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Hey, Mr. President, heard of American hops?

Washington hops

Please don’t consider this a political post, but I’m wondering why neither of the two recipes for honey beers released over the weekend by the White House includes American hops.

One calls for Kent Golding and Fuggle, the other for whatever provides enough bittering punch and Hallertau (I’m guessing Mittelfrüh, but I wish they’d been specific). Farmers in the Northwest plant a bit of Fuggle and Golding, but those varieties originated in England and that’s where most are grown. Hallertau, of course, is the largest hop growing region in Germany.

(As an aside, the recipe for White House Honey Ale specifies 1.5 ounces each of Golding and Fuggle, but in the step-by-step directions only refers to .5 of Fuggle. Am I overlooking something? I’m prepared for an embarrassing answer.)

These are honey beers, not “hop bombs.” I get it. Made with honey produced by White House bees. And there this link to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to preserve. But where are the jobs related to American beer being created these days? At small breweries. And where do about 80 percent of those hops small American breweries are using come from? American farmers. Am I the only one who sees a nicely balanced partnership?

To give you an idea of the impact of breweries that produce only 6% of the nation’s beers have on hops, a bit of math.

In 2011, American beer production shrank 4.6 million barrels. The companies the Brewers Association defines as “craft” (and referred to as craft throughout the rest of this post) made 1.3 million more barrels. Without them, production might have been down 5.9 million barrels (maybe not quite that, because people might have bought substitutes for “craft” beer). On a worldwide basis, best guess is that brewers use on average about 2 ounces of hops per barrel they brew (the math gets tricky because most brew with hop extracts, so you have to consider how much hops that takes to produce, figure in higher utilization, and so on).

According to a BA survey, American brewers use about one pound per barrel, a number that is going up as drinkers buy still more IPAs (now 18% of craft sold and close to three times more than five years ago). So craft brewers needed at least 1.3 million pounds more hops in 2011. The other brewers needed 750,000 pounds less (to brew 4.5 times more beer). Hop sales went up.

Just to be clear. Somebody at the White House brewing beer: cool. Using malt extract: fine. Honey beer: great idea. Posting a slick video: I watched to the end. Using imported hops: hey, I love them (Tettnang Tettnanger, Spalt Spalter, Saaz, Hersbrucker, Strisselspalt. I’m a fan. Golding and Fuggle, too).

But where iss the story in American beer today, what ingredient is an important part of that story, and who is growing that ingredient?

Rhetorical questions.

Sam Adams sharing hops with smaller brewers

Jim Koch, Samuel AdamsJim Koch sent a big old hops valentine to smaller breweries on Thursday. Ten tons worth.

He told them that Boston Beer, brewer of the Samuel Adams beers, will sell 20,000 pounds of hops that otherwise would not be available to smaller breweries. The company will sell the hops at its cost, which is considerably less than they would bring on the open (or “spot”) market.

Koch revealed the offer to Brewers Association members Thursday in a forum for association members, telling them:

“For a couple of months now, we’ve all been facing the unprecedented hops shortage and it’s affected all craft brewers in various ways. The impact is even worse on the small craft brewers — openings delayed, recipes changed, astronomical hops prices being paid and brewers who couldn’t make beer.

“So we looked at our own hops supplies at Boston Beer and decided we could share some of our hops with other craft brewers who are struggling to get hops this year.”

The brewery will sell 10,000 pounds of East Kent Goldings from Great Britain and 10,000 pounds of Tettnang Tettnangers from small farms in the Tettnang region in Germany. Both are “aroma hops,” horribly under appreciated and the kind being dissed by brewers chasing alpha, but at the same time becoming crazily expensive.

Samuel Adams will limit the amount sold to any one brewery in order to assure as many as possible get hops.

“The purpose of doing this is to get some hops to the brewers who really need them. So if you don’t really need them, please don’t order them,” Koch wrote. “And don’t order them just because we’re making them available at a price way below market. Order them because you need these hops to make your beer. We’re not asking questions, so let your conscience be your guide.”

This is explained in the “Hop-Sharing Program” area at the Samuel Adams website (you will have to verify your age). The FAQ answers most of the questions I’ve been receiving during the day. (These are not “left over” hops for instance; in fact they haven’t even arrived in the country. Boston Beer will be glad to use them if any aren’t claimed.)

I know whose beer I’m drinking tonight.

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