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2014 hops update

Predicting the beer futureThe Barth-Haas Group has released the 2013-2014 Barth Report, which provides both perspective and new data relative to the recent chatter about hop shortages (you might also read this).

However, so far we don’t really know much more than in February. What’s important is not if the price for some varieties, even one like Cascade, spikes in the spot market after harvest this fall. Most breweries have contracted for hops at much lower prices. What’s important is what happens next. And that crystal ball thing doesn’t always work.

Six years ago we were in the midst of a hop shortage, so farmers in the American Northwest strung about one-third more acres of hops (from 31,000-plus to 41,000-plus acres) than in 2007. A year later they were ripping plants out of the ground. There are about 39,000 acres — including maybe 600 in areas outside of the Northwest — but the mix is much different. In 2008, hops appreciated mostly for high level of alpha acids occupied about two thirds of acres and accounted for three quarters of overall production. Today acreage is just about evenly split and high alpha amounts to 60 percent of production.

In 2007, farmers harvested about 1,500 areas of Cascade and little more than 200 acres of Centennial. This year they’ve planted almost 6,700 acres of Cascade and 3,400 acres of Centennial. Simcoe production was minuscule in 2007, Citra didn’t have a name and Mosaic was still in test plots (Citra was officially released in 2008 and Mosaic in 2012). Growers planted 1,840 acres of Simcoe this year, 1,720 of Citra and 670 of Mosaic.

Look at those numbers again. There are about as many acres of Citra under wire this summer as there were Cascade and Centennial just seven years ago. Good luck looking too far into the future.

So back to the Barth Report, and a few big picture observations:

- Crop year 2012 finally marked the end of the structural supply surplus of hops and alpha acid in the hop market; in other words, supply and demand are becoming increasingly evenly balanced, although demand for certain varieties may exceed supply.

- Planting of aroma/flavor varieties is on the increase worldwide, more than compensating for the clearance of bitter/high alpha varieties.

- The manner in which the hop market develops depends on developments within the brewing industry. If the trend towards more heavily hopped beers continues, this could lead to competition in the procurement market.

And some interesting points made by Stephen Barth, one of the managing partners, at a press conference in Nuremberg (although Barth Haas is an international group its home and roots are German), where the reports was released:

- Craft beer is good for beer; it is changing consumers’ awareness of beer as a product category. Beer is now perceived differently, no longer only as “cold, yellow and wet.” And, above all: beer is no longer defined solely in terms of price.

- More and more people now know more and more about beer. Whether they actually drink more beer is doubtful, however. The statistics on per-capita beer consumption in Germany paint a different picture.

- But when it comes to drinking craft beers, it is not the quantity that counts. I would like to repeat the words from a tasting of beer specialties that I quoted at the presentation of the last Barth Report. The beer sommelier at the tasting said: “You shouldn’t drink our beers when you’re thirsty. Our beers should be drunk in small quantities on special occasions.”

The second Barth report came out in 1878 and the online archives go back to 1909, so pretty much endless reading for a hop geek. I could bore you for hours with tidbits from this report alone. For instance, even though two years ago in Spain we came across plenty of beers aggressively hopped with aroma varieties from the US and New Zealand the farmers there grow basically no aroma hops. About half an acre of Perle, not exactly an IPA hop, and nothing else.

One area the information could be stronger is the US. It reports the number of growers decreasing, which overlooks what is happening outside the Northwest. For the first time, the Hop Growers of America has compiled an expanded version of USDA 2014 Hop Acreage Strung for Harvest report (the 2014 numbers above come from that), which includes an estimated 880 acres for 14 additional states.

(Credit must also go to Grand Rapids homebrewer Nick Rodammer, who did a lot of the heavy lifting in contacting farmers across the country for an outstanding presentation — “Farm to Glass: Brewing with Local Ingredients” — at the 2014 National Homebrewers Conference. HGA leaned on him for much of its non-Northwest data).

