Marc Castaldo admits he couldn't have predicted what would be the next big thing in craft beer this year. As general manager of the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in Fort Worth, he's seen a lot rotate through the taps.
"Let me guess -- did it have session in the name?" Castaldo jokes. That was the most popular trend among breweries in 2014, but lately the session beer craze has been ousted by another.
"Now it's the gose craze, a super-niche beer that came out of nowhere," he says. All 20 kegs he received of the Salty Lady, a salty-sour gose made by the local Martin House Brewing Co., sold out quickly.
The craft beer movement is growing at a rapid pace in North Texas, and enthusiasm has no doubt prompted breweries to experiment with different styles. What's Dallas-Fort Worth drinking? Industry experts say trendy beers change as frequently as the seasons.
Castaldo faults the Texas heat for the increasing popularity of tart and sharp brews, including gose and Berliner weisse. But those may fade as a new season approaches: fall, more commonly known in beer circles as pumpkin season.
Castaldo says there were years he wasn't able to sell a pumpkin beer, but now the style is coming to taps as early as August.
"In 2014 it really blew up, and I guess I'll have to credit a nonbeer establishment, Starbucks, for that," he says.
According to Castaldo, Drunkin Pumkin from Cobra Brewing Co. in Lewisville is one local choice; it's a 7-percent alcohol brown ale brew featuring pumpkin and cinnamon flavors. Lakewood Brewing Co.'s Punkel, another pumpkin pie-spiced beer, returned again this year.
Rick Ali, co-owner of Lone Star Beverages in Carrollton and Lone Star Taps and Caps tasting room in Lewisville, stocks several pumpkin beers this time of year, but he says customers are on the hunt for other styles, too.
"Most of our big purchasing is of stouts and IPAs," Ali says. "People want bigger IPAs and stouts with more ABV, more flavor, more hops, more coffee, more extreme flavors."
One of Ali's top-selling IPAs is Community Beer Co.'s Mosaic IPA, which is fairly light and well-balanced for being close to 9 percent alcohol. After that comes Dawn of the Dank, a nearly 12-percent double IPA with fruit-flavored hops from Cobra Brewing Co.
Ali believes the thirst for bigger and better IPAs is here to stay, but he's also noticed a few brewers toying with the idea of soda-based beers.
One that's taken drinkers by storm is Not Your Father's Root Beer by Small Town Brewery in Illinois, perhaps because it's on the sweet side. Audacity Brew House in Denton recently released Evil Cream Soda Spiced Ale, brewed to taste like the bubbly beverage it's named for. Coney Island Brewing Co.'s Hard Root Beer also made a splash in the Dallas-Fort Worth area this summer when Andrews Distributing made it available in North Texas markets.
Noah Cutshall, co-owner of Woodcreek Brewing Co. in Rockwall, has taken notice of the hard root beer trend and has started offering his nonalcoholic Square Root Beer in the taproom.
"The root beer trend is definitely on our radar, but it's something that's going to take awhile to do right," says Cutshall, adding he hopes to offer an alcoholic version in the future.
Matt Morriss, co-founder and head brewer of Rabbit Hole Brewing in Justin, keeps his eye on what beer lovers are drinking. His brewery's lineup, which includes brown, red and blond ales, is well-known for providing easy-drinking styles he says consumers can't get enough of right now. One of Morriss' first ales, the Wonderlust Saison, has held steady interest for several seasons now for its subtly sweet flavoring.
"Typically long lines form at breweries and beer festivals [for] barrel-aged, sours or double IPAs ... that's what people go out of their way to seek and share rare bottles with friends, but that doesn't really make a trend," Morriss says. "What I see people drinking a lot at bars are the easier-drinking sessionable beers, because beer isn't a special event, it's an everyday thing."
With sessions, saisons, stouts and other big, hoppy beers pulling craft brewing in different directions, it's hard to guess what trends we'll taste in 2016. But some experts don't always see trends dictating craft brewing.
"Trend-setting isn't the focus of what good brewers do," Castaldo says. "They brew what they feel is appropriate, not trendy, and the market jumps on board with what it wants."