Taste Trends & Hops Shortages

Eno Sarris, May 10, 2016

If you're reading this, you're probably into sampling new beers. That delicious search for the ideal combination of floral, fruity, piney, herbal, citrus, and bitter has us reaching for new beers over the tried and true in the beer fridge. 

If that statement isn't (yet) proven by a deep dive into our numbers, the explosion in the number of craft beer SKUs should help put a line under that statement. An SKU is a stockkeeping unit, or an identification, usually alphanumeric, of a particular product that allows it to be tracked for inventory purposes. There's more and more of them every year.

Talk to enough brewers, and the link between this fact and hops becomes clear pretty quickly.

The hops is the thing, man. Talk to those brewers, and you'll hear it. You'll get theories about the best latitudes for hops. You'll hear about tanker ships full of one last shipment out of South Africa. You might even hear about a brewer signing an order for hops with shady provenance, just in case the thing turns out to be great. I've heard these things at least.  

So, when I read Bryan Roth's post about the new hops coming out of Germany, I could feel the giddyness for the brewers I've come to know. I don't know for sure that they were in that line of attendees at the Craft Brewer's Conference, crushing hops and smelling the best new green stuff coming from Germany, but I'm pretty sure they were. 

This isn't the first time that Germany has stepped up the innovation in ther hop game, as Roth points out. Mandarina Bavaria was part of that first wave that is making its way into our beers currently. And it may take time before we get to try Ariana and Callista -- the newest in fruity German hops -- because it takes time to build your crop levels to meet international demand. 

And it is that demand that is the dark side of our thirst for new beers.

News that a shortage of Nelson hops has led to a (hopefully temporary) hold on bottling Alpine's Nelson made some people very sad recently. That's part of a larger trend -- once upon a time New Zealand hops were the new thing that we all wanted, and because we wanted it so bad, brewers snapped up all the hops. And now there's a shortage. 

It's not quite that simple -- there have been crop shortfalls that have affected availability. But look in that report at the numbers for Citra versus Nelson hop quantities. In 2013, Citra (722k pounds) far outpaced the entire Nelson harvest (216 pounds), and also came closer to home. Citra is an OG. Nelson was the new kid, and we drank it all up. 

Hop shortages follow this pattern -- low supply and high demand creating a 'crisis' in craft -- but there's that twist to the story when you look at the particular hops that are suffering the most. A recent article talking about the issue of hop shortages in the Crafty Pint pointed out that only 5% of the world hops are facing shortages.

Guess which ones. Yes, you got them, the most popular 'new' hops varietals: Nelson Sauvin, Mosaic, Simcoe, Riwaka, Citra, and Galaxy. You like fruity hops in your IPAs? Yes you do. Most of those are fruity. 

The flip side of a brewer's lusty search for new hops is that gnawing terror of not having ordered enough hops for the year, or of finding a great hops and not being able to get enough.

And our thirst for the fruitiest IPAs has sent our favorite breweries searching for more fruity hops to replace the lost Nelson. So no, it wasn't just a feeling in the force -- there's no doubt there were plenty of brewers crushing Ariana and Callista in line at the CBC, and that they all had one question for the farmers. 

"When will this be available in the U.S.?"

Header image thanks to Bryan Roth