Of the basic ingredients in beer no component is changing faster than hops. Hop breeders are continually pushing the envelope to develop new strains of hops that express exotic aromas and flavors that range from tropical fruits to blueberries to cat shelters in pine forests. It’s hard to get noticed sticking to the grapefruit and pine flavors of the traditional 3C hops. This has created a frenzy for the newest, sexiest hops and small brewers can be left on the outside looking in when trying to secure varieties like Mosaic, Galaxy, and Nelson Sauvin.
Interested to understand how this mad scramble for the latest and greatest hop feels to a brewer I reached out to some brewers in Central Ohio to get their take on this issue. In this post we take a look at issues of supply and demand. Later posts will explore their favorite hop varieties and take a closer look at the nascent hop growing scene in Ohio.
The brewers surveyed work for (or own) breweries that span sizes ranging from Columbus Brewing Company, which is the second largest brewery in Ohio, to Staas Brewing in Delaware, which brews on a 1/2 barrel brew system and serves most of their beer on the premises. A big thanks to the following brewers for taking the time to respond to my questions: Adam Benner (Land Grant), Tony Corder (Columbus Brewing Company), Chris Davison (Wolf’s Ridge), Craig O’Herron (Sideswipe), Liz Staas (Staas Brewing), and Trevor Williams (Hoof Hearted). Without further adieu let’s hear what they have to say.
Where are the hops used in your beers grown?
Trevor Williams (Hoof Hearted) – Washington, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia, & Germany.
Adam Benner (Land Grant) – We get most of our hops from two hop brokers, Hollingbery & Son and Hop Union, both in Yakima Valley, WA.
Tony Corder (Columbus Brewing Co.) – Most of the hops we use in volume are grown in the Yakima valley in Washington. There are a few others in smaller quantity that are grown in such places as Oregon, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Czech Republic, and the UK.
Craig O’Herron (Sideswipe) – Mostly from Oregon and Washington.
Chris Davison (Wolf’s Ridge) – Currently we source hops from the U.S. (Pacific Northwest), Germany, the U.K., Czech Republic, Australia, and New Zealand.
Liz Staas (Staas Brewing) – Since Donald and I brew mostly Belgian and English beer styles, many of the hops we use are what we refer to as “Noble hops” that are grown in the UK. Fortunately for us Noble hops are not in short supply. We also utilize hops that are grown in the Pacific Northwest, many of which are in short supply.
Have you had any difficulties with maintaining a steady supply of hops for your brewery?
Adam Benner (Land Grant) – Not too bad yet. Luckily we had contracts in place a year in advance due to the troubles losing the previous building. We were unable to contract some of the popular aroma hops like Amarillo or Citra, but knowing that ahead of time allowed us to craft our recipes with the hops we knew we had access too. Recently we found a supplier for Amarillo and Citra, so some of our newer beers have been featuring these hops.
Liz Staas (Staas Brewing) – Donald and I have had to tailor IPA recipes to what types of hops are available to us. Since we are a very small brewery we do not receive priority on what types of hops are available to us. There are varieties of hops that we would love to use in our recipes, but we have simply never been able to get our hands on them. So we design our IPA recipes to use the hops that are typically available to us.
Chris Davison (Wolf’s Ridge) – When Wolf’s Ridge first opened they had some issues, but at this point we do not have issues procuring most of our desired varieties. Some extremely new or experimental varieties are so limited only a few breweries get their hands on usable quantities though.
Trevor Williams (Hoof Hearted) – Yes but only with the sexy “designer” hops like Mosiac, Citra, and sometimes Simcoe. We love those hops but we also have a fondness for some of the unsung hops like Columbus, Apollo, Chinook, and Summit. We also aren’t chained to one hop, we usually try to blend hops that we think represent that certain beers essence. Sometimes up to 8 different hop varieties.
Craig O’Herron (Sideswipe) – I’ve established hop contracts, but with a new business it can be challenging to anticipate how much or little you might need to contract out.
Tony Corder (Columbus Brewing Co.) – Not really. We are getting better each year at managing our contracts and covering needs for production.
Have you had any issues with quality and freshness of your hop supply?
Chris Davison (Wolf’s Ridge) – No, but the issue readily exists. I’ve seen harvests of the same hop from different farms have completely different quality, and harvest time can negatively impact hops (if harvested too early or late) as well. The last few years I felt like Amarillo was declining in quality, but so far this year I have been happy with the small amount we’re using.
I’m only using 2014 crop year hops in my beer, but there is a ton of product out there that’s anywhere from 2-4 years old that I routinely see breweries release for spot market sale. My guess is that breweries, in the rush to contract everything, create false scarcity to some extent, then get stuck with hundreds or thousands of pounds of excess in warehouses that need liquidated. It’s a shame because it drives up prices, creates false shortages, and later floods the market with old hops which don’t do the craft industry any favors. When a brewery uses four year old aroma hops and offends a customer, that customer is less likely to purchase my product using a fresher harvest of that same variety (assuming they are aware of variety used).
Trevor Williams (Hoof Hearted) – Can’t say that we’ve have come across many hops we didn’t like because of freshness.
