Homebrew Crisis: Where Have All The Brewing Hops Gone?

by Brad Smith on February 23, 2008 · 9 comments

Hops

If you’ve made a trip to the local homebrew store you have probably noticed that hop prices are up and many of your favorite hops simply are not available at any price. I ordered hops last week at prices over $4 per ounce for some varieties. What caused the shortage? What does it mean for the average homebrewer? When will it recover?

Causes of the Hop Shortage

The cause of the problem is threefold. First, over the last 15 years, hop acreage has declined by 50% due to a global hop glut that started in the early 1990’s. During the glut, excess hops were stored as hop extract that only recently ran out as acreage declined. Second, bad weather in Europe significantly reduced the yield of many European varieties, particularly in Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Finally, most commercial breweries obtain their hops through multi-year contracts with large hop growers. The hop growers continue to honor these contracts during the shortage, meaning that the open market for the remaining hops has had to absorb the brunt of the hops shortage.

To make things worse, when the hop shortage began panic set in with many microbreweries and regional breweries who buy from the open market. This drove prices up several hundred percent in many cases. Hops prices jumped from a few dollars a pound to over $25 a pound for some varieties.

Home Brewers Share

Homebrewers represent a microscopic share of the overall hops market, and are at the tail end of the supply chain. As a result, the 10-15% shortage in the global market has hit homebrewers hard. 2008 will likely be a difficult year for homebrewers with many European varieties (Saaz, Hallertauer, Tettnang, Styrian Goldings) as well as other popular hops like Cascade, Centennial and Fuggles in short supply. If your favorite variety is out of stock you might want to check for appropriate substitutes from our hops list.

How Long will the Shortage Last

Though processing of the 2007 hop crops has helped winter brewers, supplies are likely to decline as the year goes on. Similarly 2009 may be a difficult year for homebrewers because it takes 2 years to add new hop acreage. However by 2010 new acreage and market forces will likely return the hop market to normal, though hop prices will likely be higher than they were during the hop glut of the last 10 years. (Ref: BYO Article)

Though some varieties will be in short supply through 2008 and 2009, and prices across the board will be higher, you will still be able to buy hops and enjoy homebrewing throughout the year. There is no need to panic. You may need to modify your favorite recipe with a suitable alternative hop, or consider a maltier style. If you have some hops on hand or find your favorite hops at a good price you should freeze the hops in an airtight barrier package and use it wisely. In either case don’t worry – sit back and enjoy a homebrew.

References

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Patism February 24, 2008 at 10:52 am

What a crisis. You’d think it would be a good cash crop.

Rep February 26, 2008 at 6:03 am

I was not aware of the hop substitution list being on the Beer Smith website.

Just as I print my BS inventory and shopping list prior to heading to my home brew shop, I will now check for hop substitutions for my planned brews before I go.

Thanks

BeerSmith February 26, 2008 at 6:27 pm

Actually you can also access the substitutions within BeerSmith – suggested substitutes are in the Notes section for almost all of the hops entries.

Jeff Louella April 4, 2008 at 10:03 am

All this talk of a hop shortage put me on the hunt for hops. Where did I land? eBay. If you keep your eyes open, you can grab up a pound of some hard to get hops. Though they are not as cheap as they were a year or so ago, they do have them. I picked up a pound of Amarillo, Simcoe, and Cascade. They were like $40 – $50 a pound, but that is still cheaper than buying them anywhere else if you can even find them.

Brad Smith April 7, 2008 at 6:58 pm

Jeff – Great tip and I agree eBay can be a good place to get some deals. You need to be a bit careful though – some people are pushing older hops. I would stay away from anything over a year old unless it has been vacuum bagged and frozen.

Blaine October 16, 2011 at 6:34 pm

new homebrewer here. prices are of course back to around $1.50/oz. What did they look like *before* 2008? I hear it was like $3/lb in the late 1980s, I’m curious if it was a linear increase over time or if there were spikes along the way?

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