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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.


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.


Because we don’t all like the same flavors

Here’s another new hop to look for: Relax. It’s unusual because it contains 0.25% alpha acids, as in almost none. For sake of comparison, Czech Saaz hops have 3-6%, Cascade 4.5-7%, and German Herkules 12-17%. It was bred in Germany and those who have rubbed and sniffed the cones describe aromas like “green tea, celery, hay, and lemongrass.”

Until recently it belonged to a large tea company, but the company is not particularly happy with the variety and its future is uncertain (it is grown on only about five acres). The Barth-Hass Group recently included it in tasting during Brau Beviale, the massive brewing trade fair last November in Nuremberg, Germany. Here are the basics: the tasting featured six beers, one a control, made at the Reserach Brewery in Saint Johann. They were German lagers made with 100% pilsner malt and bittered with Herkules. A single variety (or blend) was added in the whirlpool and used for dry hopping. The bitterness varied in the final beers.

The favorite was a beer called Appassionato and made with a Barth-Haas blend and the second favorite one called Dolcezzo (meaning “sweetness”) and hopped with Amarillo. They are pictured in the top spider graph. The second graph is for Tranquillo, made with Relax.

Beer brewed with Amarillo hop

Beer brewed with Relax hop

The beer brewed and dry hopped with Relax (Tranquillo) ranked No. 4. But in the conclusion, Barth-Haas notes, “This beer showed a very different flavour profile compared to the others. The relatively high standard deviation shows that it polarised the tasters and was either ranked rather good (1 to 3) or rather bad (4 to 6). Male tasters preferred the Relax beer more than female tasters.”

When the Society for Hop Research in Germany made four new varieties available to farmers less than four years ago a similar tasting characterized Hallertau Blanc much the same &#151 as polarizing. That may be one reason the farmers were hesitant to plant it. Now demand among US brewers exceeds supply.1

Gone are the days when a new hop variety need to appeal to the largest possible audience, because, well, you know the rest.


1 Obviously, these are still very new varieties. In 2014, 150 of the 1,192 German hop growers cultivated at least one of the three “flavor hops” released in 2012. Another 50 likely will this year. They harvested 100 metric tons (a metric tons is about 2,200 pounds) of Mandaria Bavaria, compared to 19 in 2013, 50 tons of Hüll Melon (7 in 2013), 40 of Hallertau Blanc (5), and 100 of Polaris (29). They expect Mandarina acreage will double in 2015 and that Hüll Melon and Hallertau Blanc will increase by about 60 percent.


Because process always matters in beer & brewing


Session 95: Those Unwritten Books And Happy Marriages…
This month’s Session resulted in a feast of links, nicely organized by host Alan McLeod. Excellent commentary included. [Via A Good Beer Blog]

Sierra Nevada’s New Hop Hunter IPA Is Like No Other Beer in Its Class.
Reducing this to very unsexy basics: Sierra Nevada Brewing will soon release an IPA made with concentrated essential oils gathered from unkilned hops using steam distillation. Writing for Esquire, Aaron Goldfarb flushes out the details and offers a tasting note: “Like most wet hop beers, Hop Hunter is extraordinarily floral and aromatic, like sticking your nose into a freshly-picked plant or flower bouquet. It’s not really bitter-tasting either, certainly not as bitter as your typical IPAs.”

Blatz Tempo I’d like to know more about the process, and if I did I would share it with you. It feels like there are implications beyond if Hop Hunter IPA is a “best of class” beer. I will be in full research mode late this month at the American Hop Convention in San Diego and will report back.

Almost 50 years ago, Blatz Brewing in Milwaukee sold its own version of a “fresh hop” beer called Tempo. At the time, Blatz president Frank Verbest said the brewery spent two years and hundreds of thousands of dollar coming up with the process to brew the beer, partnering with companies outside the brewing industry. He likened it to distilling crude oil into gasoline and other derivatives. (The online version of the Milwaukee Journal can be a little difficult to read — I quoted from it extensively three years ago.)

