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Hops 2015: No bumper crop this year

Hop pickers, hop harvest

The good news is that this headline is pretty stupid: “IPA Lovers Beware: Beer Prices Could Skyrocket Next Year Thanks to Drought.”

The not so good news is that this one is more accurate: “Trouble Brewing: Drought-Hit Hops Crop Concerns Craft Beer Brewers.” And the story that goes with it is well reported and more complete.

That hop prices must go up if growing breweries are going to continue to use the varieties of hops they are in the manner they are is not news (see this explanation from last January). However, lack of water in the state of Washington, an unsually hot late spring/early summer in the American northwest, and a not-so-great growing season in Europe are about to remind us that beer is an agricultural product.

Earlier this week, Otmar Weingarten of the German Hop Growers Association told the those attending International Hop Growers Congress in Bavaria that production in Germany’s main hop growing regions would likely fall 12 to 22 percent short of earlier predictions. And Ann George, executive director of the Hop Growers of America, said that US alpha varieties yield would be down up to 5 percent and aroma varieties off 10 to 15 percent. There’s bound to be variation from region to region and variety to variety. For instance, best guess is that Centennial yields, also disappointing in 2014, could be 20 percent short of expectations.

That is bad news for brewers without contracts who were hoping for a bumper crop (so they could buy the excess). And it means you’ll see more stories about hop shortages as harvest begins next month and rolls into fall. But this is not the hop shortage of 2007 and 2008, one that was a big enough deal to merit an entry in “The Oxford Companion to Beer.” Then a combination of events led to an alpha shortage that became obvious after the 2006 harvest. In 2005, the “spot” price, one that brewers without contracts for some or all of the hops they needed would pay, was $1.95 to $2.80 per kg alpha. A pound of Cascade cost $1.65 to $1.75. By the end of the 2007 harvest the shortage was so extreme that most un-contracted hops sold for $198 to $220 per kg alpha and some ticked as high as $992. The price of a pound of Cascade climbed to $30.

Right now there remains an alpha surplus. I should probably write a primer about what this means, but just the basics for now. Most of the world’s largest breweries use hop extract to brew their beers and treat alpha as a commodity. They don’t use a lot for any individual beer, but they use a lot of hops. They like paying low prices, but as we saw in 2007 when they need to they have the money to spend whatever they must. So if alpha gets out of balance, and particularly given the structural change that has taken place, then all bets are off.

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Beer, cyclical change, and fundamental change

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 07.27.15

So this happened during the Beer Bloggers Conference in North Carolina:

I may have missed other posts that resulted (feel free to send links) from representatives of AB InBev pouring Budweiser at the conference, but here’s some Monday morning POV.

The Antagony of Anheuser-Busch.
[Via Literature & Libation}
Thoughts On Rage {Against the Machine}
[Via heybrewtiful]
After I read the top post, I dropped Oliver Gray a DM asking what year he was born. I was mostly curious how much older he is than breweries that started, for instance, in 1988. In answering (1985) he added, with a smile, “Why, am I out of touch already?” Beer shift is constant, and this turn that began with the revival of Anchor Steam now stretches across generations. So two more posts that seem related.

Am I post-craft?
[Via It’s Just the Beer Talking]
The Craft Beer Cycle, Bookended by HMHB and Gilbert & Sullivan.
[Via weird beer girl]
Beer drinking cycleSpeaking at a conference last week, troublemaker Malcom Gladwell pointed to the difference between generational and developmental changes in people’s behavior. Developmental changes are part of everyone’s life cycle, while generational changes deeply affect one generation. Jeff Pickthall (first post) is talking about his own relationship with beer, but it is nonetheless interesting to consider the concept of “post-craft” with the one of “postmodern” Joe Stange put forth a few weeks earlier. And to throw in Lisa Grimm’s thoughts (and graphic she created), which are also about personal journeys but within the context of beer itself changing.

