Friday, January 14th, 2011
The explosive popularity of hoppy beer has become bittersweet as the total American harvest was off 30% for the year, according to December’s USDA hop harvest report. Especially screwed now are those brewers relying on smaller-yield, aroma-centric American hops to make mainstream-barreling IPAs, since Simcoe, Citra and Amarillo are largely (if not totally) sold for the year.
IT SHOULDN’T BE A SURPRISE. Unlike 2007’s sneak-attack, this scarcity was established back in June, according to the BA’s Chris Swersey. That’s when members learned that both acreage and years were significantly down. It’s just now coming to a head, however, as brewers wonder if they’ll have enough of specific varieties.
IT’S NOT JUST A PROBLEM FOR SMALL PRODUCERS, who are already all over message boards trying to buy specialty product they thought they’d snatch on spot (Stone head brewer Mitch Steele says they’ve already been approached, but even they are “tight”). If that 60-plus IBU Simcoe, Citra or Amarillo bomb you put in several states has really hit, you might not have contracted enough specialty hops – and might need a substitute. That could be a reality for Sierra Nevada this year, as they’re held to the hotter fire of whole leaf hope rather than pellets. “Oftentimes we can find excess amounts of certain varieties, but only in pellet form, so we may have to substitute,” Sierra’s Bill Manley told BBD.
THE ANSWER? More contracts could ease part of the pain, at least in the future. “When a grower puts something into the ground he’s making a choice” based on demand, said Chris, referring to the ratio of macrobrewer-bought alpha acreage vs. the smaller allotment of aroma-rich varieties craft producers prefer. Ironically, farmers had been ripping out Simcoe hops — which are now in short supply — because there wasn’t enough perceived demand. In fact, only about 65 – 70% of craft brewers buy their hops on contract, according to Chris, who is heading to the 2011 American Hop Convention next week to help facilitate communication between both producers and brewers.
But beyond that, there’s still the uber-crowded marketplace and unprecedented demand. And hundreds of new breweries coming online (500 newly registered breweries, we’ve heard).
THE GOOD NEWS is that the problem should be relatively isolated. Chris estimates that 99% of craft beer volume is produced by brewers with hops under contract. We’ll see.
-Beer Business Daily