It’s not just my blogging that is in it’s infancy, my technical skills need honing too…….
So recent headlines claimed beer supplies may dry up as a hop shortage looms. It made for good news material, and with over 1200 breweries in the UK now, every MP must have at least one in their constituency? We have seen a massive increase in “hop head” beers, many of which are very refreshing. Whether the idea came here from America, or whether some brewers here became braver and bolder, arguably easier if you have a smaller or pilot brewhouse plant, or whether it was just anti-establishment, I am not sure. But hops have been used at rates previous generations would probably not have contemplated. And some great beers abound, though those who know me will know I am a great believer in balance and moorishness. So what of the possible supply challenges? Well one of the things established brewers were pretty good at was future planning, and a conservative approach. So we know what hops we are likely to need for the next few years, and duly place contracts via hop merchants to secure these hops. These contracts run a few years ahead, and help give the farmers some confidence. Hop husbandry is not cheap, with large costs of maintaining wirework, or in the case of hedgerow hops, expensive machinery. Forward contracts are a commitment, and we have been known to pay more than the spot market price, but if hops are important, so is variety and supply. We may not have neon lights in the brewhouse expounding this thought, but the answer we would suggest is in the drinking.
Back in 2006 when we trialled our first of the current generation of pale hoppy beers, we thought it was the first time we had used American hops, as Willamette are used in significant quantity in the Hop Back. Which of course implies whole hops, but that is a debate for another day. When I had cause to look back into the old brewing records, of which we are lucky enough to have all of them, it was clear we were using American hops back in the early 1900s. Hops then were in short supply in this country, so imported hops were used to make up the shortfall. Interestingly, the hops are not named by variety but by where they were grown. So Oregon and Hallertau appear.
What a different market now, as hops are sourced very much for their individual varietal characteristics. And British hops start to be exported. So we need to invest, we need to set up forward contracts, we need to give the farmers confidence, and we need consistent raw materials to maintain the massive range of beers out there. And as we see more and more beers, consistency is key. Quality, consistency, and a safe product. We seem to have received a plethora of enquiries relating to Article 44 and allergens recently, with an associated lack of understanding about beer labelling. But hey, we need to do this. So is everyone up to speed? Will we meet the deadline later this year? Is everyone taking this seriously, there is a cost attached, but we have an industry to protect and maintain public confidence. If you use the best raw materials, let’s tell the drinker. Traceability through reputable suppliers has been around in brewing for a long time; about time we celebrated it. Beer is inherently safe, but we need to prove it.
So come on everyone, it isn’t just about buying a brew kit and pumping out beer, there is a whole supply chain we need to work with to maintain the healthy future of this industry. Get some contracts made, get to know your merchant and your farmers, and tell the world about it. Let’s stop debating what craft may or may not mean, let us not think small = beautiful, bigger = bad, and enjoy beer. And keep it coming.
This week we have our awards lunch for our licensees, a notoriously liquid affair with a three course lunch appearing at some point. I am so excited as we have just taken delivery of some new glassware, balloon glasses lined at 1/3, 1/2 and 2/3 of a pint. I look forward to a measured beer sampling, and beer and food pairing, hopefully safe in the knowledge that our supply chain is safe, and also celebrating the excellent work of those in the pub trade. But quite how long before I move to my favourite dimple tankard I couldn’t say. We’re hip at Hooky.