AB InBev is Coming for All Your Hops, Unless They Aren’t

If it’s not Wicked Weed, it’s something else, I suppose.

On the heels of a loud and wide outcry from industry professionals and drinkers over the purchase of Wicked Weed by AB InBev, the global conglomerate has offered another reason to pile on. Today, it was noted that AB InBev, post-merger with SABMiller, will use South Africa’s SAB Hop Farms with the goal, according to this memo, “to sell the hops internally to their acquired (former) craft breweries, even though they have not been able to sell all the hops as of yet.” To be clear, it seems this amount of hops is 20 metric tons, or roughly 44,100 pounds.

To put that in comparison, the US grew a reported 89 million pounds of hops in 2016.

But let’s go a step further. If I’m translating numbers correctly, the International Hop Growers Convention estimated the *entire* South African hop crop at 1.9 million pounds in 2016. It is projected to drop to 1.56 million pounds in 2017. There are 1,047 acres of hops expected to be harvested in South Africa this year, or a stone’s throw away than the acreage of *only* Cascade grown *just* in Oregon in 2016.

92% of all South African hops are set to be of the alpha variety, which we know is not as popular at the moment in the U.S., where aromatic and fruity hops reign supreme.

Is it unfortunate that American brewers won’t be able to get aroma hops like Southern Passion from South Africa or alpha hops like Southern Star? Sure. But these are varieties to play with, not with which you build a portfolio of brands.

Spoiler alert: those would be Citra, Amarillo, Mosaic and Simcoe.

The loss of South African hops is taking away a portion of the sandbox in which U.S. brewers play, but they can also log onto the Lupulin Exchange at any time to find a variety of hops for which they don’t have via contract. For further context, in a release, Willy Buholzer, global hops procurement director for AB InBev noted:

More than 90 percent of our South African-grown hops will be used in local brands Castle Lager and Castle Lite, beers we’ve committed to brewing with locally-grown ingredients. In support of the local industry, we additionally sell hops to South African craft breweries. This means that less than five percent can be allocated to other Anheuser-Busch InBev breweries outside of South Africa.

This comment carries extra weight when you consider the hoops AB InBev was forced to jump through by the South African government in order to gain approval for its merger with SAB Miller, which included a $69 million (U.S.) rand fund to support the local beer-making industry and supply chains in the country.

Yes, there is a story here in terms of new market fluctuations, but if you’re curious about the future of hop growth (and scarcity?) may I recommend giving a follow to the man who literally wrote the book on them (and his new newsletter) or poke through this collection of stories from last September.

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Advertisements

Trend Watching: 2016 Hop Production and the Rise of Citra

hop bines

What better kind of “end of year” review than one related to hops, the national treasure of our beer loving country?

Another annual report was released this week, this time from the USDA, providing updated statistics that further show glimpses into our ongoing love affair with whatever will give our IPAs that “juicy” flavor everyone is seeking these days. While last year’s darling might have been Mosaic, there’s no question who the belle of the ball is this time around.

2016 appears to be Citra’s year.

Continue reading

The Data Behind Your GABF Beer Samples

Heading to Great American Beer Festival? Hope you like hops.

Thanks to Porch Drinking, festival goers have an advance preview at the many beers that will be served to thirsty enthusiasts descending on the Colorado Convention Center. Want an idea of what to expect? I crunched some numbers pulled from a continually updated list at Porch Drinking, as submitted by breweries.

Continue reading

The Full Story Behind Hops, Beer Production and Our Love of IPAs

united staes of hops

Note: This is the #longread version of posts from “Hop Week.

There are many repeated discussions in the beer industry these days.

Beer in cans. IPAs for days. Economic bubbles.

But one aspect that widely gets discussed by beer enthusiasts and the mainstream media with great regularity: hops. Where they’re growing, how they’re growing and what it means to beer – especially craft – going forward. It’s not hard to find reporting on one of the hottest stories in beer, whether we’re talking about hops growing in Colorado, Florida or anywhere else.

Even if it means we may be missing one of the most important angles of this often discussed topic.

Continue reading

In the Search for What’s New, is a Hoppy Sub-Style Found?

hops

At our current state of human evolution, our attention span is reportedly eight seconds. That’s less than a goldfish.

By one estimate, the amount of time we can pay attention to a singular beer brand is three years. I’m sure there are many who would argue that number is actually less and, like our regular attention span for everything else in life, is shrinking rapidly.

It makes sense, given the rise in the number of brands carried by distributors and how many end up on the shelves of our local beer aisles, making us spend more and more time simply figuring out what it is we’re going to buy.

sku for distribs

Whether or not we’re staring down the threat of the death of flagship brands, we can’t deny the effort by brewers to create, adapt and – dare I say – “innovate” in order to stay relevant to today’s consumers who are constantly looking for something more. It’s a virtuous cycle: drinkers like something new, brewers like creating something new and the loop goes on.

So when it comes to addressing the availability of hops and what people want, one of the trendy techniques in craft beer is offering a smart approach.

“If you look at data for beer styles, the number one style is IPA and the number two is variety,” said Ray Goodrich, director of marketing for North Carolina’s Foothills Brewing. “People like trying new stuff so that’s what we’re going to give them.”

