Is HOP Regionalisation the Next Trend ?

Posted on December 31, 2009


Hop Shortage has been the two favored words in the industry for the past several years, since a string of bad crops in Europe, a fire in a warehouse in Yakima and the big boys needing to buy more hops. Prices per pound ranged from the $1-3 and jumped to $20-30, which in lamen’s terms is expensive especially for West Coast breweries who make the HOPPY IPA’s we all love. Now there is a GLUT which translates to more supply than demand, as too many people planted HOPS to help appease the shortage.

Does this mean cheaper beer?  in simple words NO..  We have learned as adults that once a tax or cost is implemented it never seems to disappear, and much like a companies bottom line, we are not going to expect cheaper hop prices to translate to cheaper beer. Living in Canada never translates to cheap beer anyway.

What we are going to see is regionalization in the industry with brewers using hops more like Wineries use grapes from certain vineyards. At the start of the 1990’s nobody drank Australian wine overseas, and then it was 1994 when a wine critic  Parker’ised, Penfolds Grange Hermitage (Shiraz) was given 100 Points for the 1990 vintage. Then all of a sudden the world couldn’t get enough of Australian Shiraz and our then American Oaked Chardonnay.

Through the mid-late 1990’s wine sky rocketed in prices through more demand than supply, and wineries were being started by Dentists and Lawyers whom loved Wine and wanted to join the party. It was evident by the late 1990s’ that there were too many vineyards planted, and when it takes on average 5 years for the grapes to used to make wine, that brought us to early in 2000. Australia held the mantle for a long period as Price/Quality ratio and introducing many to wine. But Australia also decided to follow what was working overseas in Europe;  Regionalization!!

** Sorry for Yellowtail but someone had to create the product** Note in point the Casella family still own the winery in the Riverina, and it is not owned by Fosters or Pernod Ricard like some other wineries** Also a myth is Australians add sugar to wine,  no sugar is allowed to be added to any wine Australia, although we can add acid.

We can look at the wine industry and see that regionalisation has helped them with products and styles. New world countries learned that only certain grapes should be grown in certain areas, and these new areas produced surprising results. Some of the most interesting Shiraz comes from Mudgee in NSW, and is used extensively by many wineries.

In 2009 we saw many breweries using different sources for hops, such as Phillips, Full Sail, Widmer, and Sierra Nevada, who all had beers that were from new sources. Sierra Pale Ale was always a stable at airports, or in Vegas, but it’s not one of my favorites, but they made an Estate Grown beer that I tried in Denver and brought some home.  Although some of these brewers are no longer small craft brewers, they are making some unique and interesting beer.

It was the Sauvin hop from Nelson in New Zealand with whom grabbed my attention as a new variety that changed the way I thought about IPA from Oregon. It was trialed as an experimental beer in Brewers Fest in 2008, and then the Half Nelson was on tap at their Gasthaus Pub that is attached to their brewery in Portland. This hop is now included in the Widmer Pale Ale called the Drifter. Every once in awhile a beer stops you in your tracks, and this was one such beer. Also Widmer has turned into one of my favored stops when in Portland,. It’s on the same tram line that takes you to a new beer bar called Saravesa at Killingsworth.

Not being a farmer myself I was told by a grower in Oregon that Hops will grow anywhere that wine grows, and that got me to thinking, Is HOP regionalisation going to be a trend ? . . Instead of all brewers trying to create the next; 120 Minute, Ruination, Double Daddy, or Carlesbad Pizza Port IPA, the increased hops can be used to make Hoppy beers by adding more to other styles. I mean who thought viognier added to a shiraz would work? but it does in some peoples opinion. Who thought Beer stored in bourbon barrels would work?

The HOP Glut is a good thing for the industry, and like the wine industry now there can be great experimentation with styles or varieties, which can be trialed in seasonal or private releases for certain bars or restaurants. I’m never swayed by Points or Gold Medals, but I’m swayed by interesting stories, or interesting names associated with a beer such as Midas Touch or Limb & Life.  This also could mean that brewers on the East Coast & West will collaborate with certain hops, malts and beers.  Brewer Collaboration is another topic unto itself…