The changing landscape of hops: Q&A from the latest MBAA
Every month the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA) holds district meetings to provide technical insights and discuss topics that are top of mind for brewers around the country.
Last month, the Minneapolis St. Paul District meeting in Shakopee, Minnesota hit on one of these topics with a special Q&A panel of hops experts. And with nearly 80 brewers in attendance, it was standing room only.
I had the honor of representing John I. Haas on the panel, along with Doug Wilson of S.S. Steiner, and, G.H. Salazar and Nunzino Pizza of Hop Head Farms. We discussed hops, the hops industry and the relationships between craft brewers and “mainstream” brewing (though we could all argue that craft has definitely gone mainstream).
I think everyone recognizes that craft is certainly a force to be reckoned with—and it’s changing the landscape of hops. Just five years ago, the ratio of bittering to aroma hops grown in the U.S. was 70:30. Today it’s 30:70. This is a complete reversal, all due to the continued rise of craft brewing. And hop supply is also being affected by the dose rates that craft brewing has compared to mainstream brewers—where mainstream averages less than 0.2 lbs./bbl., craft brewing doses at 1.5 lbs./bbl.
While there were lots of good questions for the panel, one that really caught my attention was, “When was the best time to pursue contracting hops, both now and into the future?” We all tended to agree that the best time to contract hops was before new acreage goes in. But it’s also largely dependent upon when brewers get a sense of how different brands are doing in the market. If you see a beer is selling a lot more or a lot less than you planned, it’s important to communicate with your hops supplier quickly.
Attendees also wanted to know, “What keeps a hop supplier up at night?” For me, the answer was pretty simple: having too many customers being long on hops so that it actually begins to affect oversupply for the whole industry. This went back to a key point I just mentioned: we’re all in this together, and it’s important to communicate with your suppliers on a regular basis so that everyone keeps contracts in balance to what is really needed.
A good hops supplier is one who looks out for their customer by supplying them with the right hop varieties—but also the right amounts for their brewing needs. At the same time, they should be working hard to innovate with a strong pipeline of new hop varieties, and should see how things like hop extracts can really boost efficiencies.
The discussion also covered some of the investments the hop industry is making to support the ever-growing craft industry—in fact, another 5,000 acres of hops are being planted this year alone. And while it’s still going to be tight going forward, especially when it comes to hard-to-get hops like Citra® and Mosaic®, more investments will be needed to meet demand.
This session lasted well over an hour, but it could have gone on twice that long—if dinner for the group hadn’t been getting cold. If you’d like to attend an MBAA meeting near you, be sure to check out the calendar for upcoming events. We sure hope to see you there.