Monday, November 26, 2007

The Rising Cost of Small Brewing - Part II

We've been traveling a lot for the holidays and had some awesome beer (2005 Dark Lord and a 2000 Lindemen's Kriek were the highlights). But, there's some interesting information about the first, and most immediate impact of the hops shortage.

Every year since 2006 Samuel Adams has run a homebrewing competition called the Longshot Homebrew Competition. In 2007, one of the winners was Mr. Mike McDole from California; if you are interested, this is his 2006 Mayfaire winner, a Double IPA (210 IBU!?!) - presumably his winning recipe for Sam Adams is similar. As you will notice, this particular recipe calls for seven different hops - over 1 pound of hops for a mere 12 gallon batch.

One barrel is 31 Gallons. Thus, applying simple math, to brew only one barrel of this beer would require approximately 3 pounds of hops. Thus, a mere 667 barrels would require one ton of hops. Suffice to say, Sam Adams brews 667 barrels without thinking about it.

Well, the problem arises because of the fact that most of Sam Adams beers don't use this much hops let alone the varieties of hops Mr. McDole's Double IPA utilizes. You can read the letter from Jim Koch, founder and brewer at Sam Adams, that explains this problem here. When Sam Adams set out to start brewing they ran into the very real problem that they simply could not get the hops. The hops they needed were, literally, sold out. Even Sam Adams, one of America's top microbreweries, could not get the hops. They were in a sticky situation. After consulting with Mr. McDole, Sam Adams decided to postpone the release of the Double IPA winner until next year. By then Sam Adams should be able to source the amounts and types of hops that are required.

And, this is similar to the problem our Wisconsin breweries face. In this case, because of the lateness of the decision to source, Sam Adams was low on the priority lists and were closed out of sourcing the hops they needed. Similarly, Wisconsin breweries will have trouble sourcing hops. This could directly impact those breweries that make hop-intensive styles like IPAs and Double IPAs first - for example, Tyranena, New Glarus, Great Dane, Central Waters and others.

Thus, it can be easy to predict that breweries will start experimenting with lower-hop styles. Perhaps this will result in more quality and experimentation by forcing breweries (not just the hop-intensive ones, but the ones being pushed by the others as well) to focus on subtlety rather than fall back on hops to mask poor mashes, low-quality yeasts, and imprecise quality control. The other side is that we (those that promote and the media in general) have to increase consumer education so that consumers can differentiate these more subtle and complex beers.

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