An IPA without hops is like a ship without a sail, or Twin Peaks without David Lynch. The bitter, floral buds that flavor many of our favorite beers—though not all—may be giving some of us man-boobs, but they are fiercely cherished all the same.
So, it is with a heavy heart that we bear this news: We may soon be facing a hops catastrophe.
A year ago, we heard these same warnings, though not for the same reason. Back then, it was craft brewers' devotion to producing IPAs and other hops-forward beers that was putting pressure on crops. (Businessweek noted that while average beers contain about one fifth of a pound of hops for every 31 gallons, craft beers use up to 1.35 pounds in the same amount.) As the popularity of bitter, hoppy brews grew, so did the need for the flowers that lend them their flavor.
Now, however, hops growers not only need to contend with demand, but with dry conditions.
CNBC reported last week that hops growers in Washington's Yakima Valley are facing a shortage this year due to unseasonably scorching temperatures and the ever-present drought plaguing the West Coast.
Up to three gallons of water a day are required to sustain each hops plant, but farmers are currently contending with local water usage restrictions, leading some of them to rely on purchased water or emergency wells. That has implications for the rest of us, because Washington state produces nearly three-quarters of the hops in the US, most of which is in the Yakima Basin.
Michael Butler, chairman and CEO of the Seattle-based venture capital firm Cascadia Capital, told CNBC that we could face a hops shortage in 2016. "Next year you won't have more land for hops," he said. "You have a shortage of water. You're going to have more demand from the craft breweries, and so you kind of pass the inflection point where the demand is greater for hops than the supply."
Speaking about the extra expenses incurred by the drought, one hops grower told CNBC, "Every grower is going to have crop loss. I am not saying it is catastrophic or disastrous, but there will be some crop loss associated with it."
Mitch Steele, the brewmaster at Stone Brewing Co., told the AP recently that "hop usage is outpacing supply," adding that "some beer makers have even had to drop production because of the shortage."
So, what does all that mean for you, lowly IPA-drinker? "The consumer will pay a higher price for beer," Butler said. "That is without question."
Heaven forfend! While the looming prospect of a hops shortage might not affect this summer's beer prices, be prepared for a hike. In the meantime, you might want to think about switching to un-hopped gruit beers, just like your ancient Roman grandpappy used to drink.