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We're running out of beer! EVERYBODY PANIC!!!11!!!!1
November 13, 2007 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Is the hopocalypse upon us? Hops are an essential ingredient in beer (even dictated by law in Germany). But recent shortages and rising worldwide demand (pdf) have many craft brewers, hops dealers and homebrewers worried. How can you cope? Maybe it's time to try some gruit or mead.
posted by slogger (64 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
How ever will us Canucks define our national identity?

Will there be shortages during the playoffs?

Oh, wait - we could take our higher dollar and buy more ;-)
posted by jkaczor at 1:23 PM on November 13, 2007


Maybe my buddies at Lakeport will start making spruce beer. Oh my god that would rule. Necessity is the mother, people.
posted by the dief at 1:24 PM on November 13, 2007


I heard this on NPR this morning and was curious - is hops like grapes in that certain areas grow it better than others? That first link says that most commercial hops are grown in the Pacific NW. Does it/Can it grow pretty much anywhere, but ends up...er...hoppiest in OR and WA? Should I do my part and plant some in the backyard or something?
posted by jquinby at 1:24 PM on November 13, 2007


My dad is growing some hops in my parents' backyard garden. Seems easy enough.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:27 PM on November 13, 2007


There are different varieties of hops which have different flavor characteristics. German hops are generally described as spicy, English hops as earthy, and American hops can be grapefruity or piney. But my understanding is that these charateristic have more to do with the variety of the hop than its growing conditions.
posted by goethean at 1:28 PM on November 13, 2007


I was at the Cisco brewery on Nantucket a few weeks ago and the whole place stank gloriously of hops.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:29 PM on November 13, 2007


But there are also classic areas for hop-growing East Kent Goldings are grown in East Kent. Noble hops are grown in Germany.
posted by goethean at 1:30 PM on November 13, 2007


If you're looking for info on hop varietals, check out the Hop Union variety databook (pdf).
posted by slogger at 1:36 PM on November 13, 2007


I am in part to blame for this. My hops footprint has been huge lately.
posted by srboisvert at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2007 [6 favorites]


I've had cascade hops growing in my backyard for years. It is essentially a rhizome based weed...anyway, this year there were so few hop flowers on the vines that I didn't even bother harvesting. I mean there were practically zero. FWIW I live in Massachusetts, USA
posted by Gungho at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2007


I blame hip-hop.
posted by wendell at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2007


One of the great joys of homebrewing is the aroma of hops as they go into the boil. I've not heard of any shortages here in the UK.
posted by hardcode at 1:41 PM on November 13, 2007


I think a lot of American micro-brewers use hops from the Pacific NW. At least I hope that's the case.

Jesus, $4 gas I can take, but $10 a six pack for a decent micro is an affront to mankind.
posted by Ber at 1:41 PM on November 13, 2007


Beer hasn't used hops for most of human history.
posted by oaf at 1:43 PM on November 13, 2007


From what I remember, there's only one dedicated hop farm in the UK. (Might be wrong.)

Rest assured, there's a tonne of them in Belgium.
posted by popcassady at 1:43 PM on November 13, 2007


My microbrewing friends spoke ominously of $3 per ounce hops as a result of problems with production in Europe.

We greedily drank all the imperial IPAs we could get our hands on.
posted by mullingitover at 1:44 PM on November 13, 2007


My Victory Garden is planted with even rows of hops, barley, tobacco, sativa, poppies, and Destro action figures that I hope will grow into a whiny cyborg army that will repeatedly fail to steal the world's supply of beer at my bidding.
posted by breezeway at 1:48 PM on November 13, 2007 [10 favorites]


Jesus, $4 gas I can take, but $10 a six pack for a decent micro is an affront to mankind.

It's practically to that point around here. You're sometimes lucky enough to get a sixer of Brooklyn or Blue Point or something else local for $7.50-8, but anything good-but-not-local will run $9+ unless it's got a really great distribution network.