Farmers in three states — Michigan, New York and Wisconsin — account for almost two thirds of acres. It will take some time to see what programs like the North Carolina Hops Project amount to. Earlier this year Jeanine Davis at North Carolina State University said perhaps 100 farmers in North Carolina are growing hops, but none of them very much. “We’re going to start losing some,” she said. “It’s going to be a labor of love.” HGA estimates they’ll harvest 30 acres in 2014, and their plants don’t generally come close to yielding what farmers in the Northwest get.

Here’s a bit of math. Washington farmers can generally expect Centennial to yield about 1,500 pounds of hops per acre. A survey by the Brewers Association has found American craft brewers use about a pound and a half per barrel. So in this case, it would take about an acre of hops to brew 1,000 barrels. Production at Lagunitas grew 160,000 barrels in 2013 (that’s before the new brewery come online in Chicago). In addition, best guess is that Lagunitas uses more than 1.5 pounds of hops per barrel. Anyway, at a minimum, Lagunitas — a fast-growing, hop-oriented brewery, but still a single brewery — used an additional 160 acres of hops in 2013.

Somebody has to grow those hops, then harvest and process them. A lot of infrastructure, a lot of investment.

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Cattle, spent grain, and hops

No surprise that the Brewers Association and Beer Institute have come out so firmly against a proposal that would make it harder and more expensive for breweries to sell or give away their spent grains. (The BA’s statement is here.) If the Food and Drug Adminstration does not afford some sort of relief then it will end up costing brewers and/or beer drinkers (likely both).

That doesn’t mean the new rules are necessarily a bad idea. Nobody is saying that spent grain is bad for cattle. However, the FDA rules are are part of a broad modernization of the food safety system. “This proposed regulation would help prevent foodborne illness in both animals and people,” the agency said in the statement. So it seems like Colorado senator Mark Udall has the best idea: “That’s why I am urging the FDA to swiftly complete a risk assessment of brewers’ uses of spent grains as a cost-effective and safe livestock feed. When brewers succeed, so do countless other businesses and sectors of our economy.”

Reading about this reminded me of a bit of history that, because of space logistics, got cut out of “For the Love of Hops.” This comes from “Hops: Their Cultivation, Commerce, and Uses in Various Countries,” written by P.L. Simmonds in 1877:

“A farmer in the north of France, having been driven by the scarcity of fodder to try to make use of whatever fell in his way for feeding his cattle, prove that hop leaves were a valuable element of food for cows when mixed with other substances. He found that whenever he gave them hop leaves he always obtained more milk and his cows throve better than usual. The leaves must be used as soon as they are plucked, for the cows object to them when dried by the sun.”

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Friday beer: Will the real ‘blueberry hop’ please stand up?

If I had a blueberry anosmia1 this would make more sense, but I can identify blueberries in a blind tasting, or blueberry muffins or even blueberry beer. So why, when I smell a beer rich with Mosaic hop aroma don’t I perceive blueberries? Or when I take a deep whiff of Sierra Nevada Harvest Single IPA with what the label calls “Yakima #291″ hops”?

This really doesn’t bother me much. It could be worse. One-third of the population is blind to beta-ionone, a compound with a floral note particularly prominent in Saaz hops. I’m not in that group. It would suck not to be able to fully appreciate Saaz.

But why did the guy pouring in a Santa Barbara area wine tasting room last week say, “Now, Mosaic, there’s a blueberry hop”? It’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard somebody say that. Or how about this description of the Harvest Single IPA at the Sierra Nevada web site? “Blueberry in a beer! The consensus? That’s flavor fit for a bottle.” OK, it doesn’t really bother me that much. There are plenty of reasons that smell is referred to as the “most enigmatic of our senses.”

But it’s interesting you and I might rate blueberry aroma equally intense in one case, say a pie, and differently in another — simply because other aroma compounds are present. Before I head down that rabbit hole, back to the Harvest Single IPA, which has been hard to come by in our parts but we found easily last week in California.

