America’s smaller brewers — smaller meaning Boston Beer Company on down — produced 7.4 percent of the beer sold domestically in 2013 and used 52 percent of the hops grown domestically.
Takeaway I: If the world’s largest brewers start using hops like America’s smaller ones there will not be enough to go around. Takeaway II: If America’s smaller brewers, joined by smaller brewers elsewhere, keep using hops like they do now we’re going to need a bigger boat.
Chris Swersey presented findings from the Brewers Association annual hop survey indicating that even though average hopping rates remain steady at 1.3 lbs per bbl in craft brews, the continued double-digit growth in that segment is fueling a sustained surge in the consumption of American grown hops, especially aroma varieties. The survey showed that overall consumption rose from 14.4 mm pounds in 2012 to 16.4 mm pounds in 2013 and estimates a consumption of 18.6 mm pounds in the coming year. The 2013 figures represent about 52% of the total amount of hops grown last year in the United States (31.4 mm pounds) in the production of about 7.4% of the beer sold domestically. Brewers of all sizes have learned that the increase in hop use requires advanced contracting and the BA survey indicated that over 90% of responding brewers now contract ahead for their hops. The most popular varieties used in 2013 were (in order) Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, CTZ, Simcoe, Amarillo, Crystal, Willamette, CZ-Saaz, and US Golding.
This focus on hops treasured first for their aroma attributes rather than their bittering efficiency creates challenges. Farmers can lengthen the harvest season — and therefore avoid adding expensive picking equipment and building equally expensive new kilns — by cultivating a range of varieties that mature at different dates. However, many of the varieties now in vogue fall in the same narrower window. In addition, an increasing number of brewers would like those hops dried less efficiently, at cooler temperatures and not piled as high in kilns, because that preserves more of the hop oils responsible for aroma (and by extension flavor).
Some farmers have already invested in new equipment and kilns and more are considering it. The contrast with years past is not lost on Ockert, who was first brewer at BridgePort Brewing in Portland. It was less than a half dozen years ago farmers in the Yakima Valley left hops on the bine because it would have cost them more to pick and dry them than they would have been able to sell them for.
A report in January indicated U.S. growers have picking and drying capacity to handle between 10 and 15 percent growth. An increase in consumption from 16.4 million pounds to 18.6 million pounds amounts to about 13 percent growth. Not a lot of wiggle room there.
Oh, and one more thing, hop processors are starting to bump up against capacity for turning hop cones into pellets in a timely way.