According to an article in Popular Science Craft Beer is annihilating the hop supply.
The Reinheitsgebot, or German Purity Law, states that the only ingredients legally allowed in true beer are malted barley, hops, water and yeast.
So, no hops no beer, right?
Fear not, there’s no need to go all Y2K and start stockpiling IPA’s just yet. There are hardworking and diligent hop farmers working with craft breweries everywhere making sure they can crank out super high IBU brews for years to come!
To gain a little insight into the hops trade and acquisition game, I reached out to two local brewer superstars, Jaime Fulton from Community Beer Company and Michael Peticolas of Peticolas Brewing Company.
Fulton and Peticolas were emphatic that hops are harder and harder to get now, versus when they opened their breweries, just a few years ago. Because of this, they both spend a lot of their time securing hops for future years. Fulton elaborated that it requires diligence, connections, and good personal relationships oftentimes, to get the hops you want/need.
According to Peticolas, most breweries source their hops from a variety of different hop dealers, with companies like Hopsteiner and Hopunion being some of the largest. Different varieties of hops are grown in different parts of the world, so having a good relationship with a dealer (or 10 dealers in Fulton’s case) with access to hop farms all over the world is critical.
Peticolas, like Fulton, places a very high value on consistency and is willing to pay for it. While some breweries will substitute different hops to help offset costs for those that are in high demand, Peticolas is very proud that “Velvet Hammer has always been brewed with the same hops since day one.” With demand outpacing supply, both have seen dramatic price increases. “For newer contracts, the farmers are demanding about twice the price on hard to get varieties”, said Fulton.
Both Fulton and Peticolas indicated that the turnaround from order to deliver of hops is about one week, which sounds great, but there’s a catch. The hop supply that they’re ordering from was their forecasted numbers from 3-4 years ago. As a matter of fact, both had already placed their forecasted hop order for 2018. These hops are likely to be harvested in September of 2018, pelletized, and packaged for delivery through 2019.
“By placing contracts through my brokers for many years to come, I am indirectly working with the growers by letting them know my forecasted demand. If I tell them I need 23,000 lbs of Mosaic in 2018 (which I did and I will!), they can plan accordingly and plant increased acreage. They make their plans based on who’s going to give them the skrilla!” says Fulton.
“Breweries with contracted hops are dictating the direction in which the hop market will go in a sense, because we are guaranteeing the farmers money in advance for the hops” said Fulton. When asked which hops are the hardest to get, both he and Peticolas said Amarillo. So what is a brewer to do with no future harvest contract in place? Innovate. Maybe that next great IPA isn’t made with Amarillo, maybe it’s with Mosaic.
Fulton recounted a story of just such a brewer, who after trying to place an order, gave him a call. “Jamie, you can’t get any of those hops dude, they’re all gone!” His hop dealer continued that conversation with the advice of buying some of the new, experimental variety HBC 369. This would later be marketed as the Mosaic hop. He trusted his contact’s expert advice and bought “sight-unseen” thousands of pounds of Mosaic hops. Now the mosaic hop is just one of many hops that go into Community’s Mosiac IPA, but what wonderful turn of events, or “serendipity” as Fulton describes it.
Now that isn’t to say that every hop being boiled right now was first thought of many years ago. While great planning goes into each and every craft beer, sometimes things go awry in the process and you just need a little “luck” on your side. One of the great things about the craft beer industry is the camaraderie and support each brewery shows for one another. If Fulton or Peticolas run out of a certain hop, or want to experiment with something new, all they have to do is call around town and find someone willing to lend them some or even trade for something they might have run short of. Peticolas said that he was very lucky to have Rahr & Sons, Franconia, and Deep Ellum Brewing Companies already open when he first started brewing because they were more than happy to help him out if he fell short and needed some particular hop. Fulton said the same, “depends on variety, oftentimes we borrow amongst fellow brewers and return them later when we get them in”.
Cheers to Jaime Fulton and Michael Peticolas for bringing us such great beers as Mosaic IPA and Velvet Hammer and for keying me in on how these hops from the future will be helping to shape The North Texas Craft Beer scene for years to come.
Jeff Dietzman is Co-Owner of LUCK and NTX Craft Beer Drinker & Promoter.