Tag Archives: Beer Industry Commentary

Hop Industry Predictions from the Source

During the Hop Grower’s Convention that was hosted by Stone Brewing Company I got to meet with the owners of 47 Hops, a mid-sized hop grower and distributor that helps bring some of the much-sought-after hops to the market. The evening was a lot of talk about the hop industry as it exists right now and some of the challenges ahead that will end up ultimately affecting the type of beer available and what the smaller breweries can make.

The guys at 47 Hops were kind enough to treat a few other bloggers and me to beers, cigars, and pizza, though anyone present could tell you we were there mostly for the opportunity to chat about hops with someone in the industry. As many enthusiasts already figured out, one of the big problems facing the industry going forward is the massive increase in demand for certain varieties of hops. This means that citra and mosaic hops are becoming so much in demand that it is impossible for smaller breweries to get them.

Consumers can demand beers made with these delicious hops (that among other things deliver some delicious citrus flavors that San Diego beer fans have grown to love) but there simply isn’t enough of either hop being grown to keep up with demand. Part of this comes from a sad reality of hop growing. In order to increase production to keep up with demand there needs to be some serious increase in funding, and the money just isn’t there.

And as the amount of money involved becomes much larger, the length of contracts required before someone can buy hops becomes that much longer. Though five years ago the thought of a five year contract for hops seemed unthinkable, it is now a requirement especially if a brewery wants to keep some consistency and the hop growers want to know that they are going to be able to get the return on investment that makes expansion possible.

Aside from funding, another thing keeping hop capacity from growing as fast as the hop heads might like comes down to certain requirements before a piece of land can be good for growing. Aside from finding the right place to grow as far as climate and quality of soil, growers have to worry about being within an hour’s drive of some cold storage facility. Just as heat can harm a hoppy beer and take away that bite, so too heat can harm the hop oils while they are still present in the buds, leaving the grower with a product that is much harder to move. And of course building a cold storage facility large enough to keep everything and keeping that running is not cheap.

It is also not as easy to get those hops out to brewers in the form of wet hops or whole cone hops. This is because while that form of hops provides some fantastic intense flavors, they also are not able to survive long voyages. Thus, when hops are going to be transported from Washington State, where many of the hops are grown, to east coast cities like New York City the most practical way of doing that is by processing the hops into pellets. The same thing is true for hops shipped overseas. When hops are transported in large boats across the water, the best way to make sure they survive the voyage is to process the hops into pellets. This if why pellets still remain the most common way of purchasing hops.

So with demand growing for certain varieties of hops, what is a likely prediction for the future? Most of the small breweries are not going to be able to get their hands on some of the more popular varieties. Hopefully this will lead to some experimentation in the sorts of flavors present in the beers as brewers try to make West Coast Style beers without some of the now common and expected hops. I expect some of the brewers will do just fine and will find ways to make interesting styles of IPAs with common varieties hops that hop-heads have otherwise gotten tired of. Maybe this will lead to some experimentation with the type of malts used such that things don’t all taste like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

I also expect that it will be hard for smaller breweries to get their hands on large quantities of certain hops over the long term. The longer contracts are expensive and there is only so much to go around. So once they brew a fantastic beer with certain varieties of hops, without a contract in place that beer won’t taste exactly the same the next time. I am already seeing this around San Diego with smaller breweries IPAs varying from batch to batch due to supply. This makes it hard to consistently order the same beer from a smaller brewery if the small variations in hop variety change your enjoyment.

I’ve realized recently that while I love hoppy beers, I don’t love every single variety. There are a lot of flavors of hops that I love, the citrus, tropical fruit, and occasionally the floral, and other flavors that I like sometimes and other times can’t stand. Though in some ways that is part of the fun of exploring beers and IPAs in particular. It is fun to learn to talk specifically about flavors you like so you can ask the bartender how a specific batch is and make a decision based on that without having to try a sample.