I just got a text message from my girlfriend saying that she'd just bought me the last two 12-packs of this year's Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (which is, allegedly, better than last year's) at our local good-beer store. This is why I love her, and also why I have quite enough hops for the next little while.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:58 PM on November 13, 2007


I'm currently in the middle of writing an article discussing this very problem from a homebrewer's perspective.

It's a terrible confluence of all sorts of things hitting the market at once. Yield all across Europe is down as countries lose hop farms. Even Germany and Belgium are losing acreage. Belgium, for instance, is down to one region around the towns of Watou and Poperinge that is devoted in any sense to growing hops and most Belgian brewers use hops sourced from other countries. Here in the US, there was such a glut of hops on the market in the late 90's that we've lost ~50% of our acreage in the past few years.

Combine fires at a couple of hop warehouses (something that happens spontaneously!) and hop processing facilities, bad European and American crops this year, a weak dollar spiking European demand for American hops and the success of the Craft Beer Movement and you've got a "Hop Nino" of sorts.

As an example, last year a pound of Cascade hops went for ~$6-7 a pound, this year, before the 2007 crop is even finished processing, that pound is running ~$22-26! Popular varieties that spice a lot of beer are already sold out. (Chinook [think Arrogant Bastard], Centennial, Magnum, Cascade, Amarillo, virtually any British hop, just about anything from the Hallertau region except Hallertauer Tradition)

And to top it off, Barley malt is going up in price as well. Current estimates put the increase at around 33%. Far short of the 300-400% increase of hops, but proportionally far worse in terms of cost impact.

Good news is that the smart brewers out there have locked in their prices and supplies with contracts in advance. The bad news is that many fledgling breweries are going to be wounded, possibly mortally, by this.

The other bit of shining hope is that every time the brewing industry has been put through a crisis like this, new and interesting things have generally developed. (Yes, I'm purposely ignoring the rise of the light American lager.)
posted by drewbage1847 at 1:58 PM on November 13, 2007 [7 favorites]


Could always use "special hops".
posted by telstar at 2:01 PM on November 13, 2007


Oh and for the future outlook, the hop crunch will probably be with us for the next two years or so. It takes about that long to bring a new hop farm online and get the bines developing commercially viable hops.

The question about growing hops anywhere else. Well, you can. I have friends growing them in Arizona, which boggles my mind. But just like grapes, the best qualities, aromatics, alpha acid levels and commercial yield/viability is found in very limited regions. Hence the regional rise of Hallertau, Saaz, Watou, Kent, and Washington, Oregon, Northern CA in the US. There is some talk about reviving the old hop growing region in Upstate NY.

The balancing act is going to be finding a way to keep the supply stable without getting a historic glut like we experienced in the late 90s that drove so many farmers from the crop.

Oh and when that one old dude in England passes, we're so toast on English hops if his kids get out of the biz.
posted by drewbage1847 at 2:03 PM on November 13, 2007


jkaczor, you took the words/wails of anguish right out of my mouth.
posted by chara at 2:03 PM on November 13, 2007


After seeing the 3 pounds of hops harvested from a friend's tiny DC back yard this past weekend, my advice is to grow your own!
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:05 PM on November 13, 2007


I am no beer fan (hey, lower those pitchforks!), and I only recently discerned that it was the hops flavor I liked the least. Now back to my fruity mixed drinks...
posted by motherfather at 2:08 PM on November 13, 2007


The other bit of shining hope is that every time the brewing industry has been put through a crisis like this, new and interesting things have generally developed.

Sure, but when the problem is that your two main ingredients are becoming too expensive, what do you do? Use less? Ugh. How are sorghum prices? I hate to admit it, but Redbridge (made with sorghum instead of barley; brewed by Anheuser-Busch) wasn't as terrible as I'd expected. A little sweet, but not offensive.
posted by uncleozzy at 2:11 PM on November 13, 2007


drewbage1847 gets at the meat of the problem above: the big brewers have locked in their supplies -- and their rates -- years in advance. They won't be hurt, at least in the short run. This could be a huge blow to the microbrew industry, which has really just hit its stride in the last half-decade.

Smaller brewers don't have the profit margins or the deep pockets to weather multiple years of high prices on one of their major ingredients.

