Beer in Review 2015: James Howat of Former Future Brewing Co.

As 2015 comes to a close, we’re once again asking leading figures on the Colorado beer scene to reflect on the past year and look ahead to next.

This next installment in our 5th annual Beer In Review features James Howat, the mad genius behind the brews at Former Future Brewing Co. and Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales. The latter, an offshoot of Former Future Brewing, won a bronze medal in this year’s Great American Beer Festival in the experimental beer category. Howat’s project now features a “rooftop coolship” that chills the wort while collecting wild microbes to create spontaneously fermented beers. He said he is looking for a second place for the coolship so he won’t have to keep climbing on the roof.

Now, on to James’ picks:

Favorite beer of the year: It’s so hard to pick one beer as a favorite, because what I prefer depends heavily on my mood and the season. That being said, one beer really notable to me this year was Single Tree Hickory from Scratch Brewing in Ava, Ill. It is a lightly sour, smokey beer that’s brewed with all the parts of the hickory tree. This sounds absolutely weird, but was a really complex and interesting beer once you dive into it a little deeper. Absolutely well-executed and great execution is even more impressive when a brewery is doing things that have basically never been done.

Colorado brewery of the year: It is really hard to pick just one because in the State of Craft Beer we have so many breweries that are absolutely killing it in so many different realms. I think, given the above I’m going to go with Avery Brewing Co. Not only do they excel in pretty much every style of beer from barrel-aged stouts to sours to the more standard styles, they moved into a new facility and as far as I can tell the beers have gotten even better, across the board, from day 1, which I imagine is no small feat when opening a completely new facility. It goes to show the massive amount of talent that is behind the scenes at this organization.

New Colorado brewery of the year: I’m going to go with Call to Arms Brewing. I’ve been to CTA multiple times, despite it being completely across town from my home and my brewery, which should say something about how much I like their beers and their taproom. I’ve tried most of their offerings and every single one is unique, well thought-out, balanced, and of superb quality.

Colorado brewery to watch in 2016 Without a doubt, Bill Eye and Ashleigh Carter’s Bierstadt Lagerhaus. Great craft lagers are something I enjoy, something I think we need more of in Denver, and there is nobody that I could imagine who could do it better than these two. I cannot wait. The bonus being I will also be able to eat Rackhouse mac-and-cheese in the same building, something I’ve been missing for too long.

Most notable craft beer news or trend of 2015: Macro brands (predominantly one of them) leveraging their size to put a squeeze on craft beer in ways that have never happened before. Excellent craft brands are being bought out, and I see people concerned about the quality taking a hit. It seems to me that line of thinking is silly. The quality has stayed the same but the prices are dropping on excellent beers. Prices that are approaching points where even regional craft breweries can’t easily compete.

Then on top of that we have distributors being given incentives to drop craft brands and penalties if they keep them in the portfolio. These are distributors that in most cases legally required to be independent entities. This use of shear scale to make things much more difficult for craft brewers (especially regional or super-regional craft brands) is concerning.

The good news is I’m starting to see more consumers taking a stand and saying, for example, “Bourbon County Breakfast Stout is a great beer but unfortunately the people who own that brand are doing things that may jeopardize the hundreds of smaller independent craft brands that I love year-round — I will no longer purchase it and instead look for independent or local options”. I’m looking for more retailers to start taking the same position.

Craft beer trend to watch for in 2016: As the craft movement grows the average craft beer drinker has been enjoying great beer longer, on average. As the consumer palate matures, I think consumers are increasingly looking for subtlety and complexity and starting to understand what that looks like in beer. There will always be a place for the strongest, the most bitter, the most sour, the most alcohol, for sure. However, the growth of more subtle styles in recent years like farmhouse ales, is an indicator to me that people are starting to realize subtlety isn’t a bad word and that often in order to have great complexity in beer you need to have both balance and subtlety.

Here are previous entries:

Troy Casey from Casey Brewing and Blending.
Lauren Salazar from New Belgium Brewing Co. 
Darren Boyd of Spangalang Brewery.
Andy Parker of Avery Brewing. 
Nick Nunns of TRVE Brewing.
Drew and Leah Watson of Hops and Pie Pizzeria & Craft Beer Taproom.
David Lin of Comrade Brewing Co.
Matt Thrall of Left Hand Brewing.
Eli Kolondy and Tony Rau of Odell Brewing. 
Jesse Brookstein of Call to Arms Brewing. 
Tommy Bibliowicz of 4 Noses Brewing. 
Sam Scruby of Upslope Brewing.