And for the beer drinkers who can’t stand hoppy beers, don’t expect that they are going to disappear at any time but you might appreciate the experimentation in flavors other than hops that we may see out of this. It is always great when a small brewery makes a beer that showcases the unique flavors of rye in just the right balance. Others are waiting for an explosion of wild yeast flavors that have yet to become mainstream in San Diego but that enthusiasts have been enjoying for years. Scarcity of certain varieties and increase in cost may help push those trends to the mainstream more quickly as well.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

More Posts

Follow Me:
TwitterPinterestGoogle Plus

What the Hop Shortage Means for Craft Beers

Ipas are the latest big craze in the craft beer world. Reports on large increases in the costs of hops suggest that hops aren’t being grown as fast as would keep up with demand. But how does this affect ordinary consumers?

According to an article on Slate, the hops that provide fancy aromas and delicious flavors have been growing in the demand. This is as opposed to the hops used to simply add some bitterness to a brew. I tend to primarily drink IPAs for these flavors and it is the most popular varieties of hops that are becoming harder and harder to get. This means that the mozaic, cascade, columbus, citra, and nelson hops are becoming especially difficult to come by.

First off we might see the cost of hoppy beers increase, especially the extreme ones. Just as thick coffee and chocolate beers are priced higher we might see the double and triple ipas costing a lot more. This is expected because breweries have to make a profit. Beers like Green Bullet and Stone Enjoy By rely on these popular hops for the distinct flavors.

Second we are likely to see more breweries changing their recipes and experimenting with different varieties of hops. Though this will likely mean some of your favorite beers are going to taste a little different, it should also mean that new and exciting flavors will be explored by some of the smaller breweries. Don’t be too hard on a brewery when they tell you that they delayed your favorite beer or modified the recipe because they couldn’t get the right hops. They are likely telling the truth.

I am excited to see what new varieties of hops become popular in this new hop shortage because it could lead to some flavor combinations that are even better than the beers I already love. The next time you are enjoying a big hoppy beer remember that getting those specific hops you demand is not easy. It might make you appreciate that beer a little more.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

More Posts

Follow Me:
TwitterPinterestGoogle Plus

Why Freshness Matters with IPAs and what Breweries Can Do

I make a big deal about freshness when it comes to enjoying my beers. This is mostly because the hop flavors I enjoy most are the most fleeting. Beers don’t exactly go bad but there is a certain window in which those delicious citrus, floral, pine, and tropical fruit flavors dominate a good hoppy beer. In some ways, this is why small breweries have been so successful. They rarely have the capacity to brew giant batches of beer that are going to sit on the shelves for 3 months before anyone drinks them. At some of the smallest breweries, they are lucky if an IPA sticks around for a month before that batch is depleted.

In this post I am going to explain why fresh beer is important for those who have a refined palate and some ways breweries could sell more beer to those like myself seeking freshness.

I named this blog “San Diego Hop Addict” because I am addicted to hops when it comes to my beers. At first I thought it was a simple enough task to look on a menu at the restaurant for those three letters, IPA, and I would be satisfied. Then over time I started to drink certain varieties of beer I thought were great originally but for some reason didn’t taste like the same great beer I had before. What had once been a beer dominated by flavors of floral and citrus was now largely a syrupy drink with the sweetness of malts. But wasn’t this the same beer I had when I first opened the 24-pk? It took me swearing off some of the most popular IPAs before I realized it was not a lack of quality control but a lack of freshness.

Stone Brewing admittedly has had enjoy by dates on their cases of beer for some time but I ignored them at first thinking that beer is beer and there is no way it could go bad.

Enjoy By 02 2014

To many people this won’t even register as a problem. If you are already a fan of IPAs that tend towards the darker side, and thus focus on malt flavors, a Stone IPA that has lost its hop bite will still taste great to you. I take one taste of those malts and sigh. Though the beer is not horrible, I could be enjoying something closer to the style that got me excited about beer in the first place. If your ideal beer is Societe’s Apprentice or Ballast Point’s Sculpin, freshness is hugely important in shaping the flavor of each beer you pour at home.

There are a few reasons why it is in the interest of a brewery to make a big deal about freshness. Fresh IPA is much more likely to impress someone with some intense flavors that leave a lasting impression. When an IPA is not very fresh, consumers may write it off as a poor IPA rather than recognizing that it is not as fresh. In short, making a clear indicator of freshness helps ensure that consumers recognize all the quality control put into a product.

