Posts Tagged ‘hop crisis’

Session #23: Old and New

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

This post is a contribution to The Session, a beer blog carnival conceived by Stan Hieronymus, that is, a monthly beer-themed blog-off. This month, Session #23, is hosted by Beer and Firkins. The roundup is available here.session_logo

Beer and Firkins asks, “What will you miss most in the beer world from the past year and what excites you most about the beer world in 2009?”

I will go ahead and answer both of these questions with “the hop situation”. That is, I appreciate the effects that the hop crisis has had on microbrewing but also look forward to the end of it.

Let me clarify: the hop shortage did not start in 2008 and certainly will not end in 2008. However it seems this year will have been the largest shortfall.

The ultimate effects of the hop crisis are threefold. First, directly: loss of availability of hops has caused brewers to be more careful about their use. Hoppy beers are being tamed. Don’t get me wrong: I love hoppy beer, but most of the time I’d rather have a fragrant and flavorful pale ale than a bitter punch to the face. Brewers are responding to the crisis by moving bittering hops later in the boil, focusing on flavor and aroma qualities. More than just that, however, American brewers are discovering styles they never knew they could brew. Balanced and malty beers are surely back in, but the real darling of this new flavor renaissance is sour beer. Just look at the growth of breweries like Jolly Pumpkin and Russian River as well as all the recent press on this minuscule group of styles (Lew Bryson’s First Draft, BeerAdvocate articles, etc.). If these trends continue, 2009 could well become the year of the sour.

Second are the indirect effects of the crisis. Lowered hop supply has drastically raised the price of hops, which has contributed to the increased price of beer in general. Again, don’t mistake me: I don’t want to pay more for a bottle than I have to. However, as the increase in hop price has caused brewers’ respect for that plant to grow, so too will higher priced craft beer increase respect for those beers.

These first two effects are painful but temporary. Already farmers are seeing growth on fields planted since the crisis started, so you can be sure that the supplies will be back up to a reasonable level soon enough. The third effect is lasting and quite positive: it has helped us on our course to return to a community understanding of beer.

Since Prohibition made us all switch to cocktails and mass-marketing made us all start shopping in supermarkets in the suburbs Americans have been getting further and further removed from our beer. A craft beer would have been unrecognizable to the general populace in 1979. By 2006, though craft beer had become generally hip it was still entirely as a product. It took the hop crisis to get the agricultural basis of beer back into the collective consciousness. And then, all of a sudden, we saw coverage in a range of outlets such as The Economist, FOX News, NPR, and Wired. Media coverage of beer has always been as watery as the beer covered, but no longer.