High demand for hops: annoyance for breweries, good for farms

Demand outpacing supply for certain strains of hops used to make beers

A hops farm. (File)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A lack of hops, one of the main ingredients in beer, could mean trouble is brewing.

The nation’s thirst for beer has been rising for more than a decade as small batch craft brews have taken front and center, with double-digit yearly growth topping $20 billion annually. This increase in demand has put a strain on the market for hops used in beers from Budweiser to Guinness, but it’s especially prevalent in craft beers that use two or three times as much hops.

Jason Spaulding runs Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, which continues to see growth at the pub and restaurant on Cherry Street and has also expanded to retail sales at major supermarkets like Meijer. He says it can be challenging to get the hops he wants at a reasonable price.

“Some of the hops that are in the types of beers that people are wanting right now are the ones where the price is just endless,” Spaulding said.

A dry summer in Europe and an ongoing lack of rainfall in the northwest has pushed hops prices higher, with some strains increasing by more than 25 percent, according to industry experts. Hops can range in price from less than $5 to more than $35 a pound.

“Some of the hops are just ridiculous. There’s such strong demand that the prices just go way up,” Spaulding said.

Bart Watson, economist for the national Brewers Association, said there is no crisis when it comes to getting hops overall, but certain strains can be tough to get.

“We were shorted on a hop that was in one of our main products that we had to discontinue because we didn’t have the hops to make it,” Spaulding said.

The increase in demand is not bad news for everyone in the state’s beer business.

“More and more Michigan breweries are willing to take that step to use this locally grown product in some of the beers that they offer,” said Jeff Steinman, horticultural director at Hop Head Farms.

Jeff and Bonnie Steinman started growing hops on a half-acre of borrowed land a decade ago and now run Hop Head Farms, an operation that encompasses more than 500 acres with a facility in Barry County’s Hickory Corners and a new one set to open soon in Berrien County.

“I think the growth in the industry is only limited by our ability to produce a quality product in this state,” Steinman said.

Hop Head Farms provide hops to well-known brewers like Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, Perrin Brewing in Comstock Park and Brewery Vivant. The farm exports to 35 states and internationally, making it one of the largest hops operations in Michigan.

The Brewers Association says farms like Hop Head and Empire Hops Farm in northern Michigan have helped move Michigan into fourth place among hops-growing states behind Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

With America’s beer consumption continuing to increase, there’s no reason to think the growth in the hops market will end any time soon.

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