Monday, November 19, 2007

No Hops...Well Then... No Hops!

What? No more hops? Well then, maybe I just won't put any in my beer.

It's true, I can't order most of the hops I Hallertau, Tetnanger, Saaz, Cascade, Centennial, etc. For a lot of German style lagers coming up, I've had to buy alternatives to ideal German varieties. I'm not too concerned because my curiosity of hybrids is high. In fact, my last order of ingredients from Northern Brewer (NB)included enough alternative hops to get me through the winter lager season, and into the beginning of springtime ales. But, when it comes time to make an American Pale Ale with aggressive Cascade and Centennial hops, well, I'm out of luck. Again, I'm very interested in new blends of hops that wouldn't normally be thought of as a good mix for aromatic pale ales.

We are definitely in the midst of a serious situation. At the time of writing this, the only hop varieties currently available through NB are Admiral, Ahtanum, Boadicea, Crystal, Galena, Marynka, Newport, Pride of Ringwood, Progress, Sladek, Spalt, and Tradition. Most of these I've never heard of before, nor considered in any of my brews so far. I also wonder how much of these are available. It almost looks like availability is more of a concern than price hikes. Tough times indeed, and sort-of scary.

What can we do? Wait? It has been told by Northern Brewer that they have not yet received shipments from the 2007 hop harvest. When that rolls in, we may be able to resume our hop-headed impulses for the most intensely hopped IPA's. At the very least we can brew some more traditional styles.

Perhaps this shortage is trying to tell us something about our American ideals. Are we using too much hops? Sure hop-heavy Barleywines, American IPA's and Imperials taste great, but are they completely necessary? I'm starting to think they aren't.

I don't have too much to say about this shortage. I am a bit concerned, but at the same time, I am looking forward to using different/unusual hop varieties and perhaps hop alternatives. I am interested in growing my own, and harvesting some from "herbal" friends of mine who have some pretty old and massive hop vines.

On a positive note, this shortage has caused my brother and I to get started with our deeper interest in herbal/healing beers. We've had herbal beer ideas for almost a year now. If you are also thinking about shifting towards hop alternatives, I highly recommend getting started with this book...Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

As for non-hopped ideas, I'm looking forward to using bittering alternatives. Among others, herbs such as alecost, betony, dandelion, horehound, milk thistle, nettle, sage and yarrow can be used. Aside from providing bittering properties, many herbs, roots and barks also provide additional health benefits. I have concerns about the cost of some of these herbs as well, but I intend on growing substantial herb plantings for brewing and cooking.

Undoubtedly, alternative bittering/flavor/aroma ingredients will cause beer to taste very different. Personally speaking, I've come to a point in brewing where my beer tastes as good as any commercially sold ale or lager. So I'm very interested in giving my beer a new twist by working into the recipes any good combo of herbs, roots and barks.

We are home brewers. We brew beers the way we like them. We have the ability to be as inventive with our beer as we want. This means that any truly creative or inventive beer style comes from new ideas and innovation, and ultimately from personal taste. Using hops with moderation and including alternative bittering/flavor/aromas can prove to be just as appealing as solely hopped beers.

I'm looking forward to posting about my first herbal beer experiments in the coming month.

The following list of links are blogs/articles related to the world wide hop shortage: I'll be adding to it as more are published

An article about the hop shortage by Gregory McLaw...
Will homebrewer’s get hopping mad or smile over the brew kettle

Beervana wrote about Northwest hop prices and the craft beer dilemma...
This Hop Shortage Thing May Be Serious

Leah Beth Ward of the Yakima Herold writes about how...
Hop Shortage Hits Home

Stonch writes...
Spruce up your ale

Travis writes...
Hops of Wrath


Adam said...

Rock on! I could see things like berries, spruce tips anc chicory being used. There was a recent issue of Zymurgy where Charlie Papazian wrote about brewing beer with ingredients indigenous to your region.

Spruce tips are used in the Yards Brewing company's Poor Richards Tavern Spruce. It adds an interesting twist.

Travis said...


I am glad to hear a good attitude about the whole thing. I just finished up my post on the shortage and it's a little more of a pessimistic view on the whole situation (I am going to publish it tomorrow as I am a sleep on it kinda guy).

I am willing to work with hops alternatives, my big concern is the aroma. I love the smell of hops and a nice hoppy brew. It's going to be tough to let go. But as I am sure you have seen, we had better get used to this sort of pinch.


Jonathan said...

Man, I love Northern Brewer. Except what's the deal with their refractometer selection? We're looking into one but they only have an analog. Please.

That was an aside... I'm actually not too concerned about the hop shortages. No, I don't think we use too many hops in our beers. We might feel the pinch for a year or two, but as prices rise more farmers will get back into hop farming. Perhaps I'm not concerned because we're also growing our own hops. Albeit unsuccessfully in the first year, but I think that's pretty normal.

Anonymous said...

I am thinking of trying other bittering agents like orange peel (like in Belgian Beer), lemon peel or lime peel, Wormwood extract (the most bitter substance on the planet), and possibly spruce tips. I am planning to boil just 1-2 liters of wort at a time and trying a bit of each. Once boiled for an hour, I will taste each one. I am keeping a blog of it soon.

Ted Danyluk said...


1-2 liters of wort is a REALLY small volume to work with. I even think 1 gallon is pushing it. The amount of bittering agents will have to be measured by the gram or even less than 1/8 tsp. Good luck with that.

There is definitely a lot of experimenting to do. Not too much published, and nothing commercially sold, so we're sort of on our own.

I'd like to read about your experiences with these these ingredients and your beers. My brother and I have just begun our quest to make herbal beers that are balanced and unhopped (see post...4 herbal beers). I believe it's going to come down to the right combination of ingredients and also the brewing process.

Thanks for your comment.


Try some leaves of INDIAN NEEM PLANT...It is bitter aromatic and blood purifier,very economical.ANIL SHARMA