Have you noticed what’s happening to craft beer prices? They’re going up and up…Here’s a story I wrote for our newspapers on the subject. I also posted some further comments by brewers here.
Christian Kazakoff, the head brewer at Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley, has cut back on hoppy beers because of the scarcity of hops. (Alison Yin/MediaNews)
Brewers find rise in overhead sobering
By William Brand
Article Launched: 02/06/2008 03:05:36 AM PST
BERKELEY — If you’re a drinker of craft beer — that’s the good stuff, the beer with the full flavor and unusual twists and turns — it’s going to cost a bit more, if not today, soon.
Many West Coast craft brewers have raised their suggested retail prices as much as $1 a six pack. Unlike the brewing behemoths such as Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors, which have years-long supply lines, craft brewers have been dogged by sharply higher prices for hops, an increase of about 400 percent. For barley, prices are up 80 percent. Even the price of glass in beer bottles has jumped.
Anderson Valley Brewing in Boonville last week raised the suggested retail price from $9.49 to $9.99 for a six pack of Hop Ottin’ and all their other prizewinners. Stone Brewing of San Marcos raised the price of Arrogant Bastard and their other brands to a similar price. Firestone Walker did the same thing last month.
Even Boston Beer, the maker of nationally distributed Sam Adams, is rolling out price increases.
“Right now, we have the perfect storm,” said Boston Brewing’s Michelle Sullivan. “So many things are happening at once: increases in the hop market, the barley market, the cost of energy for making glass. Even freight costs are up.
“We get all our hops from Europe and the British Isles, and besides the poor hop crop there, there’s the weakness of the dollar against the euro, which makes hops more expensive,” Sullivan said.
For brewpubs and other small volume craft brewers, the hop increase has hit home hard.
At Berkeley’s Triple Rock Brewing, head brewer Christian Kazakoff said he canceled plans to make an uber-hoppy beer for the eighth annual Double India Pale Ale festival at the Bistro in Hayward this Saturday.
“I need to focus on having enough hops on hand to make my regular beers,” Kazakoff said. “It’s sad. The demand is tremendous, there’s not enough growers and poor growing conditions. A lot of the hops I normally use, I’m struggling to find.”
He said he cannot even find Simcoe hops, noted for its apricot aroma. “You know, this is a blessing is disguise,” he said. “The hop crisis is forcing us to be artisans,” Kazakoff said. He is contemplating a coffee-chocolate imperial stout.
The Bistro’s Double India Pale Ale festival — named for beers that are twice as hoppy and twice as strong as regular India Pale Ales — has had several small-volume brewer defections, proprietor Vic Kralj said.
Besides Triple Rock, Beach Chalet in San Francisco and Moonlight in Sonoma County have opted out this year, he said. To be sure he has 50 or more beers entered, he’s considering allowing other strong beers such as imperial red ales, he said.
The big question for some is whether consumers, whose move to the far more sophisticated craft beers has propelled the segment to double-digit growth for the past three years, go back to good ‘ole Bud Light at $5.99 or less on sale.
Craft brewers are betting they won’t. Fans of craft beer agree. “I won’t hesitate to buy a six pack of good beer for $10,” said Stuart Forman of Pleasant Hill, who says he’s been drinking good beer most of his life. “I think good beer’s been underpriced, and I’m certainly not going to buy crappy beer.”
Julia Herz, spokeswoman for the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers’ Association, the craft beer trade group, said there seems to be no clear trend on retail price increases. Prices for ingredients are certainly up, she said.
“Hops have increased upward of 400 percent; the price of barley has more than doubled. Glass prices are up because of increased energy costs,” she said.
“American craft brewers are likely the hardest hit because they make the fullest-flavored beer. To do that, you have to use more higher-priced ingredients,” Herz said. Long-term, Herz adds, beer is an agricultural product just like wine. There’s an ebb and flow on prices. They’re not permanent.
“People are used to the wine industry saying every harvest, ‘It was a great year, it was hard year and prices are going up.'”
Down at prize-winning Firestone-Walker, brewmaster Matthew Brynildson is philosophical. “This will be one of the years that tests our mettle,” Brynildson said. “Brewers who are artisans will take what hops they can get and put out excellent beers,” he said.
Reach William Brand at email@example.com. For in-depth interviews with craft brewers about the hop shortage, check out his blogs, http://www.beernewsleter.com/blog and http://www.ibabuzz.com/beer.