Gladwell asked the audience at his talk “to consider whether Snapchat is generational or developmental. Is it going to affect culture deeply, or is it just another way to communicate and gossip when we’re 17?” I’m not sure if there is a direct comparison to beer, or perhaps to specific beers (IPA, pumpkin, whatever), but something to think about.

In the future, everybody will be a sommelier for 15 minutes.
Or a Cicerone. [Via Steve Heimoff]

Beer Around the World Is Getting Boozier and Boozier.
“More global beer drinkers now view high ABV as a key quality indicator, inspired by the success of craft beer in the US – and increasingly globally over the past two years,” said Jonny Forsyth, Global Drinks Analyst at Mintel. “The craft beer phenomenon has made high strength beer acceptable for consumers. And not just acceptable, but trendy and sophisticated.” [Via FWx]

22 session IPAs ranked!
[Via Chicago Tribune]
Blind-Tasting and Ranking 90 of the Best “Session” Beers (under 5% ABV).
[Via Paste]
21 Session IPAs, Ranked.
[Via Deadspin]
Lists.

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Session #102: The Landscape of beer

Budville, New Mexico

WE’RE NOT IN BUDVILLE ANY MORE

 

The SessionJack Perdue has posted the roundup for The Session 101 (“Bottles, Caps and Other Beer Detritus”) and Allen Huerta has announced the topic for the next Session will be “The Landscape of Beer.”

He provides several suggestions (“How do you see that landscape now? What about in 5, 10, or even 20 years?”) for a potential post, but the title itself provokes several ideas. For instance, it could be an opportunity to review The Geography of Beer: Regions, Environment, and Societies. Or to dig into one of the chapters, such as “Microbreweries, Place, and Identity in the United States.” Or to use suite of stories from the spring issue of American Brewer (“Tectonic Shift: The Changing Landscape of Brewery Ownership”) to add context to last week’s Duvel-Firestone Walker deal.

The next Session is Aug. 7.

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Why Wilko Bereit is my new beer hero, and other Monday links

MONDAY BEER LINKS, MUSING 07.20.15

While waiting for interesting posts that might result from the 2015 Beer Bloggers Conference in Asheville …

CRAFT Magazine – An embodiment of the German craft beer zeitgeist?
I posted a photo of the cover of this new magazine after Barry Masterson broadcast it via Twitter. He was followed up with this rather complete summary of what’s in the magazine. Now I really wanted to buy a beer from Wilko Bereit: “He wants to expand, but no more than 4000 HL a year, as he wants to stay micro. He uses only organic ingredients, but does not care for certification for his beers, as he just does it because he feels the beer tastes better, not to gain any marketing advantage. He and his partner talk to every one of their 70 customers selling their beers, as communication and partnership is key. But I do him a disservice. He don’t like using the craft label, at least in the German sense, as he considers it a term that is too, well, unthinking.” [Via The Bitten Bullett]

Smell your beer. Does it reek of gimmickry?
Joe Stange elaborates on his thoughts about “sincere beer” (linked here a couple of weeks ago). He poses a bunch of questions, and here are a few:
– Do you know where your beer is made? Are you sure?
– Is the label clear about the beer’s origins? Is it clear about the ingredients?
– If the beer is made locally, does the name include a foreign city?
– Any yeast in there? Is the beer alive, or merely embalmed by refrigeration?
– Would your grandpa have liked it? Do you think it might still be around for your own grandkids to try one day?

