Scribing and Imbibing

May 14, 2008

Hop Shortage

Filed under: Beer,Fermenting — Rich @ 5:39 pm
Tags: ,

Read today that there’s a worldwide shortage of hops, the spice used to give beer its bitter flavor.

It’s a sordid tale of supply and demand, that would be very dry if its effects weren’t so dramatic. Basically two years ago there was a supply glut of hops, compared to demand–lots being grown, lots being made into hop extract and “put up,” which kept prices low: lots of hops around, easy to get, and so they stayed cheap. Problem is, being cheap, hop farmers have had less and less incentive to plant hops each year, and so acreage planted (as well as laid-up hop-extract supply causing the glut) has dipped for the past several years. Put in a bad growing year for a few regions’ hops in 2007, and you’ve got a recipe for a shortage.

The effect of this shortage for beer drinkers is that beer prices will rise for a few years, probably through 2010, and craft brewers (known for making high-hop beers like Imperial India Pale Ales and others) are having to scramble and scrape to get the hops they need to make their beers according to style, or even to make them at all.

For beer makers, the big brewers like Miller and Bud will grab almost all of the supply for the years in question, with little practical effect. Specialty and craft brewers will have a harder time, having to get by on the leavings once the big boys are done, and may have to jack prices dramatically, or even reformulate beers with signature hop-taste profiles. Homebrewers like me will likely wind up simply unable to get the hops we desire, or having to pay prices as much as two to five to ten times the price we paid a year or two ago, for hops we might not have given a second glance.

Luckily for me there are other fermentable options. I foresee more meads and wines to come over the next few years.

-Rich

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