Just like in Germany, where biofuel incentives caused farmers to shift from barley to corn, in North America, farmers have been switching from hops production to corn, leading to a worldwide shortage. In the United States, where a quarter of hops are grown, acreage fell 30 per cent between 1995 and 2006, according to the Los Angeles Times. Barley malt prices are also on the rise.
"I've been doing this for 25 years and this is the worst. It's got to be 100-plus years since we've seen something of this magnitude," said Ralph Woodall, director of sales for Washington-based hops supplier Hopunion.
Microbrewers use a lot of hops and don't have long-term futures contracts, so they are feeling the pain. One brewer in British Columbia is looking for alternatives:from the StarPhoenix:
Like a lot of small brewers, B.C.-based Gulf Islands Brewery tends to buy hops as it needs them, to avoid tying up scarce operating capital in contracts. This year, said brewmaster Murray Hunter, that policy has left him scrambling to keep the suds flowing.
"I have a limited supply, enough to keep us going for another few months," he said. Gulf Islands brews 500 to 600 hectalitres per year for local pubs and B.C. liquor outlets.
If Hunter runs out, he has alternatives, "none of them great." He's been digging into brewmaster lore for recipies which don't depend on hops for flavour.
"In Great Britain for centuries they used a lot of other herbs, like yarrow, to flavour beer," he said. "The advantage of the hop is it acts as a preservative and it tastes good. But if we run out, we've still got a business to run." ::Star Phoenix