Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Face to face with the hop shortage

Of the beers I make, K's favorite is my Red, which I try to have on hand for the summer time. It's my hoppiest beer (I'm more into malty beers). It's designed to show off the crisp, citrusy character of Cascade hops. It's balanced by some caramel malts, among other things, to balance the bitter with enough sweet. I tell people it's like pink grapefruit juice, but beer: Citrusy, sweet, crisp, enjoyable to sip, a wee bit bitter.

So I made a batch a few weekends ago with my friend (who, in his second batch ever, designed a chocolate raspberry ale that smells as if he's pulled off dessert in a glass... quite impressive). But when I got to my brewery supply store, I was very sad to discover that the hop refrigerator was nearly empty.

Instead of selling the hops in 4 oz packages, they were down to 2 oz (which is actually fine with me, since I don't need more than 2 oz of anything for any of my recipes. I had a freezer full of unused hops from prior batches). And they didn't have any American Casacde hops. I ended up using an Argentine version, which won't be the same. I also switched to using my Centennial hops for aroma instead of boil, and used some warrior hops to supplement the whole thing. It'll be close, and okay, but not the same. My Red is one of my recipes with a "do not change" note on it.

It's the first time I've ever not been able to get something I want from a store. We don't deal with scarcity in American markets. Prices may rise, but we can still get some. In the case of Hops, there just aren't any more. All gone. Wait till next harvest.

Which is why this is very cool. The MBA in me can make an ROI case for the behavior, but I believe it's genuine altruism. Selling things at cost means the business is losing money, in that they must engage in the economically unproductive behavior of coordinating the sales and fulfilling the orders, instead of making more beer in better ways. I do think it's part of a culture that says "beer comes first", and (back to the ROI part of it) makes me look more fondly on the Sam Adams brand. Not that I buy beer often, but when I do, I'll look more favorably on the Sam Adams products. And for those who want to see big companies do the right thing more often, you might consider them, too.