living crisis and the need to do some things differently. Whether their policies will achieve that remains to be seen, but the reality is that any changes they make will take time to have an effect, never mind the fact that the global geopolitical and economic situation is still not looking all that flash.

Which leads me to my first prediction for 2024: More breweries, bars and restaurants will go under. The loss of Deep Creek and the close calls for Epic and Brothers Beer are only the beginning. Breweries are operating on razor-thin margins, the Covid years have eroded any buffers and it will only take one adverse event (like the can-seaming issue which eventually sank Deep Creek) to push them over the edge. Thankfully we’ve had a good summer which will help but sadly I think we’ll lose one or two beloved brands or venues in 2024.

On a positive note I expect the continuing investment by, amongst others, NZ Hops Ltd to bear (ahem) ‘fruit’ in the next year. Over the last couple of years NZ Hops Lyd has been building up their Bract Brewing program, getting breweries within Aotearoa and across the world to play with their toys — new hop varieties. We’ve seen SuperdelicTM and NectaronTM shake off their dowdy “Hort 4339 and NZH-102” designations and emerge blinking into the light with exciting new names. The most recent of these trial hops to hit the market is NZH-106 which has been wowing people in a Pilsner from 8 Wired and a Hazy IPA from Sawmill and a New Zealand IPA from Sprig & Fern. I am confident that this child of Riwaka will be launched with great fanfare and an even more amazing name. So it’ll be out with the NZH-106 and in with the Rheawaka (for those who don’t know their mythology, Rhea was the mother of Zeus. And no, I don’t think this will be the real name but if it is…).

beer predictions

The last few years have seen a plethora of new beer styles hitting the market. It seems like only yesterday we were arguing about what Cold IPA was, and now we’re trying to get our heads around West Coast Pilsner. I love the creativity of brewers trying to find new ways to get the same basic ingredients to express new flavours, and to capture new drinkers. This trend will continue in 2024, alongside the plateau of hazy beers. We haven’t seen the end of hazy beers; they’re still a huge part of the market and will remain so, but the diversification of styles around them is great to see. So look out for Strawberry wheat beer being the hot new style in 2024 (not really, but you get the idea!).

Following that train of thought leads me to my next prediction: More breweries will launch “beer adjacent” beverages in 2024. Towards the end of 2023 we saw Urbanaut launch a cider brand, Sawmill releasing ginger beer and hard lemonade and (most intriguingly) Bach getting into the non-alcoholic space with their hop water. This is all driven by those underlying economic conditions; breweries are desperate to find new markets alongside their core demographic. I find it fascinating and I expect we’ll see more cocktails, ciders and other similar beverages hitting the shelves from our favourite breweries. Maybe hard seltzers will make a comeback?

I think it’s inevitable that we will see fewer of the large beer festivals this year. These events are being squeezed from two sides. First, the audience of enthusiastic craft beer drinkers is, at best, stagnant. Craft beer doesn’t seem to be winning as many new fans amongst younger people and the rest of us have access to a wide range of beers in supermarkets, bottle stores and bars so don’t feel the need to go and explore at a beer festival anymore. Second, beer festivals are a costly undertaking for breweries and in the current economic climate it’s hard to make the cost/benefit analysis stack up. A number of breweries skipped Beervana last year — a trend likely to continue. I think some of the larger events will decide it’s just too hard.

I do, however, look forward to a number of smaller boutique events like Wellington’s Funk On The Water, and I hope that someone seizes the initiative and organises a Good Beer Week somewhere else in addition to Auckland.

In years to come I think we will recognise that 2023 was the peak in terms of the sheer volume of fresh hop beers, and I expect we’ll see fewer in 2024. It felt like breweries got over-excited and produced three or four (or even more) beers each and the market couldn’t quite sustain it. I spotted cans of various fresh hop beers hanging around on supermarket and bottle shop discount shelves well into autumn. With the aforementioned pressures on costs and margin I suspect the 2024 crop of fresh hop beers will be smaller, but I think the upside is that this will enable breweries to focus more on quality. I look forward to a banging selection of beers in coming weeks.

My final semi-random prediction is that 2024 will see a New Zealand craft brewery build a brewery in Australia (and possibly vice versa). Some of our larger craft breweries are gaining a great following across the ditch, but the costs and logistics of shipping make it very hard for them to break into that market. Similarly we’re seeing a range of Aussie beers popping up as imports here in Aotearoa — One Drop in particular is developing a bit of a cult following. I suspect that this year someone will finally take the plunge and invest in stainless across the ditch. I have my theories on who it will be — buy me a beer and I’ll tell you!

So there you have it. Are my predictions the ravings of a hop-addled soothsayer or the prescient foretellings of a wise man? Only time will tell.