Liz Staas (Staas Brewing) – About a year and a half ago we noticed that the Simcoe hops we were receiving from our supplier were not quite “up to snuff.” Hops can be a very finicky plant and harvesting at appropriate times is very crucial. Harvesting too late can accelerate the oxidation process and hurt the compounds that give IPAs their nice aroma. Conversely, harvesting too early can impact hop flavor as you must give the hops enough time to appropriately develop their essential oils. We have since started using Simcoe hops again, as they seem to be back to the standards that we would like.
Tony Corder (Columbus Brewing Co.) – We are always keeping an eye on quality and freshness throughout the year. Not all “X” hop are the same. They can vary greatly depending on where it’s grown, the weather experienced during growing season, and even from lot to lot or acre to acre within the same farm.
Craig O’Herron (Sideswipe) – Not really, most of the hops I have purchased have been of a good quality. We only use ingredients that meet our high standards.
Adam Benner (Land Grant) – Not yet.
Do you have hop contracts? If so for what hops and how far in advance do you have to commit?
Tony Corder (Columbus Brewing Co.) – We try to contract almost everything. We also have contracts with several brokers. It’s a better way to do business and to make sure your needs are covered with hops that have limited availability and/or are in high demand, which at this point is basically all of them. It’s also a way to lock in pricing. Again, as we grow we get better at this and become more comfortable contracting several years out.
Trevor Williams (Hoof Hearted) – No contracts yet. We spot buy from 7 different sources.
Adam Benner (Land Grant) – Yes, currently we are contracted through brew year 2017, and working on updating those numbers and establishing further out contracts now that we have better production numbers. One of the issues with the newer hops is the time it takes to establish a good yield, and with the farms reinvesting and planting new fields it’s difficult to predict the supply a few years out. It’s good to have contracts in place to hedge for the future, but I am of the opinion it will swing back to the norm in a few years.
Chris Davison (Wolf’s Ridge) – It’s difficult, but not impossible, to survive on a small scale without contracts. However, we do contract most varieties. The minimum is typically only a year. I’m pushing to start contracting slightly further out (about 3 years) though. This is beneficial because it helps us lock in desired product. It forces us to do some growth projections and strategy planning which is good. It also clues the growers in on what the market wants. By signaling my buying tendencies they can adjust and grow what will sell and better keep up with demand.
Craig O’Herron (Sideswipe) – Depending on the type of hop, you may have to contract out two to three years in advance. Any of the newer styles of hops (Simcoe, Amarillo, Citra, Mosaic, and Galaxy) pretty much require a contract. Usually older styles like Cascade, Willamette and Fuggle can be purchased without a contract, but even those go on short supply sometimes.
Liz Staas (Staas Brewing) – Since Donald and I are a very small brewpub, we have never had to sign into a hop contract. We order a TINY fraction of the amount of hops that breweries typically do. Also, Belgian and English beers are very low-hopped beers, therefore, we simply do not use as many hops.
To what extent do you have to adjust the type and/or quantity of hops used in your beers based on the quality and availability of hops?
Trevor Williams (Hoof Hearted) – We are usually changing up the hop bill and schedule depending on what we have available to us. Musk of the Minotaur for example is rarely brewed with the same hop bill twice.
Adam Benner (Land Grant) – Kind of what I mentioned in the previous response, we formulated a lot of our recipes with the hops we knew we had access to. On some of the new IPAs we’ve been doing we would like to dry hop with a bit more, currently doing ~1 lb per bbl because of the inventory of hops we have. We would prefer to up the amount, but given the access and cost of the aroma hops it has limited us thus far to really push some of the beers.
Chris Davison (Wolf’s Ridge) – Wolf’s Ridge is young enough that most batches are still tweaked each time. Some recipes, like Driftwood and Luck Strikes Twice, are about dialed in though, and so far I haven’t had to pull hops due to quality or scarcity. Part of this is planning though. I intentionally don’t put super scarce hops in our top sellers because I don’t want to have to drastically change the recipe each time. I’ll reserve the most limited stuff for specialty batches until I know I have a sufficient supply in the pipeline.
Tony Corder (Columbus Brewing Co.) – We build out recipes to give ourselves freedom to change out certain hops, if need be. Our contracts help us ensure we’ll have enough of a certain hop to use X lbs per batch and brew X number of times in a given year.
Liz Staas (Staas Brewing) – As I stated above we try to design recipes that use the hops that are available to us, but when the quality of Simcoe hops we were receiving went down (see above) we did have to tweak the recipe.
Craig O’Herron (Sideswipe) – I have been lucky not to have to adjust my recipes based on availability, but as my brewery expands and more breweries open, I anticipate this will be a bigger issue for all small and mid-sized breweries.
I hope you enjoyed this look under the hood. You can see that brewers use a variety of approaches when it comes to sourcing hops. The smaller breweries like Staas and Hoof Hearted can operate without hop contracts, while they are essential for the larger ones like CBC. I found it interesting to learn that the hop additions are constantly being tweaked for some of the best IPAs in the state like Musk of the Minotaur (chosen as the top IPA in Ohio last year in the King of Ohio IPA contest) and the CBC line of IPAs (winner of multiple awards at the GABF). We’ve also learned how challenging it is to get a steady supply of the latest and greatest hops. That might give you some insight as to why Great Lakes doesn’t sell Chillwave (featuring Mosaic hops) all year, or why Zombie Dust (featuring exclusively Citra hops) is always so scarce.
I hope you come back for the next post where these brewers reveal their favorite aroma hops, and the third post where we take a closer look at Ohio grown hops.