Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Update: No Pliny Clone for Sam Adams Longshot Series This Year: Hop Shortage

By William Brand
Monday, November 19th, 2007 at 10:11 pm in Uncategorized.

Hop shortage means no Pliny the Elder clone for Sam Adams Longshot homebrewer program

Longshot LogoIt’s official. Boston Beer Co., maker of Sam Adams beers, has canceled plans to produce Clayton,CA. ace homebrewer Mike McDole’s double India Pale Ale this winter as part of its annual Longshot Series of beers. The reason: Boston Beer found it impossible to obtain large quantities of the seven hop varieties needed to make the beer.

The good news: It’s going to be part of the 2009 Longshot series, which will give Sam Adams time to secure a supply of the hops needed.

Mike said Jim Koch, Boston Beer’s founder called him last Thursday and told him there was no way they could locate enough hops to produce the beer following his recipe. “He said they had an alternative recipe using different hops,” Mike said. “They sent me the recipe and I looked at it and it just wasn’t right,” he said.

Mike, a member of the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts, based in Walnut Creek, CA., was one of two winners of a national contest that drew thousands of homebrewers. His beer’s a double IPA, 9.6 perent ABV,. 100 IBUs and (gulp) seven kinds of aromatic malts and a hefty malt bill for balance. It’s Mike’s version of a recipe for Russian River’s fabled Pliny the Elder furnished homebrewers by Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo. For perspective, I’ve posted my column about the beer just before this post.

Jim Koch called me late today (Monday, Nov. 19, 2007). He said the beer will definitely be part of Longshot next year. “It has seven different hops and a very unique hop character – that’s why we liked it so much,” Koch said. “Unfortunately, for our situation, they were hops we don’t normally use. They’re all American — Simcoe, Centennial, Warrior, Columbus…”

Sam Adams uses European hops, German Hallertau, English Kent Goldings and Fuggles.

“We spent a month pleading with hop dealers,” Koch said. “The basic answer we got was they were not available at any price. Some of them, like Simcoe and Centennials are not grown in huge quantities to begin with,” he said. “They’re typically grown on contracts.”

Koch adds that there’s never been a hop shortage like this before in his memory. “There was a shortage in the early 80s, but it wasn’t like this. It hasn’t been like this in people’s lifetime. We were willing to pay whatever it took and we were willing to trade, give ’em some of our hops. But they jhust weren’t available.”

In the end, Koch said, it was Mike McDole’s decision. “He’s the brewer. We’ll make it next year.”

Hops 2


So what’s going on in the world of hops? I’ve talked to a number of craft brewers who are in a bind. One, Melissa Meyers, who brewed for several years with Rodger Davis at Drake’s in San Leandro,CA., has backing for a brewpub, so while scouting for a site, she’s also been talking to hop dealers trying to line up contracts a year or two ahead.

She’s stuck out so far. She said she’s shocked; hop dealers she’s known and dealt with for years haven’t been able to help her.

Jim Koch understands. There are a bunch of things happening, he said. “There’s been a big oversupply of hops for 15 years and prices were down and as a result farmers cut back their acreage. Brewers have been able to go out and buy fairly cheap on the hop spot market and take advantage of that,” he said.

Adding to that, farmers have been planting a lot of high alpha hops, meant for bittering. They have higher yields, you can get more hops per acre. A farmer can take out Hallertau and put in Hercules and get six times the hops.”

Weather in Europe, meanwhile, has been terrible for two growing seasons, Koch said and there has been one bad crop on top of another.

“All this time, the craft beer industry has been growing double digits,” he said. The spot market’s gone; hop supplies, especially the kind that craft brewers covet, have vanished.

My summary, not Jim Koch’s: It’s a bad situation and it’s going to take a while to correct and prices are going only one direction: up.

I also talked to an ag economist at the University of California, Davis, who said the barley shortage – another craft beer bugaboo this fall – is going to continue and the barley future’s market predicts much higher prices next year.

He is Daniel Sumner, director of UC’s Agricultural Issues Center and a professor of agricultural and resource economics. “It’s a long-term trend,” Sumner says.

He blames ethanol. “The price of oil went up and increased the demand for biofuel, ethanol made out of corn. So farmers have cut back on barley and soybeans and wheat and planted more corn. It also turns out that in Australia there was a lousy wheat and barley crop, so wheat and barley prices went way up,” Sumner says.

There’s more bad news. “Barley used to be a big cash crop here in California; farmers even grew a bit of malting barley,” he said. A great deal of that acreage went to wheat even more to wine grapes, he said.

And more:
A lot of barley is imported from Canada, Sumner says. We all know what’s happened to the American dollar. It’s plummeted and for the first time since the 1950s, the Canadian dollar has reached parity. On Monday (Nov. 19, 2007), the U.S., dollar was worth 98 cents Canadian.

End of econ 101 lecture. Forecast: Beer prices gotta go up. Budweiser too, maybe. Professor Sumner says rice prices are way up as well as wheat and barley.

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