Craft brews have pleased beer enthusiasts mightily. The options available today are made with a high level of creativity, valuable product knowledge and a whole lot of love. Craft beers are made for people who live for variety and surprises. From the light refreshing Hefeweizen, made with wheat and best consumed with a slice of lemon while sitting in the hot sun, to the knock-your-socks off Märzen, a dark autumnal brew often imbibed at Oktoberfest, the world of craft beer has something for nearly everybody. Currently, a hops-heavy brew is extremely popular in the craft beer world, but more on that later.
In the mid-1980s, when Steve Hindy left his job as a journalist at Newsday to start making beer.His friends and family thought that he had gone over the deep end. Now, his Brooklyn Brewery is ranked ninth in the craft beer industry. The impact these breweries have had on the beer industry at large cannot be overstated. Hindy points out that national brands like Anheuser-Busch and Miller have jumped on the craft beer bandwagon. They know that in order to compete with Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewery, Dogfish Head and New Belgium, the big boys must produce an innovative and quality product. The fact that recently Anheuser-Busch-owned Shock Top and Goose Island had their prices cut in half does not worry Hindy.
One factor that works against the national brands and their antiquated tactics is that craft beer enthusiasts, while loyal to the industry, are not necessarily loyal to a brand. They may have an all-time favorite type of brew, but most are interested in sampling what is newly available. This keeps the crafters on their collective toes, which in turn is great for the consumers. There is always something new to try. With the industry still being relatively young, experimental brewing is not only acceptable, it is encouraged.
There is, however, one type of craft beer in America that is most popular right now, and that is the India Pale Ale. This brew is hoppy, meaning a lot of hops goes into making this particular craft beer. An average beer has approximately 0.2 pounds of hops per every 31 gallons. A well-crafted India Pale Ale (IPA) will have 1.25 pounds. IPA can be made with what is referred to as alpha hops or aroma variety hops. Craft brew fans have spoken and they thirst for the aroma variety. More expensive than the alpha hops, aroma variety hops are more fragrant and have a wider array of flavors, like citrus and pine. Alpha hops tends to have a more bitter flavor.
The price per pound for hops has almost doubled since 2004. An average cost in 2013, for both types of hops, was $3.59. Aroma variety hops, being a lower yield crop, tends to be anywhere from two to seven times more expensive per pound than the alpha hops. These numbers have inspired growers to start growing more aroma variety hops in lieu of the alpha hops.
For example, Washington state, the nation’s chief hop grower, has gone from 70 percent alpha and 30 percent aroma to about half and half. However, the shift is continuing. By the end of this year, there is suspected to be 40 percent alpha hops and 60 percent aroma variety. That may be a smart move, since 8 percent of sales in the U.S. go to the craft beer industry, and, as has already been discovered, the demand for the aroma variety hops is high. Serendipitously, the high demand for a more expensive hops is helping struggling hop farmers who had been losing money due to a recession oversupply.
Whether the high demand for hoppy brews is just a trend or a true indicator of the type of beer drinkers Americans are, craft beers have established themselves and are not just a trend. The days of watered-down lagers are over. Long live craft brews!
by Stacy Lamy