Asked to name the hottest trends in craft beer in the US, Portland-based industry expert Maria Pearman names "CBD in beer."

CBD (cannabidiol) is one of more than 100 compounds found in marijuana. Unlike, another compound found in dope, THC, it doesn't have a psychoactive effect that gets you high, nor will it give you the munchies. But it is used for pain relief (which will be the subject of a Ministry of Health trial in 2020) and it is a relaxant.

One maker of a CBD-fused beer, Coalition Brewing in Pearman's home state, claims its Two Flowers IPA benefits also benefits taste-wise because "the bitter grassiness [of augments the hop bitterness."

So far, there has been little research on combining CBD and alcohol, though there have been suggestions it could amplify the effects of both substances.

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Pearman, who advises craft brewers on finance and tax, says CBD brews are still technically illegal (despite medical and/or recreational marijuana being legal in a number of states) so there tend to be short-run batches made by smaller craft players.

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However, the trend is also catching the eye of the big players.

In January, Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest beer company (its stable includes Budweiser, Becks and Cronona) entered into a partnership with hot startup Tilray (best known for its medical marijuana foray to research beverages infused with THC and CBD. Each side is chipping in US$50m.

Another big trend on the US craft scene is so-called glitter beers, decorated with edible dust. These brews may have mesmerised the Vice crowd, but Pearman labels it "ridiculous" and says he hopes NZ is spared.

Pearman also notes that the oldest Millennials are turning 40 next year - and, while always health-conscious, are now really starting to count the calories, and cut back on carbs. This has sparked a trend toward healthier craft beers - and a parallel craze for "hard seltzers" or low-carb, carbonated alcoholic drinks. The Portlander says many craft brewers have diversified beyond beer to add a hard seltzer or "spiked seltzer to their range."

The trendiest is called White Claw, which claims just 2g of carbs for drinks like its 5 per cent alcohol Natural Lime. Earlier this week, the New York Post has reported that Millennials and Gen Zers are "in a panic" at US-wide White Claw shortages.

Millennials like the authenticity of drinking in a brew pub or taproom, Pearman says. Photo / file
Millennials like the authenticity of drinking in a brew pub or taproom, Pearman says. Photo / file

Pearman says Millennials and the younger Gen Zers have also grown-up with recycling and environmentalism, and are gravitating to greener craft beers. We saw a tilt in this direction in NZ last week, with Garage Project's hook-up with windfarm operator to crate "Turbine", a pale ale with 100 per cent renewable energy certification.

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Turbine is crisp on the patate, but with an aftertaste of corporate PR.

A parallel trend is an emerging trend for organic brewers, which the Herald noted earlier with Mike's Brewing in Taranaki.

And on a related note, local beer expert Michael Donaldson recently commented on the emergence of "hazy" craft beers.

A glitter beer. Photo / boldmissybrewery/Instagram
A glitter beer. Photo / boldmissybrewery/Instagram

"People are now making beers that are deliberately hazy, cloudy ... we're talking IPAs and pale ales here ... almost murky looking. Because they're not being filtered, they're not being what we call fined, some of the hop tannins and proteins and what have you, are being left in the beer and it's quite an organic product," Donaldson said.

Pearman also says Millennials and Generation Z seek authenticity, so like to drink in a bar or tap room where they can see brewing apparatus in the background.

It's easier for smaller operations to maintain this authenticity, but Pearman notes they also craft brewers can also struggle with business basics.

Lion boss Rory Glass recently told they Herald that his company buying the likes of Little Creatures lets brewers concentrate on making craft beers and forget about wrangling the likes of HR, health and safety regulations and administering payroll.

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Pearman says an alternative that's emerging in the US craft brewers organising themselves into collectives to share back-office functions. Two high profiles are the "CANarchy" collective and the Craft Brew Alliance.

Here we've seen something of a goldrush as corporate players buy-up craft breweries, often at heady multiples.

Recent craft beer deals have seen DB pick up Kapiti boutique beer maker Tuatara for $30.5m, and Lion's $25.1m buyout of Upper Hutt's Panhead, $8m purchase of Dunedin-based Emerson's, and the acquisition of Christchurch's Harringtons in August for a yet-to-be-disclosed sum.

Pearman says craft brewers usually gain from such deals, with a degree of brand-dilution from selling-out offset by logistical gains.

She says the acquisition-frenzy has notably cooled in the US, however.

Lastly , with comedian Fred Armisen in town, the Herald can't resist asking Pearman what she thinks of his Portlandia series, which takes the mickey out of her hipster home town.

"Painfully accurate,' is her verdict.

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Pearman - author of Small Brewery Finance, released next month - was in town to discuss a study of the Australasian craft beer industry sponsored by Unleashed Software, an inventory management software company.

The study found that while NZ brewers are doing well, the beer boom may be calming down (the exact situation is clouded by different parameters used by different surveys. Unleased defined a craft brewery by their company profile. Statistics NZ has tied a rise in 5%+ beers to the rise of craft beer - although a number of premium mainstream beers reach that threshold, and a number of "session" craft beers now fall below it).

Of the 22 ANZ independent craft brewers Unleashed Software looked into:

• NZ year on year sales growth value fell 20% from 51% in 2017, to 31% in 2018. AU breweries have seen an almost 20% increase in sales growth value, from 37% to 56%.

• Australia is benefiting from higher gross margin than NZ, at 71%, compared to 60% in New Zealand

• Aussie brewers increased their range by a whopping 36% this year, up 1% from the year before, indicating there's still a big thirst for new varieties across the ditch

• The growth in Kiwi beer varieties has slowed to 16% in the last year, down from 21% a year earlier. Indicating a greater focus on the beers that work best

The top four fastest growing craft beer brewers had a third (36%) of the number of beers on offer than the others researched, pointing to the value of specialisation

• The top tier performers had on average 16% less stock on hand. Less stock on hand means less capital tied-up in inventory.