Another record hop crop could be on the way after US hop growers planted over 5,000 more acres this spring. Looks like over 58K acres of hops planted across US, up 9.8% over last year’s acreage, Hop Growers of America announced early this month. That’s nearly double a historic low of about 29,700 acres in 2012. This massive expansion largely precipitated by the growth of craft in the US, as much of the acreage put in the ground devoted to aroma hop varieties, used in large quantities by small brewers, rather than alpha varieties grown largely for bitterness. During this time, the US took over as the world’s top hop-producing country from Germany. German hop acreage also up about 5%, Intl Hop Growers Convention stats show. And worldwide acreage also up. But total acreage added in US since 2012 “is larger than the total acreage of any other hop-growing country in the world, outside of our own and Germany,” HGA exec director Ann George said in statement.
For first time in years, US acreage devoted to alpha varieties will also grow this year, HGA noted. That’s quite a shift. Aroma varieties went from about 40% of total hop acreage strung for harvest in 2011 to over 80% last year. IHGC stats indicate that dipped back down to just slightly below 80% this year. But aroma acreage still up 8.6%. So aroma acreage harvested in the US this fall could be about 4X what it was in 2011. Wow. But recall, discussion about the American hop supply has quickly turned from threats of a “shortage” to the suggestion of “surplus.” Speaking for small US craft brewers, Chris Swersey of the Brewers Assn told hop growers that his members probably didn’t need more acreage during January convention in Bend (see Feb 16 issue). Issues of supply and demand (and shortage or surplus) likely to remain largely variety-specific, however. Expansion of acres devoted to highly sought-after proprietary varieties – think Citra, Simcoe, Mosaic and the like – continues. In 2011, Citra and Simcoe were grown on about 750 acres in the key PacNW hop-growing states of Wash, Oreg and Idaho. Mosaic production wasn’t yet in full swing. But last year, they were ranked #4-6 in terms of US acreage, grown on 11,350 acres combined. That’s even though their expansion is restricted by the breeding programs that own trademarks for those varieties. (Note: some of this analysis appears in the 2017 Craft Brew Guide, which we published last week and is now available in both digital and print formats, see below.)
Much Ado About South Africa Craft beer lovers proved as obsessive for hops stories as for beers that use large quantities of them this week. When news trickled out of South Africa that the new owner of a primary hop farm there wouldn’t have any hops to spare for indie US craft brewers, hopheads hollered. That’s in no small part due to the fact that the new owner is Anheuser Busch InBev, which bought the farm in its deal to acquire SABMiller. After hearing that they wouldn’t receive any hops from South Africa, a number of small breweries complained via social media, holding this up as yet another example of the alleged evils of ABI. For its part, AB pointed to the difficulties of agriculture: a poor harvest limited supply; most of the hops it did harvest would be used by its larger South African breweries; some would be made available to local small brewers and AB’s own craft outfits. Last year, the US imported less than 25K lbs of South African hops, according to HGA stats. That’s about 0.2% of all the hops imported into the US last yr. To put that in perspective, states outside of PacNW collectively produced about 1.5 mil lbs of hops last yr. And that was only 1.7% of total US hop production in 2016. So we’re talking about a relatively tiny amount of hops here. However, reactions to this story revealed that hop-loving supporters of US craft brewers are still pretty prickly about perceived anti-competitive behavior by ABI, particularly following its announcement last week it’ll acquire Wicked Weed (a hop reference, natch)