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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]


On beer experts, plus the value of skipping the comments


1- With 600 bottles of beer on the wall, how can a staff keep up? Taste, talk and learn.
2- Why beer experts matter.
3- “Expertise is key, not the ‘experts’ – personifying a body of knowledge just limits it.”
4- Is It Even Possible To Be A Beer Expert?
As I have mentioned in the past, I save stuff to Pocket through the week, then sometime during the weekend pick what to post here, and occasionally try to add an original thought. So the top story hit my radar Tuesday, and it had me thinking about some of the things Jeff Alworth discussed in No. 2 (spotted Wednesday). The Twitter thread initiated by Alan McLeod (No. 3) quickly followed, resulting in interesting exchanges first between Alan and Lars Garshol, then Alan and Jeff (disregard me popping up along the way). Figuring I would get this post out of the way early Saturday turned out to be a mistake, because no sooner did I think I was done than Alan posted No. 4.

Because I need to clear my head for important matters like trivia tonight (Saturday, as I type), I will be brief. In the midst of making a point, Alan kindly writes, “If I want to know as much as I can know about hops, I ask Stan.” If that’s a good idea, it’s because I understand I am not an expert on hops. I am pretty good at identifying expertise, but I try not to over rate it.

Of course, now we are a long way from No. 1 and the opening paragraphs of No. 2 — helping the person sitting in front of 50 beer taps make a good choice. But consider the seemingly simple questions along with the complex. I once had a math teacher who told us, “If you can’t solve the problem, find one you can solve.” And not to be pushy, think about it the context of what Alan has to say in his conclusion, that “This essay is in no way intended to be a sword of Zorro moment, a triumphal flourish in which the topic is summed up so completely you need not think further.” (My italics.) [Via The Washington Post, All About Beer, Twitter, A Good Beer Blog]

How craft beer has set struggling pubs free from the nachos.
Here’s what Pete Brown wrote on Facebook: “Great article about how independent breweries are helping revive pubs, followed by comments from ignorant twats complaining about beards and arguing the toss about the meaning of craft beer…” And I am reminded that I am sad Don’t Read Comments hung it up. [Via The Guardian and Pete Brown]

“December, 1919.”
Oliver Gray announced two projects this week and I’m not sure which is more ridiculously ambitious, or this: “Instead of following the traditional path of writing a whole manuscript, editing it, and sending it off to collect rejections from publishers, I figured I’d do what I (like to) do best, and blog the story. Or serialize it into 52 parts. One chapter a week, every Wednesday, for a year. Around a thousand words per chapter, give or take a plot point or two.” [Via Literature & Libation]

Q&A With Beer Mile World Champion James Nielsen.
Breaking Down the Winning Beer Mile Strategy.
Lots of numbers in the second post, as you’d expect from BeerGraphs, but somehow not this key consideration: “If you’re drinking four beers, right off the bat you have 48 ounces of liquid in your stomach, so you have to be able to contain that. And generally there are between two-and-a-half and three liters of carbon dioxide in each can, so you multiply that by four, and you have approximately 10 liters of carbon dioxide to contend with. If you warm up the beer, the majority of the carbon dioxide will come up to the top, so when you crack it open you get as much of the carbon dioxide out as possible. And on that last lap, you’re trying to burp out as much of that carbon dioxide as you can while you’re running. You’re just so full.” [Via RootsRated and BeerGraphs]

Lagunitas drops lawsuit against Sierra Nevada after Twitter backlash.
The year is off to a great start for any sociologist out there writing a grant to to study Craft Beer (maybe that should be all caps). First the Jim Koch dustup and now the IPA trademark showdown. As much as I loved the headline “Beer lovers torpedo Lagunitas lawsuit against Sierra Nevada” I’m not going to repeat last week’s mega-links and so refer you only to this interview with Tony Magee. Like his book, proof that he is a business genius. [Via Chicago Tribune]


Session #96 announced: the relevance of beer fairs

The SessionThe topic for The Session #96 comes to us from Joan Birraire in Barcelona: “Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination?” Here are the basics:

I guess it is pretty much clear, but apart from exposing whether the answer is A, B or C (the latter being “it depends”) I expect participants to give us some insight into their local beer panorama to better understand the importance or irrelevance of Festivals in each area. My guess is that it can be quite different depending on the popularity of beer in different countries and cultures.

Oh, and it turns out they are called “Beer Fairs” in Spain.

The Session #96 meets Feb. 6.


Hops update 01.16.15

The 2015 American hop crop — yes, the one that won’t be harvested until next August and September — is basically sold out.

That does not mean homebrewers or new breweries or operating breweries that didn’t plan ahead won’t be able to buy hops. It means that the hops, including new plantings, that farmers in the Northwest expect to harvest are spoken for. In most cases they are committed to breweries that have contracts, but some remain in the control of brokers.

And it means that brewers, particularly homebrewers, who know they are going to want particular varieties during the course of the year should buy then when a chance arises. Pellets stored at 26° F in nitrogen-flushed oxygen and light barrier bags will retain their aroma and alpha for years.

Pete Mahony, Director of Supply Chain Management and Purchasing at John I. Haas, gave brewers the news, which really shouldn’t have been news to them, Friday during a webinar for Masters Brewers Association of the Americas members. Just a few of the highlights follow, because there’s going to be plenty of hops news to write about in the next week. I’m headed to the American Hop Convention outside of San Diego.

1) Germany has returned to its traditional position as the world’s largest hop producer, in part because yields exceeded expectations. Although American farmers grew hops on about 8 percent more acres production was up only 2.5 percent, 3.5 percent below projections. (It is possible the 2015 crop could come in above projections, which would make more hops available post harvest.)

2) The shift from high alpha varieties to what are called aroma varieties continues. About 1,700 acres of high alpha varieties came out of the ground in 2014, and 4,900 of aroma went in. This matters because . . .

3) The most popular varieties tend to mature in basically the same several days, which puts additional strain on infrastructure under pressure.

4) There are now more farmers outside the Northwest states of Washingtown, Oregon, and Idaho growing hops than there are in those three states. What that means going forward is not at all clear. There are probably more than 100 growers in North Carolina alone, compared to 71 farming entities (those may include multiple farms) in the Northwest. But all of those farmers together don’t produce as many pounds of hops as some Northwest farms harvest in a single day.

5) Farmers in the Northwest will grow hops on an additional 4,000 to 5,000 acres this year, boosting acres to close to 43,000 (with an additional 1,000-plus acres elsewhere).

6) Hop prices are going up. We aren’t talking $30 a pound for Cascade hops, but infrastructure is expensive (an investment of between $20 to $30 million to start a 500-acre hop ranch from scratch).

I wrote about the shifts in production and pressure on infrastructure in two stores of Beer Advocate magazine (in November and the current, January, issue). Sorry, no link, but you can subscribe to the digital version of the magazine.


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