Hop shortage alert! Hop hoarding gone rampant! IPA fans seen with pitchforks and torches!
Yes… we are flat out of Saaz, Styrian Golding and Sorachi Ace with no supply in sight. We also have an extremely limited and intermittent supply of Centennial, Simcoe, Warrior, Amarillo, Apollo, Citra and Falconers Flight. But why?
There’s a lot of buzz about a hops shortage, so let’s talk about what that means exactly. Hops are a commodity just like crude oil and corn. For the most part, they are bought and sold in contracts set with breweries to guarantee availability of these hops. Hop farmers must first fulfill all contracts, and only after those contracts are fulfilled can they then begin to sell their hops on the open market. However, since hops aren’t used for much besides brewing, they end up losing money on any extra they have left over that they don’t sell on the open market. Because of this, they don’t just grow “as much as they can”.
Homebrewing actually represents a microscopic segment of the hops industry. So small that we don’t even register on the hop farmers’ radar. A 15%-30% shortage that normally effects all people buying hops effects the homebrew market the most. Don’t expect it to get much better either… for instance, the future 2012 and 2013 harvests of Amarillo are already sold.
There is also a supply side restriction on many hops. Simcoe and Amarillo, which are scarce everywhere right now, are not widely grown. Amarillo is only grown by Virgil Gamache Farms Inc., and is owned by that group. Simcoe is another proprietary hop only grown by Yakima Chief Inc. Because these hops are proprietary, the owners of the varieties are able to restrict supply as they wish.
If you can’t find the hops you want, we’d like to encourage everyone to try some substitutions. Experiment a little… you might find that using a substitute might even come out better than using what your recipe calls for. We also suggest taking this as a chance to branch out to different beer styles. Find some varieties of beer that don’t require a truck-load of hops. Such styles include Hefeweizens, California Commons, Porters, and Saisons.