Hoppocalypse Now: Getting A Handle On The Hops Shortage
While we usually like to joke around in this blog when we can, today Duffy's would like to highlight a relatively serious issue that's going to be dear to the hearts of many of our readers. (As well as our own.)
Simply put, if you're a fan of hopsy beers, you're going to have a tough time for the next couple years. There's a major hops shortage developing, with several contributing factors, and there is basically no reason to think it's going to be averted. Next year -or at latest 2017- we're almost certainly going to see a big increase in beer prices, especially those utilizing currently-trendy aromatic hops blends.
Hoppocalypse Now: Why Your Favorite Brews Are Getting Pricey
So, with craft brews and indie breweries in general on the up and up, why are hops about to get so much more expensive? Well, there's several reasons.
1 - The craft brew market exploded.
Whether it was due to a rejection of mainstream brews or just plain hipsterism gone awry, the trend for heavily hoppy beers came out of absolutely nowhere and ballooned quickly. The agricultural market had no way of foreseeing the boom, and shifts in how a major farm operates can take several years to pull off. Furthermore, commercial hops-growing requires specialized equipment and trellises, much like wine vineyards, so it's not simply a matter of throwing different seeds in the ground.
So, while there are plenty of farmers trying to take up the slack, which makes sense in a high-demand / low-supply market, they can't shift operations quickly enough to keep up with all the beer-lovers.
2 - The emphasis on aromatic hops.
There are two basic kinds of hops that can be put into beers: bittering hops, and aromatic hops. Before the craft-beer boom of the late 2000s, bittering hops were most commonly used in beers, and mostly in small quantities since it's a "little goes a long way" situation.
However, as custom-crafted aromatic hops species became popular, along with the wider range of tastes they could accomplish, hops-farmers followed the market and started planting more aromatic hop varieties. This is what you find in pretty much all the popular hops brews these days.
The problem is that aromatic hops are harder to farm AND have smaller harvests than bittering hops. So even though there's now more farmland being devoted to hop farming than five or ten years ago, the overall crop yields have actually been going down for the past few years.
3 - Big players locking in massive buys
It was inevitable that as craft brews grew in popularity, the major industrial breweries would want to get in on the action. Those big players also have enough money and leverage to get prime access to the crops. In fact, current estimates are that roughly 85% of next year's crop has already been sold on speculation, and almost entirely to these big players.
That's going to drive up prices for smaller breweries further, or even leave some shops entirely hops-less, if they don't have the purchasing power to make large buys.
4 - And then there's the drought...
Apparently bucking the common wisdom that God loves beer, on top of everything else, we've had serious droughts this year in most of the biggest hops-producing regions in the country. And hops need a lot of water to grow. Everyone knows about California's water shortage, which isn't getting any better, but there are similar problems across the West Coast.
SO, crop yields for this season are looking to be even lower than the already-dire forecasts had predicted. This will, of course, only drive up prices further and -due to the locked-in contracts- the major breweries will have first dibs on what is produced, making things yet harder for the indies.
Basically, it's one whole jujuflop situation.
One Piece Of Good News
Now, for all the Duffy's Brew fans out there who might be worried, we just wanted to point out that we should be largely unaffected by all this. While it's true that we use Citra Hops in many of our products, we use them in much smaller quantities than a brewery. Duffy's Brew hair, beard, and mustache products aren't contributing significantly to the shortage, nor do we see any reason at the moment to think we'll have to increase our prices down the road.
None the less, this is still a significant problem for fans of craft brews. It may be time to start looking into growing your own, if you're a homebrew kinda person.
Either that, or start trying out non-hopsy indie beers to see if you can spot the next big fad in brewing before everyone else does.