There are a few ways that brewers can ensure that consumers taste fresh beer more often than not. 1) Brewers can produce smaller batches of the big hoppy beers. This can be a way to make sure that a year-round product consistently tastes fresh. 2) If smaller batches are not used, bottled-on dates or clearly-explained enjoy-by dates should be used. 3) Seasonal releases can be used to give consumers a clear idea when the beer was released.

1) The strategic use of small batches
This is one way a smaller brewery has an advantage over a bigger brewery. They are not brewing a ton of beer to distribute nationwide so it is more likely that each batch will be fairly small. I know when Intergalactic Brewing puts out an IPA that it is going to be around for a few months tops before that batch is sold out. This means that the beer I drink at the brewery is more likely to be fresh. With breweries that don’t sell bottles, this helps to bring consumers back to the tasting room to either enjoy beer there or buy a growler to take home and share. I make a note to visit Intergalactic Brewing as soon as they put out a new batch of the Perseus IPA because it is amazing when it is fresh.

2) The need for clear enjoy-by dates
Enjoy-by dates are an interesting beast because there doesn’t seem to be a clear agreement as to how far out the date should be from the release of the beer. Thus, a bottle of Palate Wrecker from Green Flash that says “Enjoy By July 2014” doesn’t tell me if it was bottled just this past month or back in January. A simple explanation on the bottle indicating how this date is calculated would be able to tell me through inference when the beer was brewed. It could for example say “our enjoy-by dates are set 5 months out from bottling.” Though even better would be if beers had a clear bottled-on date printed on the bottle. Then when I am in the store looking at a 6-pk of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale I can tell how fresh it is much easier.

I suspect that breweries don’t use enjoy-by dates to avoid scaring off the general consumer who might avoid a beer that was bottled five months ago without that date. I would certainly always reach for the beer that was most recently bottled in a market where there are so many quality IPAs to choose from. I think if breweries included an explanation with the bottled-on date so that the consumer knows what to expect from reading it, this wouldn’t result in a significant drop in sales.

I also don’t expect the average consumer would notice the date or care without some explanation on the packaging of what a difference freshness makes. Thus, breweries could also educate consumers better by putting some explanation on the bottles or an infographic on their social media pages.

3) The importance of seasonal brews 
Seasonal brews are useful in many of the same ways that small batches are useful. The benefit of a seasonal from the perspective of the consumer is there is typically a big announcement of the beer’s release on the breweries’ Facebook page, giving you a clear idea when it was released. Alesmith, for example, has two seasonal beers called Yulesmith. One is released in the summer and the other is released in the winter. Fans familiar with this release schedule will know that when a Summer Yulesmith shows up in the store it is going to be very fresh. This push to enjoy these beers fresh helps the brewery sell that small batch of beers quickly so that everyone who drinks it has the same experience of flavors.

Russian River does essentially the same thing by ensuring that Pliny the Younger, the legendary Triple IPA, is shipped fresh and served quickly. This means that the only time someone will drink a Pliny the Younger is fresh and on tap, giving it a delicious flavor every time. Though brilliant, I prefer the approach of Stone with the Enjoy By because this means I can enjoy it at home and don’t have to wait in line for an hour or more to try it.

Keep in mind that this whole discussion is largely limited to a small portion of the beer industry, beers with intense hop flavors up front. Different styles of beers age much nicer and still taste great six months after bottling, if not longer. I will even enjoy an older IPA if the malts are of a variety I enjoy. This is why in general moving towards an enjoy-by date system more similar to what Stone uses would be best. Stone started to put enjoy-by dates much closer to bottling so that the enjoy-by date of a Go To IPA is 2 months after bottling. 

The important thing at the end of the day is enjoying the beers that you drink. Drinking for the experience of the unique flavors of a beer is more likely to satisfy you with a few beers. This can also avoid drinking heavily for the sake of getting wasted, which is disrespectful to yourself and to the quality of the beer.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney serving clients in San Diego California.

More Posts

Follow Me:
TwitterPinterestGoogle Plus