When visiting our Friendly Neighborhood Brew Shop, we got the bad news. There's a worldwide shortage of hops right now. Jo-Ellen of Brewer's Apprentice described it as a "perfect storm" of conditions, and she wasn't kidding:
Panic among some brewers was heightened when a major supplier, Hop Union of Yakima, Wash., suspended sales for two weeks. Bad weather in Europe, as well as poor conditions in the Pacific Northwest, compounded by a devastating warehouse fire last year in Washington and fires at two hop-drying kilns this year, have translated into a 20 percent worldwide shortfall as demand for hoppier styles climbs, said Ian Isherwood, who represents British hop growers. Meanwhile, acreage planted to hops is dwindling.
The homebrew shops are feeling it immediately. Apparently there are limits to the quantity of certain hops, and other hops they simply can't get. There are no replacements available for styles that are unavailable, either- basically, they have to do without.
It gets worse. At the same time this is all happening to hops, malt prices are on the rise:
"A ton of malted barley is over $1,000 now," said Jürgen Knöller, brewmaster at Bayern Brewery in Missoula. "Six months ago, a ton of barley was $460."The giant leap in malted barley prices is due, in large part, to several years of poor harvests, devastating droughts in barley-producing areas such as Australia, and to the fact that despite Montana being one of the best barley-growing regions in North America, barley is a commodity.
It all adds up to beer price increases with shortages of favorite styles. I expect the small craft brewers will have it the worst, because I'm sure the Budwisers and the Coors conglomerates aren't going to have to do without their hop orders- it'll be the little guys who get hit.
My advice for those who love well-crafted beer: stock up now on Hop Devil, 90-Minute IPA, CascaZilla, and all those other seriously hoppy brews; now, while you still can. (Brew your own as soon as possible, too- that's what we're doing!) Then, settle in for a few years of less hoppy styles that cost a couple more bucks a six- and wait out the storm.