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Where are we going to grow all the hops we need?

Hop growing in the United States

A few post American Hop Convention thoughts, because I really should get back to research on the “not hops” book.

@LoftusRanches unleashed a spectacular seven-minute tweet storm yesterday that illustrates how quickly farmers in the Northwest have recognized a shift in hop demand and adjusted. This is not simple or risk free. Land, new trellis systems, getting plants in the ground is only the beginning. Adding picking, drying and processing capacity is expensive. We’re talking multiple millions of dollars, every year for the next several years.

But, wait, isn’t worldwide beer production flat? Yes, but this isn’t a matter of selling different varieties of hops to a new set of brewers. The big guys over there brew 3 million less barrels and the new guys here make 3 million more. Different varieties, but the same land and processing equipment. That’s because the members of the Brewers Association and breweries, in the United States and elsewhere, that makes similar beers don’t use hops like the ones brewing pale colored, lightly hopped beers.

It is not as simple as this math, but the conclusion would be the same if we used more precise numbers. Alex Barth, president of hop merchant John I. Haas, showed a chart that illustrated how hop usages has shrunk for more than a century. Brewers worldwide use about .15 pounds of hops per barrel. Chris Swersey of the Brewers Association showed one that indicated members surveyed used 1.43 pounds per barrel in 2014 (steadily growing since the rate was .95 in 2008).

So if BA members brew 3 million additional barrels in a year, and they came close to that in 2014, they might use 4.3 million more pounds of hops. Considering the yield of the varieties they want that takes almost 2,400 acres of land. The guys making lightly hopped beers actually brew them with varieties that yield more per acre. So not only might they need only 450,000 pounds of hops to brew 3 million barrels, but those hops could be grown on about 200 acres. Even rounding down we are talking about more than a 2,000-acre difference.

Swersey and BA economist Bart Watson have done the calculations on what quantities of raw materials association members will need if they are to reach the BA’s goal of selling 20% of the beers brewed in the U.S. by 2020. American brewers used about 22 million pounds of hops in 2014. They’ll need 50 million if they are to reach their goal in 2020.

That’s a lot of acres.

– To give you an idea of the speed with which farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho have reorganized their hop portfolios:
         * Cascade production has basically doubled in three years.
         * Centennial production has almost doubled in three years.
         * Citra production is up 3.75 fold in three years.
         * Simcoe production almost doubled in three years.
         * This was Year 2 for Mosaic and production already reached almost 1.5 million pounds. It took Centennial 23 years (until 2012) to reach that level.

IPA as share of beer growth- Farmers in the Northwest and in Germany grow 75 percent of the hops in the world, and that’s not changing. They are good at it. Plus they growing the varieties popular in hop-forward beers, and Watson showed this slide as a reminder of how important beers with IPA in their names are to sales.

However, what’s going in across the country is dang interesting. Just 71 farming entities (those may include multiple farms) in the Northwest produced about 71 million pounds of hops last year, and they will grow about 10% additional acres this year. Hundreds of farmers across the rest of the country grew hops on roughly 1,000 acres, producing less than a million pounds.

What is their impact going to be? I haven’t found anybody to answer that question. If they are successful then they may solve a part of the acre problem. They’ve certainly drawn more attention to hops. It seems like every time a farmer in Kentucky or North Carolina or Maine plants hops it merits a story in the local paper. It reminds me of 20 years ago when brewpubs were a novelty. You’d walk into a new place and there would be a wall full of newspaper stories about it. That really hasn’t changed much. Newspaper people like to write about beer.

First there is the matter of growing the hops. Then there is the rest. “I get these calls every day (from would be hop growers),” said Sean McGree, hops manager at Brewers Supply Group, whose office is located in the Yakima Valley. “All they are worried about is getting their trellises in and hop going. They don’t realize that 60 percent of the quality that brewers see comes after the hops are picked.”

They’ve still got to be able to distribute (sell) what they grow. That infrastructure is a work in progress. Spencer Gray of Sugar Creek Hops in Indiana was part of the “Opportunities for family farms and smaller marketing operations” panels at the hop convention. His family planted five acres this year and to plans to sell hops from around the world as well as their own. “I saw an underserved market. The industry is so centralized,” he said. His plans are ambitious, including establishing a breeding program that incorporates native American hops, and he expects Sugar Creek will begin processing (pelletizing) hops for the next harvest.

Gray’s is one of dozens of interesting stories. For instance, several New York farms are marketing some of their hops as heirloom varieties that have a direct link to the nineteenth century. Pedersen Farms simply calls its own, “New York.” (I’m still waiting for a Double IPA called New York, New York.) Others are growing found varieties, natural crosses between hops imported from Europe up to 400 years ago and native American hops. “It’s like finding wild apples,” said Steve Miller of Cornell Cooperative Extension services. “A majority are so-so.”

Stay tuned.


Map at top courtesy of John I. Haas, Inc.


Because the Internet never forgets, including craft beer


Remember this illustration? (You can visit it at the Wayback Machine.) It greeted visitors to the Association of Brewers website in the 1990s, at the time the parent of both the Institute for Brewing Studies and the American Homebrewers Association — and the organization that merged with the Brewers’ Association of America to create the Brewers Assocation.