He should know. Foothills is now in year three of an ongoing experiment, releasing a new IPA brand every month featuring different hops and flavors. Every 30 days, a 90-barrel batch is put into 22-ounce bombers and distributed across Foothill’s distribution footprint. With the exception of one month, Goodrich said he’s always seen their IPA of the Month or Hop of the Month beers sell out.

Given the myriad of situations facing the cross section of hops and the beer industry, the move to stay fresh and relevant is simple: it’s the rotating IPA.

Continue reading

It’s Not How Big Your Hop Addition Is, It’s How You Use It

hops-beer-glass

Beer, forever bound to agriculture, seems like it should be philosophically opposed to the use of the word “industrial.” In an era where “big” is bad to many beer lovers, the mere suggestion of the word can significantly alter perceptions.

Instead of some handcrafted, artisanal product, we suddenly have something wildly opposite. A beer that sounds so … macro.

But if hop yields are low, and creating new infrastructure is expensive, and drinkers really love a certain kind of hop that has to be grown, is it time to get inventive? Are there processes and products that may create flavorful shortcuts that can continue to produce the hop bombs we’ve all come to know?

With craft brewers using hops at a per-barrel rate many times greater than big breweries like Anheuser-Busch, it may be worth our time to better understand academic and even industrial advancements that can offer solutions to brewers and not take anything away from the beer we love.

Continue reading

How Can Hop Variety Support Craft Beer Sales?

cascade hops

When it comes to hops, the well-known elephant in the room is the prominence now taken up by aroma varieties, which aren’t just driving high ratings on Beer Advocate or RateBeer, but also the presence on farms across the country. Over the last decade, the shift from alpha to aroma varieties has been stark.

aroma hop acreage

The change has been illustrated in several ways.

From its annual hop report, the Brewers Association collects the most heavily-used varieties by craft brewers. The lists from 2007 to 2015 are certainly different:

2007 2015
Cascade (Aroma) Cascade (Aroma)
Centennial (Dual) Centennial (Dual)
Willamette (Aroma) Chinook (Dual)
Chinook (Dual) Simcoe® (Dual)
Amarillo (Aroma) Citra® (Aroma)
East Kent Golding (Dual) Hallertau Mittelfruh (Aroma)
Saaz (Aroma) Amarillo (Aroma)
CTZ | Columbus, Tomahawk, and Zeus (Bittering) Crystal (Aroma)
U.S. Golding (Aroma) Magnum (Bittering)
Styrian Golding (Aroma) CTZ | Columbus, Tomahawk, and Zeus (Bittering)

There is actually one less specific aroma variety on that 2015 list than 2007, but the increase in dual purpose hops is stark, especially when you consider how most brewers are using something like Simcoe or Centennial and the flavors they’re extracting.

Spoiler alert: it’s heavy on the late addition side to emphasize their unique fruity/juicy characteristics:

all about beer-hop chart

Chart featured in All About Beer magazine.

So what does this mean in terms of what – and how – varieties are being grown? More important, how can these changes be done efficiently when space is at a premium?

Continue reading

What Will it Cost to Meet Our Growing Demand for Hops?

hop bines

According to the last figures made available by the USDA, the number of American hop farmers jumped considerably from 68 in 2007, just as craft beer was starting to become more mainstream, to 166 in 2012. Today’s number isn’t readily available, but based on how often local and state media covers some aspect of farmers growing hops, it’s safe to assume it’s grown just as fast.

Which is good, because craft beer is going to need those hops. But in order to fulfill the requirement of producing enough beer to meet 20 percent market share by 2020, there’s still work to be done.

From building the infrastructure to choosing hop varieties, the country needs more farmers, more hops and more investment to make it happen.

Continue reading

We’re Growing More Hops Than Ever, But There’s More to the Story

hop bine

There are many repeated discussions in the beer industry these days.

Beer in cans. IPAs for days. Economic bubbles.

But one aspect that widely gets discussed by beer enthusiasts and the mainstream media with great regularity: hops. Where they’re growing, how they’re growing and what it means to beer – especially craft – going forward. It’s not hard to find reporting on one of the hottest stories in beer, whether we’re talking about hops growing in Colorado, Florida or anywhere else.

Even if it means we may be missing one of the most important angles of this often discussed topic.

Continue reading

Don’t Count Out the Reinheitsgebot! German Hops Find Fruit Flavor

2016-05-03_220942278_444F0_iOS

Likely by the growing presence in bottle shops and grocery stores, I’d venture a guess that even a casual beer fan has realized the influx of fruited IPAs in recent months. This time of year is always a boon to seasonal brand changes that showcase beers perfect for warmer months, with flavors often accompanied by the sweetness of grapefruit, orange and others.

But increasingly, brewers don’t have to solely rely on natural or artificial flavorings to boost the profile of their creation. Thanks to an evolution of hop varieties, all these fruity flavors can now be imparted in a beer without additional help – and consumers obviously appreciate the shift.

Sorting through what’s available in America, it makes sense that the U.S. is an epicenter of this change, especially given how American palates have shifted with expectation to beer and other alcohols.

But during my first day at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC), I found another, perhaps unexpected, country embracing this change.

Continue reading