He also did some wondering out loud that I answered on Twitter: “That reminds me of one of the classic pieces of advice for writers, which I received as a young reporter: Imagine your reader. Name him. Talk to him. I wonder if many brewers imagine their drinker.” On Thursday the answer was Nathan Zeender at Right Proper in DC, and on Friday it was Rod Murray the The Public House down the road in Rolla. I’m pretty sure I could crank out one a day for a very long time. [Via DRAFT]

Beer with a Sense of Place.
One convert at a time. [Via The Public]

Tapped in: Craft and local are powerful trends in the beer aisle.
“According to a recent Nielsen study of craft beverage alcohol conducted online by Harris Poll, 35% of adults 21 and older say they’re more interested in trying an adult beverage labeled craft. Among men 21-24, that figure jumps to 46%. But craft can often mean different things to different consumers. Overall, most people who buy alcohol are most likely to associate the term with three main traits as it relates to alcoholic beverages: a) coming from a small, independent company (56% of people surveyed); b) part of a small batch (50%); c) handcrafted (43%).

And, “22% of beer drinkers said they think the importance of being made locally has grown over the last couple of years, compared with 14% of wine drinkers and only 5% of spirit drinkers.” [Via Nielsen]

Pabst will brew beer again in Milwaukee at site of historic brewery.
Not to be a curmudgeon — after all, I’m a sucker for a feel good story and like the idea of Pabst actually making some of its own beer, brewing it the city where it was born, tapping into historic recipes — but the brewery and tasting room will have five to 10 employees. When Pabst closed its Milwaukee brewery in 1996 it eliminated the last 250 jobs. In the 1960s, according to The New York Times, there were thousands of brewery workers in the local union (that included workers at several other breweries). [Via Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]

PBR is dead.
Not so sure about this, but an interesting companion to the story above. Plus, for this line “Not only did the new beer (Narragansett) lack the metallic aftertaste of PBR, it exuded authenticity rather than irony.” [Via NY Post]

Toppling Goliath brewery puts Decorah Iowa on the beer map.
“Taproom manager Todd Seigenthaler estimated that 80 percent of the people who walk through the doors of Toppling Goliath’s taproom are out-of-towners.” And it’s not liking getting to Decorah is easy. Interesting report about how beer tourists (and Internet noteriety) have created interest among local in their hometown brewery. The story really should have included the rather public dispute between owner Clark Lewery and brewer Mike Saboe, who wrote the recipes for what turned out to be a silly number of cult beers. Saboe left the brewery in February and did not return to brew until last month.
[Via Chicago Tribune]

Tasting notes are really bad, aren’t they?
If this is true for wine it is likely true for beer. “Tasting notes scare people away from wine.” [Via jamie goode’s wine blog ]

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The future of hops – a graphic prediction

The Barth Report, hops 2015

There went my Friday morning. No time to read hundreds thousands of tweets hypothesizing about the implications of the Duvel Moortgat/Firestone Walker deal. The Barth Report for 2014-2015 is available to download, and to print, because the best way to make sense of all the information included about hops it is to underline the key passages using different color pens.

Some of the news isn’t as newsy in the past. These days, the US June acreage report gets quickly publicized and dissected and the Barth-Haas Group, the world’s largest hop broker, issues a similar world update even before its annual report is out. But this is the one published since the nineteenth century, with reports going back to 1909 available online. Each year it collects statistics about the businesses of brewing and hops everywhere, and over time that provides important context.

Meanwhile, the cover (pictured above) says something about right now. “A Firework of Hop Varieties” occupies the space at the end of the report reserved to look at current issues (for instance, organic hop farming in the 2010-2011 report). Depending how deeply you have already descended into the hops rabbit hole this could look very 2012 to you, but for many in the beer world it is still uncharted territory:

“From a state of insignificance in regard to taste and appreciated mostly for their bitterness, hops have worked their way to the gustatory core of most craft beer recipes. Today, brewers exchange opinions on the sensory impressions of a wide range of hop varieties in a depth and with emotions which until recently only wine connoisseurs were known. Demand for new hop varieties is showing no sign of abating and is inspiring hop breeders all over the world. Regardless of the time-consuming process of traditional hop breeding (8 – 10 years until a new variety is ready for the market), in the past five years, many new hop varieties have been brought to market at shorter intervals. A common feature of virtually all the new varieties is that they are able to offer particularly sought-after fruity notes.”

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