Due to a number of factors: drought, increased corn production, increased demand – there’s a serious hops shortage going on.
If you’re unfamiliar with hops, it’s overly-pronounced flavor in Imperial IPAs like Surly’s Furious, Bell’s HopSlam.
The most approachable and comprehensive article I’ve found on the subject is from Chris Colby’s “The Bitter End: The Great 2008 Hop Shortage.”
NPR covered the story last November and the Chao Xiong re-wrote the story MadLibs style (swapped in MN breweries) for the Star Tribune today.
Thankfully, Xiong also covered the market equilibrium aspect of the story: brewers (and conceivably drinkers) want to keep the same recipe, so they pay more for less of the same agricultural product. Thus increased prices at the check out as they pick up what hops they can and explore modifications to recipes.
Tim would know better, but I suspect this type of crisis rarely happens in the wine world. Why? One word: vintages.
As in, “1974 was a very good year for Bordeau.”
Inconsistency is baked into the expectation.
Same is true in the extra-specialty coffee world. Beans age (Aged Sumatra) from the moment they’re processed.
Whether grapes, coffee, hops, or barley, agricultural conditions change harvest to harvest, place to place.
Consistency is rare in nature. Even rarer in people.
Seems odd that beer should taste exactly the same year over year when everything around it changes, especially for beers that don’t age well (almost all of them).
What if we, as beer drinkers, expected greater variations in the year over year recipes of a given brew while the general feel remained consistent.
Or, I could be completely under-appreciating hops. I do that.