Asia Brewers Network

A craft beer wishlist for the Year of the Ox


At the start of every year we see the same kind of articles pop up; some armchair Cicerone has an opinion on what the next hottest trend in beer is, Joe Blow from your local Facebook beer group has something to say on the state of IPA’s or Vinepair is telling us lager is the new trend of the year for the tenth year in a row.

How can we form an accurate vision of the future? Is it possible to look into the crystal ball at all and foretell the coming year’s trends?

As professionals we are not always right (are we ever?).

2020 was an unanticipated year of challenges and change for the craft beer industry. Despite the difficulties, brewers across Asia are still doing what they do best, creating innovative beers that keep consumers engaged and coming back for more.

Despite being new and relatively small and encompassing many countries with diverse regulations the Asian craft beer scene is thriving. It’s been a pleasure to watch how brewers across the region have adapted to the obstacles they have found before them to create a thriving community.

Recently the Asia Brewers Network (ABN) hosted “Today’s Challenges”, a discussion session featuring key industry players. Many challenges facing the industry were discussed but many of them seemed to circle back to two major issues – LOGISTICS and MONEY!

Despite a rapidly expanding industry many of us are facing supply and distribution logistical problems, and money will always be an issue until we can grow distribution and consumption.

While I listened to the discussion I realised how important it is that breweries come together to overcome the hurdles we are all experiencing. Between Covid and national regulations we are all working in a tough business environment.

It was heartening to hear breweries such as Vietnam’s Heart of Darkness, New Zealand’s Behemoth Brewing and Hong Kong’s Gweilo Beer taking the lead early in the pandemic to work together and create a production/supply chain to together save costs and still provide quality fresh beer to the masses.

So from one hands-on brewer to another here are some of my opinions and suggestions, even my ‘wish list’ if you like, for the region’s craft brewing industry for the coming year.

7 Bridges brewing company pouring a glass of light beer

Bia Oi!, a light beer styled on Vietnam’s popular Bia Hoi, has been very successful since it’s launch by 7 Bridges Brewing Company (Vie)

1. Lagers – let’s get brewing!

Yes, I know I’m putting my foot in my own mouth, with a ‘trend prediction’ but as places like Vietnam are proving the people want good light crafted lagers (“Saigon’s Lighter Side” Oliver Woods, ABN).

With the sub-tropical climate who wants to be slugging down milkshake IPAs and pastry stouts all day?

As brewers we should accept that lagers are a genuinely popular style and start working on crafting great ones.

During my travels across the USA’s southern states I noticed a trend with craft beer drinkers, when engaging in a beery session they would have one or two heavy craft beers then move to a light lager as a ‘freshener’ (usually PBR, no judgement there), then back to the double IPAs and stouts.

I think we, as brewers in Asia, can learn from this and continue to offer light lagers to steer the consumer away from the 7-11 macro lager run in the middle of the evening.

2. Low & No-alcohol Brews – let’s get them priced right.

Now this is more my 2 cents worth of advice than an opinion.

We are all well aware that more and more brewers are experimenting with low-alcohol and no-alcohol beers and in many cases are producing some really tasty ones. But for this trend to continue and grow we need to get over the matter of pricing.

I understand the cost dynamics of creating a beer given the price of ingredients (specially with the amounts of hops modern brewers use), but from a consumers point of view, how many times are they going to purchase the N/A IPA over even the 5% Pale Ale at the same price?

Given the low alcohol content and the consumers perception that such a beer should be priced lower than it’s full alcohol cousin, if we as producers do not at least think about reviewing how we price N/A beer we will soon find a build up of old stock that’s losses far outweigh the slimmer margins from reduced pricing.

Brussels Grand Place on Belgian Beer Weekend 2019

Belgium is the global capitol of beer tourism. Will we see the rise of beer tourism across Asia as post-pandemic travel re-starts?

3. Travel – gear up for arrivals.

Again this is more advice than opinion. As the vaccine starts to roll out across the region we will hopefully see a cautious return to travel in the second half of this year.

We are going to start seeing an influx of visitors, some that may not have visited our shores before (wherever those shores may be).

This is an ideal opportunity to develop our national craft beer scenes into true communities, we can create craft beer travel destinations for people to aspire to visit as opposed to discover after arrival.

As artisanal producers we should be working with local tourism authorities, craft food producers and local destinations to create experiences to promote our countries and communities at home and overseas.

By doing this we strengthen the ties that bind us and move our industry forward faster that we could do on our own.

As this year unravels it has become increasingly hard to make any predictions, each new day seems to bring changes from the one before. So instead, let’s go with a little hope.

I hope to see more breweries working together across the region to educate the consumer and provide a quality product.

I hope to see more beer festivals! Truly one of the most important things that needs to return to normal is the beer festival.

Beer festivals are the best way for consumers to experience the craft beer scene and educate themselves on the many craft breweries around the region and what they have to offer.

Festivals present to the drinking public the community within the industry. So much can be achieved if we all work together, create professionally run guilds and associations, collaborate to educate the market and undertake common initiatives to drive our craft beer scene forward!

This year is the year of the Metal Ox which brings with it success in business, prosperity, and wellness for all. Let’s work together to make the most of it.

Welcome to the Year of the Ox!


Article by:

James Waters

James Waters

James Waters is an award winning brewer and distiller who has been in the industry for 15 years. Originally from New Jersey, James currently resides in Hong Kong and still believes a session beer is 4% and under.

Share this article