You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Disturbing Trends

Two separate stories about hop and barley crops came out this week, and they are something of a brow-furrower.

World hop yields have been in steady decline for twenty years, down to nearly half the production from 1986-2006. This is due to a number of causes--notably the rise of high-alpha hops, which reduce the quantity needed per barrel, and the steady decline of bitterness in national brands, which still produce the overwhelming majority of beer in the US. After very low prices in the late 90s and early aughts, growers started scrapping acreage which has in turn led to spiking prices and hop shortages:
Prices are the highest they’ve ever been - and it’s beyond comprehension. Cascades were priced at $7/lb. three weeks ago and are currently being quoted at or near $10.00/lb. Willamettes went from $5.50 to $7.00/lb. and may also get to $10/lb.

It takes three years to get to full production on a new hop field, however, we don’t have the number of growers needed to put new acres in (the total of US growers is about 45, down from more than 2000 in 1978. About new 2,000 acres are going in this year - almost all of those are high alpha. The Cascade increase in acreage is 0.
Cascades are, of course, the backbone of Northwest brewing. The upshot is that we'll see increasing experimentation with other varieties of hops as availability drives new recipes. Probably this means greater reliance on high-alpha hops, which may be a downside. The upside may not be all bad, though--it could provoke a new wave of beers.

Barley crops aren't under the same kind of pressure, but Laurelwood brewer Chad Kennedy sent out an email alerting us to the trouble brewers may be in as a result of global warming.
Due to the worsening climatic conditions it is possible that beer will not be made exclusively from barley, but also for example from chickpea, the Czech biotechnology portal has found. The weather fluctuations in the past couple of years, especially the drier and warmer climate in association with extreme downpours have had a catastrophic impact on barley producers....

The brewing and malting research institute in Brno has been exploring the possibilities of utilizing for example chickpea, cowpea or sweatpea for the past year. It is therefore possible that in a few years Czech beer will not be made exclusively from barley malt.
For very different reasons, this could lead to experimentation with malt substitutes, which would definitely change the flavor of beer. (And would the German tradition of reinheitsgebot die? Imagine the horror in Munich!)

Makes a man want to go cry in his beer...


  1. don't get down. get creative.

    cascades are overrated anyway.

    I'll have to a try making a garbanzo bitter sometime.

  2. Jeff - This is a reminder that beer is an agricultural product, so there must be an ebb and flow.

    Good news in the Wall Street Journal today on the grain front:

    "Ethanol prices have slumped in recent months, to less than $1.70 a gallon. Demand for the gasoline substitute has remained strong, but production has been stronger as producers rushed to cash in on the boom.

    "That has cut into profits margins and ethanol producers are cutting back. Construction on new ethanol plants is down more than 60% from last year, according to Friedman Billings Ramsey analyst Eitan Bernstein.

    "Corn prices are also off, down about 25% from this year's peak, in part due to expectations for a bumper corn crop, according to government estimates. Fewer plants coming on line could also hit corn prices, says Mr. Bernstein."