Yeah, it sucks for homebrewers (I'm one), but as long as you can buy hops for some price, homebrewers will. That hobby is really about enjoyment, not economy.

I wonder if anyone's starting a Hop Bank for down-at-the-heels micros....
posted by gurple at 2:18 PM on November 13, 2007


Uncleozzy,

sure you can use less. Think of the British Brewing industry response to the rise first of malt taxes followed by the gravity tax.

It got British brewers to first look at the use of brewing sugars (not a bad thing for the beer's digestibility) and then to explore the possibilities of lower alcohol beer styles like mild and the ubiquitious British bitter.

The precise technical nature of German brewing is largely thanks to the restrictions of the Rheinsghebottie. :)

The Belgians took advantage of the change of tax laws on spirits in the country and became the crazy weird place that I love.

It all depends upon where we can go.. Just remember weaker isn't, well, weaker.
posted by drewbage1847 at 2:20 PM on November 13, 2007


Shee-it, I got plenty of hops! (as testified by MrMoonPie)
posted by exogenous at 2:22 PM on November 13, 2007


Gurple, the professional mailing lists run by the Brewers Association is apparently running wild with wheeling and dealing. The big wheedling will happen once producers not needing their whole contracted block start returning some supply to the market.

A lot of the larger micros also have their supplies locked in as well. Think Stone, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, etc.

Other bit of fun.. brewers are going to have to start playing with hops they've never played with before. Should be interesting.
posted by drewbage1847 at 2:23 PM on November 13, 2007


lower alcohol beer styles like mild and the ubiquitious British bitter

Good point; I would actually love to see some American micros start brewing bitters the way they do "Imperial" everything these days.
posted by uncleozzy at 2:26 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


The big brewers use hops?
posted by bonecrusher at 2:27 PM on November 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


in wee wee amounts
posted by drewbage1847 at 2:27 PM on November 13, 2007


Sure, but when the problem is that your two main ingredients are becoming too expensive, what do you do? Use less?

If you look askance at Anheuser-Busch making a beer with sorghum, I guess you didn't know that Budweiser is made out of rice.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:31 PM on November 13, 2007


in wee wee amounts
And, thus, their wee wee taste.
Or is that "thus their taste of wee wee"?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:38 PM on November 13, 2007 [3 favorites]


Sure, but when the problem is that your two main ingredients are becoming too expensive, what do you do?

You invade liberate a country for its delicious, delicious supply of hops. I may be a pacifist, but I will kill every man, woman and child on the planet if they fuck with my supply of beer.

Full disclaimer: I'm on antibiotics and am living a beerless and therefore joyless existence.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:50 PM on November 13, 2007


Any commercial spruce beer made? I am curious, but too lazy to make any.
posted by everichon at 2:56 PM on November 13, 2007


It's a good time of year to try beers spiced with non-hop stuff. Alaskan's winter beer uses spruce tips, I think; and I believe this year's Anchor Christmas Ale does, too.
posted by gurple at 3:05 PM on November 13, 2007


Er, in addition to hops, that is. I'm not aware of any highly-available beer that doesn't use hops at all.
posted by gurple at 3:09 PM on November 13, 2007


Due to this information, I will go to the local microbrewery/restaurant and partake in their $4-per-pitcher special tonight, in case they raise the price out of fear.
posted by King Bee at 3:11 PM on November 13, 2007


If you look askance at Anheuser-Busch making a beer with sorghum

No, I look askance at A-B products in general; I meant the two main ingredients of (most) craft beer (that is, malted barley and hops). Although I will admit to occasionally double-fisting Bud at happy hour on Friday.
posted by uncleozzy at 3:14 PM on November 13, 2007


I suppose I should add that these actions do not deviate from my normal Tuesday evening plans.
posted by King Bee at 3:15 PM on November 13, 2007


Time to start stockpiling! The best place to store stockpiled beer is in your stomach...right?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:24 PM on November 13, 2007


This is me laughing at the funny dancing monkeys yelling about beer. Yell, monkeys, yell!

