Rising hops prices spill over to beer drinkers

Playing dice and swilling beer at the Paddy Flynns pub in Burlingame, Robert Lingaas says it will take more than a shortage of barley and hops to pry the icy Budweiser from his fist.

“So the bottle goes up a nickel. Who cares? If you drink 50 gallons a day, maybe,” the San Mateo resident said.

“Good thing you only drink 30,” chimed in a joker on a neighboring bar stool.

But for brewers, the hops shortage is no laughing matter.

A combination of diseased crops, economic factors and bad weather over the last two years has created a critical shortage in hops and, to a lesser extent, barley. The costs of both have skyrocketed, said Ian Ward, president of the Brewers Supply Group, a nationwide distributor of brewing ingredients.

Hops, which gives beer the bitterness favored by craft brewers, is only grown in a few places in the world, Ward said. Exacerbating the shortage, a warehouse fire in Yakima, Wash., last year destroyed 4 percent of the U.S. hops supply. Storms destroyed 300 acres of hops in Iowa and 30 percent to 50 percent of the crops in Slovenia.

As a result, the price of hops has jumped from $5 a pound to more than $20 a pound, Ward said.

Ward said prices are already starting to be passed on to the consumer, and beer drinkers can expect a six-pack of craft brew to rise by up to $1 in the next few months. Prices for mainstream beer will also rise, though not as sharply since major brewers have reduced the amount of hops in their beer over the years.

Local brewers say they are already feeling the effects of the shortage.

“As soon as I heard about it, I pulled out my credit card and cleaned out the local supplier,” said John Wonder, brewer for San Francisco’s Wunder Brewing Co.

Wonder was lucky. Two months later, the cost of his $300 supply had shot up to $1500.

“We would have to close if we didn’t have hops,” he said. Still, rising costs have forced the brewery to raise the price of pints by $0.25.

Chris Garrett, brewmaster and owner of Belmont’s Devil Canyon Brewery, tells a similar story. Like Wonder, he had the foresight to stock up on hops as soon as he learned of the increase. Though he expects his supply will get him through to next year’s harvest, there are some varieties of beer that will require new purchases.

“We’ve had to pay some pretty absurd prices. As a result, we’re going to have to change some recipes a little,” he said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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