Yesterday evening, Andy Crouch posted a point of order about defining “craft brewer” and “craft beer.”

Yep. This is the sort of history included in the story I wrote for the current issue of All About Beer Magazine (V. 36, No. 1, date March 2015). Meanwhile, one more from the Wayback Machine, in this case from April 23, 2003:

Craft beer definition


Hop stat of the day: Cascade vs. Saaz

In 1982, 10 years after it was first released, farmers in the American Northwest planted Cascade hops on 6,111 acres. Twenty five years (2007) later they planted 1,303 acres.

I don’t think trendspotters would have predicted that growers would harvest 11,601,500 pounds of Cascade from 6,519 acres in 2014.

To put that in perspective, Czech Republic farmers harvested 11,346,280 pounds of Saaz hops in 2014.

In 2005, farmers in the Northwest produced 2,378,000 pounds of Cascade and Czech farmers harvest 14,995,860 pounds of Saaz.

So, a) Cascade production increased almost five fold since 2005, and b) last Cascade production in its primary area of production surpassed Saaz in its primary area of production (both are grown in other areas as well).


Hop contracts cover homebrewers, too

Before I finish a more complete report from last week’s American Hop Convention and the Hop Growers of America annual statistical report one quick bit of calming news for homebrewers. You will be able to buy hops this year and next and the one after. Really.

It appears there were some shockwaves when I reported the 2015 crop was basically sold out. Even though I wrote That does not mean homebrewers or new breweries or operating breweries that didn’t plan ahead won’t be able to buy hops.

A decent chunk of the hops already spoken for are committed to homebrewers. For instance, those one-ounce and one-pound nitrogen flushed bags from Hopunion account for about 10 percent of its sales. (A quick aside – the American Homebrewers Association estimates that homebrewers make 1% of beer brewed in the country, but they are 10% of Hopunion’s business. And the rest of the world thinks America’s small brewers use hops at a crazy rate.)

It still makes sense to plan ahead and pick up the varieties you want when you see them available – the plus being they’ll be shipped cold this time of year and you can monitor your own storage. Shortages may be surprising. For instance, U.S. Golding is already planted on limited acreage in Washington and the crop was a disaster. And although production of Centennial grew by a healthy amount it was still less than expected. The good news is yield was up for proprietary varieties like Citra, Mosaic and El Dorado.

There’s still an infrastructure problem that will affect everybody using hops, but more about that on Friday.


A-B buys another craft brewery


All About Beer Magazine coverA Single Word: The Case for Beer.
At the outset of 1997, in his regularly appearing column in All About Beer Fred Eckhardt asked the question, “What is ‘craft beer’?” It was a topic discussed often by brewers that seldom showed up in print. In fact, in the first of a lengthy two-part interview with Charlie Papazian and Michael Jackson about the past the future of beer included in the same issue as Eckhardt’s column and the words craft and beer never appeared in tandem.

It was possible then and it is possible now to write about beer without using the term “craft beer.” In his column in the 35th anniversary issue of the magazine landing in mailboxes right now, editor John Holl explains why the magazine is now (and has been for about a year) using a single word — beer or brewery — whenever possible. It doesn’t mean you’ll never see the term “craft beer” in All About Beer. There are times it is useful. When writing here I always ask myself if the adjective “craft” is necessary, and sometimes I include it. I wrote an article for the 35th anniversary issue about the etymology of the term. My brain is still recovering from the research. [Via All About Beer]

A-B To Buy Brand With Tagline: ‘Corporate Beer Still Sucks’.
Elysian and AB/InBev: Greed, Overweening Ambition, and the Whoring-Out of a Culture.
Why AB is Buying Up Craft Breweries … and Why You Shouldn’t Be Too Concerned.
Will this continue all year — a big story every week that lights up social media, discussion boards? [Via Ad Age, Beeronomics, and The Pour Fool]

The PC: Ripped straight from the pages of an Onion satire: “13 white males not really so eager to discuss issues like racism and sexism.”
When Roger Baylor speaks his mind it often is not possible to offer a concise summary. Just go read. [Via the Potable Curmudgeon]

Faith Seidenberg, 91, Dies; Took On McSorley’s, an All-Male Haven.
“One frigid January night in 1969, Faith Seidenberg vividly recalled a few years later, she and another woman, shivering ‘as much from fear as from the cold,’ boldly swung open the double doors of McSorley’s Old Ale House in Manhattan, which ‘had withstood for 115 years the entry of female customers.'” It did that night as well, but not for much longer. [Via New York Times]

Why Beer Experts (Don’t) Matter.
Bryan Roth adds some perspective to last week’s discussion about experts and expertise, in a polite way. “The impetus for this piece, as I point out early on, is simply to provide another viewpoint that still ends at what I consider the same finish line.” [This Is Why I’m Drunk]

Research report: hop picker wages in the 1930s & 1940s.
Labor shortages are becoming an issue for hop farmers in the Northwest. When I visited the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives last summer, Tiah Edmudson-Morton and I talked about it would be great if somebody did an in depth study of hop picking labor practices. Just a suggestion for those of you dying to write something I want to read. [Via the Brewstorian]


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