Disaster Plan

Back in March, our very own draft beer guru, Pete, blogged about the hops shortage. As expected, supply is not quite meeting demand, resulting in a nearly 1000% increase in the price of hops ($4/lb to $40/lb). Yikes!

HopsThe root of this issue, as Pete and many others have observed, is the decreasing availability of hops – the key ingredient of beer. It is, after all, what gives us that nice buzzed feeling we get when we drink and sometimes turns others into 10 foot tall, bulletproof monsters – among other things. Hops also provide an excellent counterbalance to an otherwise extremely sweet beverage, so there’s a big flavor benefit to using it also.

The trouble with growing hops is that it doesn’t produce buds right away. It can often take 2 seasons before hops farmers see yield. Many farmers have removed hops from their crop rotation in favor of other profitable, multipurpose crops like corn (used for food and bio fuel), so what hops supply is currently available, is in high demand and can be sold for a hefty price to brewers. This means higher beer prices, as Pete pointed out in his original post. This is especially true of really “hoppy” beers, like Smuttynose’s Big A IPA, which utilize twice as much hops as the unleaded stuff. (Still worth it at any price, in my opinion.)

A distant relation to cannabis, hops flourishes in temperate conditions usually found at varying altitudes between the 30th and 50th Parallels. Hops are dioecious (males and females are separate plants) and they spread via rhizomes. Vines grow up to 25 feet high in a single growing season. It is the female hops plant that produces the flowers and buds used in brewing beer. The males are used only to pollinate females when producing a new variety of hops.

Hops Field

Thanks to science and some very innovative people, an answer to this hops crisis may be on the horizon. I’m talking about hydroponically-grown hops. The benefit of hydro-grown hops is that they are grown in water and a nutrient solution – which means heartier, healthier crops. Because crops are grown indoors, that means fewer pests and a significantly longer growing season. An added benefit to growing crops in this way is that it doesn’t take two seasons to get results. Flowering buds appear the first time around.

I’ll drink to that!



  • Hannah August 14, 2008 @ 7:27am

    Ed – I’m feeling a bit better about the hops situation now. Let’s hope growers hop on the hydroponic band wagon soon!

  • Ed August 14, 2008 @ 8:13am


    There’s nothing quite like seeing “the light at the end of the tunnel” and realizing that it’s NOT an on-coming train. Not that I’m an alarmist per se, but I personally believe that we, as human beings, would be doing ourselves a great disservice by allowing this problem to persist. I’m seriously relieved that there is a viable solution on the horizon. In fact, while researching and writing this post I actually found myself cheering the hydro hops with a resounding, “Grow! Grow! Grow!” (Bet you didn’t hear that coming from my cubicle.)


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