Hop merchant warns of global hop shortage

Susanna Forbes

Susanna Forbes

14 September 2015

Expect to see some different hops gracing your favourite beers as brewers grapple with the aftermath of poor harvests in the USA and mainland Europe. The aromatic hops that have spawned a spate of single-hop beers from the likes of Mikkeller, Marstons and The Kernel Brewery are among those most under pressure.

Speaking at its annual hop walk, MD of leading hop broker Charles Faram Paul Corbett said the 2015 harvest 'could be as bad or even worse than the situation in 2007, depending on what happens in the next few weeks'.

Many brewers forward-contract their hop orders anyway, but recipes for regular beers may still need to be tweaked in the light of the shortages, and new ones created for one-off seasonals. Will Rogers, Charles Faram's sales manager, remained upbeat however. ‘We’ve been through worse,’ he said. ‘This enhances creativity because we are forced to use hops that we haven’t used in the past, and to experiment with when we use them [in the brewing process].’

The fragrant West Coast hops Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic are among those most under pressure. ‘It’s a double hit,’ said Ben Adams, technical sales adviser at Charles Faram. ‘Demand has always outstripped supply,’ he explained. This coupled with the unusually hot summer in Washington State, home to the bulk of the plantings, and the fact that 40% of these hops are young plants and thus unable to cope with a lack of water, has severely affected supply. Earlier-harvesting hops, the ones most loved for their aromatic properties rather than their bittering capabilities, are the ones most affected.

Meanwhile in the Czech Republic, the Saaz hop harvest looks likely to be down by around a quarter. Arguably this is less critical for brewers said Adams, because there are a wider bank of hops with similar characteristics to draw from as substitutes. For example, brewers using Aurora from Slovenia, with its delicately lemony citrus flavours, could opt instead for Pioneer from the UK.

The UK meanwhile looks like it will have an ‘average but not bumper crop,’ according to Ali Capper, owner of Stocks Farm and publicity officer for the British Hop Association. While it’s too early to call the exact tonnage and quality, the highs and lows in the various hop heartlands look set to cancel each other out, ‘which in world terms is good news,' she said.

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