Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Update: 2007 Hop Harvest

My, how things change quickly in the world. I just got off the phone with Larry Sidor, brewermaster at Deschutes Brewery, who just returned from his Yakima hop trip. He put a few things in perspective. First off, this is NOT a doomsday scene for beer enthusiasts. There is good news and bad news, but even the bad news isn't devastating.

First, the bad news, let's just get this out of the way.
  • High Alpha Acid hops don't look good. Larry says there's issue with mildew and pests that look to result in a lower than predicted harvest for these monster hops. He says there should be enough for the brewers needs, but that brewers may need to get creative.
  • Aroma hops are great though! Larry mentioned this more than a couple times, that the aroma hops we all love are in great shape.
  • Europe and China are not having good years. For Europe, this this is the second year in a row of bad harvest. This is a problem for Saaz lovers. There is a bright side in this news though - it only takes one good year to put the hop supply back in good order.
  • Brewer consolidation is bad news for hop procurement, as this results in less extra inventory on a global level. InBev, of course, is a major contributor in this problem. There simply is no flexibility anymore, as it used to be that small brewers would often have excess and this would become available as the year progressed. This is no longer the case.
  • There is apparently a three to four-fold price increase on hops. What does this mean? Larry thinks you, the consumer, may have to shell out an additional 25 to 50 cents per six pack of craft beer.
  • Let's make this clear: There will be a price increase in your beer. Larry can't see a way around it.
  • Good news for the bigger craft brewers, like Deschutes, is that they contract their hops out years in advance, allowing them to better 'weather the storm', so to speak.
  • Homebrewers: prepare for massive case of sticker shock this year.
So, yeah, it isn't all good this year, but it certainly isn't a doom and gloom scenario either. I can manage a slight increase on my crafted beer, and suspect you can too. And, like I already said, if China or Europe have a good year in 2008, much of this will be a thing of the past - until the next time. That's just the way it is in farmed commodities - some years are bumper crops, others are not.

Larry also mention that Deschutes brewed the 2007 Hop Trip on 9/4/07, with wet Crystal hops. They'll be bottling it this week (they made 600bbls) and will begin shipping it to distributors next week. If you're fortunate enough to live near their pub, Deschutes has two more fresh-hop beers that will be on tap soon, one using Cascades and the other made with Liberty.

I hope this sort of clears a few things up for you, as well as calms your beer-nerves a bit. Larry seemed pretty sure the good brewers of the country would find ways to make it work, and his confidence was reassuring to say the least. Thanks, Larry.