Hah hah.
posted by Justinian at 3:24 PM on November 13, 2007


But don't mess with my chocolate, yo.
posted by Justinian at 3:45 PM on November 13, 2007


But don't mess with my chocolate, yo.

Cacao blight:

Over the past two decades several important fungal diseases have gained considerable importance and pose a serious threat to the supply of chocolate
posted by jamjam at 4:14 PM on November 13, 2007


The situation is hopless
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:16 PM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Put me on the front lines to invade Hopistan RIGHT NOW MOTHER FUCKERS! Where's the god damn neocons when you need them?
posted by wfrgms at 5:06 PM on November 13, 2007


It's a problem which will solve itself over the long run, of course. If prices are high, farmers will switch back to hopes from other crops.

Hops are a big crop here in the Willamette valley. I remember a couple of really huge hops fields down just north of Salem that you could see from I-5.

That same land can also grow strawberries, raspberries, beans, peas, wheat, onions, garlic; the farmer will grow what he thinks he can get the best price for. (Since the berries are perennials, switching into and out of them isn't as easy, of course.) With the price of hops high, I'm sure a lot of farmers are looking into it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:10 PM on November 13, 2007


I think I found the cause of the shortage

And now they were calling me crazy to stockpile my favorite, high proof ageable beers!

When the bar around the corner starts selling PBR for more than 25 cents, then I know the end is near (25 cents being the only suitable amount to pay for PBR).
posted by mrzarquon at 5:10 PM on November 13, 2007


I read that a bunch of the macro brewers are substituting synthesized iso-humulone (the bittering component of hops) for real hops.
posted by casconed at 5:14 PM on November 13, 2007


as much as i like hoppy beers sometimes, i think american microbrewers get carried away with them - if this inspires more subtle, malty beers, it might be a good thing

(drinking arrogant bastard right now - mmmmm)
posted by pyramid termite at 5:22 PM on November 13, 2007


pyramid-

fyi, oaked arrogant is out, as is Double Bastard.
posted by mrzarquon at 5:36 PM on November 13, 2007


the fake hop beers will still get you drunk, right?
posted by jonmc at 5:44 PM on November 13, 2007


i tried double bastard and found myself falling asleep 3/4 through the 22 oz bottle - it was fine, but - 22 oz of a 10% beer is a bit much for me

hmmm - that reminds me - i have to get a six pack of bell's expedition stout soon - another one of those "i'd better just stop at one" beers
posted by pyramid termite at 5:45 PM on November 13, 2007


Mad? You bet I'm mad.....





... Hopping mad!

Seriously, a beer can't be too hoppy for my taste. I hope the Great Hop Crash is not around the corner. Life without good beer would be a much duller affair.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:00 PM on November 13, 2007


another one of those "i'd better just stop at one" beers

There is no such thing!
posted by mrzarquon at 6:18 PM on November 13, 2007


jonmc -
the fake hop beers will still get you drunk, right?


Yeah. But so will Scope. Only one of the experiences will be transcendent.
posted by bonecrusher at 7:21 PM on November 13, 2007


Yeah. But so will Scope.

Don't tell me there's a T²5 shortage!
posted by Challahtronix at 8:13 PM on November 13, 2007


No beer and no TV make Homer something something.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:30 PM on November 13, 2007


"Oh, and Mr. Gumble, for the duration of the training there'll be no more beer."
"What?!? Three whole weeks with only wine? I'll go crazy!!!"
posted by zap rowsdower at 6:25 AM on November 14, 2007


I found Spruce beer! My Co-op carries it! It was good! And in one of those 22oz bottles, no less. Gosh, I love a 22 oz bottle of beer.
posted by everichon at 8:05 AM on November 14, 2007


everichon, what brewery makes it? I'd love to see if I can track down any here in the midwest.
posted by slogger at 9:23 AM on November 14, 2007


Siletz regularly makes a spruce beer. Alaskan Winter Ale also features spruce.
posted by turbodog at 12:40 PM on November 15, 2007


This spruce beer...it intrigues me, and I'm going to be on the lookout for such.
posted by jquinby at 6:02 PM on November 15, 2007


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