As much as the mysteries of aroma fascinate me, so do the ins and outs of hop genetics. (So this might be the time you want to gently ease your way to another ready.) Mosaic is a daughter of Simcoe and a male plant called 986-2. Simcoe is a bit of a pungent brute, its aroma a calling card for American-style IPAs, sometimes called dank and, depending on your genetic disposition, downright “catty.”

HBC 291 — the name it was patented under, but not the name it will have if it goes into wider production — is a daughter of Glacier and a male called 9902(2). Glacier is much more demure than Simcoe, though not nearly as popular. Farmers planted about 1,260 acres of Simcoe in 2013, compared to less than 100 of Glacier. Its stone fruit character, notably peach, apparently is not as hip. Glacier is a daughter of the endangered French variety Strisselspalt, one of those hops I fear we will miss deeply when she is gone.

Before I lapse into further melancholy, the point here is that two very different mothers produced hops that when introduced into beer2 contribute to a blueberry aroma. Or don’t.


1 Anosmia in a condition in which a person with an otherwise normal sense of smell cannot detect a specific type of odor molecule. It may also describe a complete loss of smell, which may or may not be temporary. The former is rather common, the latter depressing and much more rare.

2 HBC 291 was one of the hops available to evaluate last year when I spoke at Hop Union’s Hop & Brew School. It is important to remember that what you smell from a raw hop doesn’t necessarily translate into the same aroma in a beer. The interaction with yeast changes compounds. Anyway, HBC was the most pleasant of the varieties we smelled, HBC 438 as the most divisive (I was in the “love it” camp), and Mosaic sucked, reeking of diesel fuel (not indicative of the overall crop). My notes for HBC 291 describe it as “really clean, floral/spicy, a herbaceous note reminiscent of Centennial.” Still nothing about blueberry.

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Hops 2014

IndeedAmerica’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.

Karl Ockert, technical director at the Masters Brewers Association of the America, provided the latest numbers in the February MBAA Communicator, reporting on last month’s American Hop Convention.

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.

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Monday beer links, musing 12.23.13

- Terroir and the Making of Beer into Wine. I commented on the original post (leaving a typo; sigh) because it is a topic obviously dear to me. However, and I might wear you out with this, using the word terroir when talking about beer from a place just confuses the conversation. To cite Jamie Goode for the second week in a row, he once described the concept of terroir in wine as “blindingly obvious and hotly controversial.”

Find a word to use other than terroir and the conversation may change. Read the other comments and also head over to a discussion that popped up at Beer Advocate with that in mind. And particularly this post from VitisVinifera, which takes things in another direction.

until a brewer:
-grows their barley/wheat/whatever right there
-grows their hops right there
-gets their water on-site
-completes all of this with a contiguous on-site brewery

I will consider this an unanswered question

My argument would be that a beer can taste of a place, represent a place, and be unique to a place without every damn ingredient being from that place.

- Does beer need editing? Boak and Bailey ask that question and more: “Who is there to stop a brewer releasing a bad beer? To say, before it reaches the public, that it is simply not good enough?”

- International Gruit Day. Circle the date on your calendar: Feb. 1. But celebrate responsibly, because there’s little nastier than a Ground Hog Day hangover.

- There are at least two different “wine communities” – and they don’t talk to each other. Arguably at least three beer communities. Can you name them?

- Best Beer Writing Contest. Sponsored by the Beer Bloggers Conference and the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA). Twenty-five entrants receive free registration to the 2014 Beer Bloggers Conference and the overall winner gets a free trip for two to attend NBWA’s 77th Annual Convention in New Orleans. A new blog post, dated after Dec. 19, is required, one that discusses the topic of “America’s Beer Renaissance: Consumer Choice and Variety in the U.S. Beer Market.” One of the suggested topics — and if you want to win you should consider their agenda — is, “How can beer writers partner with brewers, beer distributors and retailers to promote beer in their communities?”

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