A few years later, Fortney Stark sued Blatz, claiming they had not honored a 1954 deal in which he turned over his secret process for this extracting process. His patent describes a process that most often uses methanol as an extractive. The extract was then “concentrated to any desired degree by evaporation or distillation to expel the solvent.” So a different process and — given the beer was advertised as “a new discovery that frees beer from bitterness’ — a different intent than Sierra Nevada has for this IPA. [Via Esquire and Jess Kidden]

Process or ingredients?
A couple of days after Christmas I visited Jester King Brewing outside of Austin to talk about, and taste, beers that reflect where they are brewed. One of the first things Jeff Stuffings asked me is if this indigenous-American book beer I’m working on will be focused more on ingredients or process. A fair question, since I wanted to talk about how they integrate locally cultivated ingredients in the beer, about their unique mixed-culture yeast, and about local water, among other things. However, the answer has to be both. It won’t do to simply list ingredients that brewers used 300 years ago or are including now. How they were or are prepared, when they were or are added, those things matter. Eight days later, quite interesting to read what Lars Marius Garshol has to write about the same situation in Norway. [Via Larsblog]

In Belgium, Battle Builds Between Brewers and ‘Beer Architects’.
The Wall Street Journal catches up with something Joe Stange wrote for Belgian Beer & Food last spring, but that one is not online. Imagine the conversations we’ve been having here for a very long time in the U.S. taking place in Flemish and French. [Via Wall Street Journal]

Breweries that Closed.
Even in Beervana, breweries fail. From Bryan Yaeger: “Ostensibly this is a story about breweries you’ve likely never tasted beer from or possibly heard of–such as Bull Ridge or Blue House–but what good is reading an obit for someone you’ve never met or read about unless you can put their life in context? So before we start to eulogize the not-really-dearly departed, let’s consider this a living wake.” [Via The New School]

Guide to opening a hipster cafe.
h/T to Max Bahnson for pointing to this and suggesting, via Twitter, “Replace a few words with “Craft Beer” and you’ve got the perfect guide to opening a Beer Bar.” [Via Imbur]


Beer, agriculture & lifestyles


Random fact not worth a blog post (and that felt too irrelevant to tweet): A comment attempt that ended up in the spam folder (bless Akismet) last week was 33,501 words long. Should have saved it for 28 February.

5 Reasons NOT to Become a Hop Farmer in 2015.
@47Hops has tweeted this link relentlessly and several other tweeters have picked up on it. In the comments (where there’s some excellent reading) blog author Douglas MacKinnon says that on Facebook he received “negative comments about this article saying I’m a greedy dealer trying to keep the market to myself” and based on the tone alone you can see why. It portrays the hundreds of farmers in the country newly interested in growing hops in a rather singular way. I have not been shy here or on Twitter or on Facebook about suggesting people giving hops a whirl should know what they are up against. But many of them do have a clue. Recently and in the coming months there have been or will be educational conferences about everything releated to growing hops in several different states east of the Mississippi. Maybe as important, I remember that less than 40 years ago it was idiotic to start a new, obviously small, brewery. [Via 47 Hops]

Are You Ready for Lifestyle Beer?
All’s Fair.
– Jeff Alworth writes “The rise of lifestyle brewing — less a new thing than the end state of a very old trend — is yet the latest development in that constant tension between hype and authenticity.”
– Dave Bailey writes “at a time when there seems to be many people claiming that we should all shout universally that all beer is good, it seems to me that at least one brewery is ready to fight gloves off. I for one welcome this.”
[Via All About Beer and HardKnott Dave’s]

Why J D Wetherspoon’s is fast becoming my favourite craft beer bar.
“I never thought I’d see the day.” [Via Pete Brown]

Heineken’s Charlene de Carvalho: A self-made heiress.
The mysterious banker behind the world’s best-known beer.
What happens when you are 47 years old and inherit the Heineken fortune and control of a brewing empire that you had almost nothing to do with up until your father died? (The article includes the story about when Freddy Heineken was kidnapped. He said he captors tortured him. “They made me drink Carlsberg.” [Via Fortune ]

Baderbrau rebirth culminates with South Loop brewery.
So what’s next, somebody opens a brewery called Cartwright Brewing in Oregon? How about a Newman Brewing in New York? Nostalgia for failed startups of the 1980s feels a bit strange. [Via Chicago Tribune]

Lo Hai Qu on Wine Magazines.
Per usual, the HoseMaster takes no prisoners. Would I find somebody skewering beer magazines as amusing (given that I work for several of them)? Would you? Because “when it comes down to it, wine magazines are just like the men that read them—fun for a night, but then easily disposable.” [Via HoseMaster of Wine]

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