Thursday, October 18, 2007

Buddy, Can You Spare a Hop?

The hops shortage may be tighter than I thought. I'm a member of the Brewers Association (for now; I think it's about to run out), and that gets me on the e-mail forum where brewers discuss issues and post job openings and ask tech questions of each other. Over the past two years I've seen brewers ask where they can find gaskets for old tanks, parts for pumps, and cleaning chemicals.

But in the past week, hardly a day has gone by that there hasn't been a post asking for help finding hops. I've never seen this many posts asking for hops help in a month before. Hey, I was just kidding about this being the end of DIPA!

17 comments:

---Guy said...

Yes, it's pretty grim. I bought a small amount of hops in August, at normal prices and with no mention that they might be the last ones available. A few weeks later the hop merchants have suspended non-contracted sales. They're taking "wish lists" but not offering much hope.

Stan Hieronymus said...

Lew,

Brewers I talked to at GABF who are committed to brewing DIPAs seem to feel confident they'll be able to (at least through 2008).

The cyclical nature of the commodity called hops goes back to the 19th century. I hope to find time to post on that tomorrow.

Meanwhile, perhaps the current shortage give brewers who might try one in a bit of me-too brewing reason to pause. Given that many first-timers don't do all this well this might not be a bad thing.

Stonch said...

Time to start using spruce, then...

Loren said...

And yet...Sierra Nevada made how many batches of fresh hop Harvest Ale with 8000 POUNDS! per batch? Just to name one of the MANY fresh hop offerings still getting churned out this year.

Pfth!

If there was really such a worry wouldn't the hop suppliers have canceled all fresh hop orders to preserve these for future pelletizing and such?

Pfth!

Yes...call me a naysayer. Or a wishful drinker. Whichever is fine.

Leo said...

Yes, I agree with Guy. The situation is the worst I have seen it in over 19 years in the brewing industry. Luckily, we contracted for several years moving forward early this year. However, we can not get any additional hops or new varieties. Hops that we paid $3.10 a pound for last year, are not going over $17 a pound spot! It is going to be interesting.

Lew Bryson said...

Stan,
I'm sure that any brewer who was able to lock in a contract is set; what problems could they have? Similarly...I love the brewing community, they're great guys, but when I wrote the guidebooks, I got lied to about numbers all the time, eh?

As far as cyclical nature of shortages, ummm... duh. We just went through one in tequila. Doesn't make them any less acute in a down-cycle. I wasn't saying "Oh, doom! Woe! There shall never be a hoppy beer again!" But given what's going on with hop begging on the Forum right after harvest, and with what Guy and Leo (who are pro brewers) have posted here...it seems at best optimistic to think that there's not a concern.

Loren, that goes for you, too. Sierra Nevada obviously has contracts, as do other larger craft brewers. Hop brokers wouldn't cancel fresh hop sales: that's quick turnaround money in the bank on a premium product instead of plain baled hops sitting in the warehouse. 8,000 lbs. of wet hops? Less than 40 bales. A fart in a tornado.

Leo said...

I agree with Lew. If you are contracted, you should be okay. It is going to be tough for the brewers who are not contracted to get the hops that they need. If you are contracted and then need a new variety, you may be in trouble.
I think over the course of the year, we may see some hop flavor profiles changing in some beers.

LandmarkBeer said...

Dare I say some brewers might compromise and change thier normal hop schedule to whats similiar and available?

On a serious note it sucks about all the price increases. Yet I haven't seen a single brewer raise their prices. I keep hearing some brewers say prices per case could go up $4 but no one has done it yet. I'd love to be able to raise my prices but don't want to be the first.

Kiernan

Stan Hieronymus said...

it seems at best optimistic to think that there's not a concern.

I agree there is reason for concern - perhaps more than brewers realize. It's not going to be as crazy as right now - that's the cyclical part - but it could be relentless.

Maureen Ogle referred to "The World is Flat" in a post on this subject and she is spot on there. This isn't just a matter of the harvest sucked this year. The ingredients that go into beer have to pay a higher rent if they are to occupy space that could be used for other crops.

Hey, I'm supposed to be putting this in my post ...

Andy said...

Semi-common hops like Centennial and Amarillo (well, that one's not so common, coming from a single farm and all) are OOS from homebrew wholesalers too, these days.

Guess it'll be a "back to the classics" and Noble hop winter for homebrewers...

Cornelia said...

Ray & I overheard someone in the airport shuttle back to Denver airport that Hop Union had cut off sales for 3 weeks recently due to receiving bales from Europe labeled 200 pounds that actually weighed 140 pounds.

LStaff said...

I think you will see some brewers conserve their high alpha / high aromatic US style hops for their hoppy beers that people already know and expect to be made with high flavor/aroma. The others will be switched out to some other variety that is in more supply. Hugh Sisson has already said that he is scaling back on the Simcoes in his winter beer. Read my last blog entry for a link to the article.

---Guy said...

The reason "wet hop" beers use seemingly so much more hops is because freshly harvested hops contain up to 80% moisture. Normal processing of hops involves drying them down to 8 - 10% moisture right after harvest.

So 8000 POUNDS! of "wet" hops is the same thing as about 800-1000 lbs. of "normal" hops.

---Guy said...

Here's the best industry report I've seen about the situation:

http://www.barthhaasgroup.com/cmsdk/content/bhg/news/hmt_1007_eng.pdf

roan22 said...

HA conspiracy theory, commodity boombust story, doomsday theory, etc....I think not! Finally people are waking up. This isn't spin....either you have the physical hops in your hands, or you don't. The smarter homebrewers and small batch brewers have been growing their own hops in their backyard for years.

Thank you Lew!

Loren said...

Great link Guy. The ending statement in the June 2007 PDF report just about says all that needs to be said.

Cross your fingers time.

Steven said...

I keep hearing some brewers say prices per case could go up $4 but no one has done it yet.

Kiernan, the increases have hit the Chicago area -- I saw 6 packs of Capital go up about $1 last week. Ugly.