Perhaps you have read of the impending hops shortage and are already socking away cases of Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA and Victory Hop Wallup. If not, perhaps you ought to be. Pundits and prognosticators are predicting increased beer prices soon, amounting to around a dollar a six-pack. Although large commercial breweries are also affected, it is less dire for these companies since they have larger storage capacities and have long-term agreements with hop growers based on current market prices. As usual, it is the small breweries and brewpubs that will bear the brunt of the crisis. Some micros have already decided to reformulate recipes or drop hop-intensive styles from their stables. Big Boss Brewing in Raleigh announced that it is discontinuing its High Roller IPA, and Triangle Brewing in Durham has put plans for an IPA on hold. In Atlanta, Ethan Wurtzel at Twain’s reports that they have had to evaluate their hop supplies and make decisions about what kind of beer to brew based on the availability and cost of certain hop varieties.
The reason for all this misery? Apparently hops are a pretty marginal crop, and the Yakima Valley of Washington, where 70 percent of all hops are grown in the U.S., has experienced significant increases in land value, so farmers are having to convert to other crops or are selling out to developers. Couple this with some poor harvests in Europe (Germany and the U.S. together account for two-thirds of all hops grown in the world) and hops are suddenly harder to find and more expensive than Nepalese hashish.
So what’s a hophead to do? Grow your own! During my brief home brewing phase, I attempted to grow a hop vine in the backyard, like the ones I saw growing on the deck of Bridgeport Brewing Company in Portland, but the little sucker shriveled up like a worm on the sidewalk. I soon abandoned home brewing, which I determined to be hard work and nearly as expensive as buying at the store from professionals who knew what they were doing. But with hops going for $5 an ounce and likely to go up, it might be worth revisiting hop farming as a career. The best part is that you and a friend can go into your local plant supply store and start talking about how you are getting fantastic buds with tons of resin, then ask them about grow lights and see them freak out and tell you that you can’t talk about that in there or the DEA is going to come crashing through the skylights and haul his ass to jail.
Another alternative is to try some beers bittered with herbs other than hops, which did not become widely used in beer until the thirteenth century. Granted, 700 years is a long time to be the standard, but in areas where hops were not readily available, other ingredients continued to be used for centuries. Scottish gruit ale is brewed using a literal potpourri of herbs that usually includes yarrow, wild rosemary, and bog myrtle. Other additions that have been used historically in beer include heather, juniper berries, caraway, and spruce. Heather Ale, Ltd.
in Scotland produces a variety of gruit ales made from historic ingredients, including Fraoch Heather Ale, Alba Spruce Ale, Grozet Gooseberry Ale, and Ebulum Elderberry Ale. They also produce the very interesting seaweed ale
that I reviewed back in August.
A type of gruit ale brewed with juniper berries by Haandbryggeriet (Hand Brewery) of Norway is this week’s Beer Pick
Congratulations to the Brick Store Pub, which placed 3rd on Beer Advocate Magazine’s 25 Best Beer Bars in America! I haven’t been lying to ya, people!