“Shit man. That sucks,” Cheerful Tortoise regular Jamie Gladden utters while staring at the pint of beer in front of her early Sunday evening. The 21-year-old environmental studies major has just been delivered some bad news: Within the next few months her standard pints may cost her much more, thanks to a hops shortage affecting breweries all over the world.
“Shit man. That sucks,” Cheerful Tortoise regular Jamie Gladden utters while staring at the pint of beer in front of her early Sunday evening.
The 21-year-old environmental studies major has just been delivered some bad news: Within the next few months her standard pints may cost her much more, thanks to a hops shortage affecting breweries all over the world.
Hops are an essential part of beer making. The bitter taste of the plant is used to counteract the sweetness that occurs in the fermentation process and is used as a natural preservative. These little plants, which are generally grown in cool climates such as the Pacific Northwest, have been the bane of many beer brewers recently.
Shrinking hops crops
There are two major factors in the hops shortage this year, said Michelle Palacios, an administrator at the Oregon Hop Commission. The first is a hops surplus that led many farmers to lessen or even halt hop cultivation altogether, shrinking the availability of many hop varieties.
Add to that a poor 2007 growing season for hop farmers in America and Germany, as well as a decrease in barley production, and suddenly the ominous shadow of a price hike begins to loom large over many Portlanders’ libation of choice.
While prices are stable for now, it is possible that many popular beers will get more expensive as contracts start to expire, Palacios said. Local beers and microbrews should be affected more by the shortage because they don’t have the long-term hops contracts larger companies, such as Miller Brewing or Anheuser-Busch, do. Many contracts will start to expire soon, Palacios said.
Just how much beer prices will increase is still up in the air. Many breweries are remaining quiet as to how much of an increase their customers can expect in the near future.
“Prices will fluctuate,” said Daniella Alvarez, marketing manager for the Bridgeport Brewing Company. Alvarez said Bridgeport’s prices should increase sometime mid-year, but declined to give specifics on pending price hikes.
Elsewhere, speculations on the escalating price tags are vague. Silver Moon Brewing Company reported to the Bend Bulletin that each of their wholesale keg prices could rise by $5, and National Public Radio quoted a representative from Rock Bottom Brewery about a possible $3 hike in the brewery’s bottled six-packs.
With the cost of microbrews already at $3 to $4 a pint in many local bars, possible price jumps lead some local drinkers to speculate on a new era of hard alcohol consumption around town.
“I don’t really like beer that much,” Gladden said. “I get it because it’s cheaper than the harder stuff. If that changes…”Seated next to Gladden, fellow Tortoise regular Kristy Parsons gave a smile and a half-shrug.
“Hey, if it’s going to be the same price as a Jack and coke, bring on the Jack,” Parsons said.
The two sipped their beers and exchanged joke ideas on how to handle rising beer costs on a student’s budget. Oregon’s beer drinking set is nothing if not determined. Among ideas tossed out by the two were eating less, working more and moving into cheaper housing.
Further down the street at Suki’s Bar and Grill, bargoers more indifferent. After a wide-eyed look of surprise, Zac Mallon, 23, shook his dreadlocks and said with a smile.
“It is what it is. Supply and demand, you know?-Maybe I’ll drink more liquor.”
“It might make well-drinks more appealing,” Patrick Lang, 26, said.
Still, Lang won’t be slowing down his beer consumption anytime soon.
“It’s just one of those things, prices spike. It’s really not a lot to be worried about,” he said.
Back at his table, Mallon continued to comment on the ramifications of the low hops supply.
“Maybe I should become an organic hops farmer,” Mallon said like a true entrepreneur, teetering on the edge of inspiration as he kicked back the rest of his beer.
You drink it. You love it. But what goes into beer?
Hops: A green, flowering plant with a bitterness used to balance the sweetness of fermentation. It can be used as a taste preservative.Barley: Dried, processed raw barley gives beer the sugar and starch needed to brew it.Yeast: The yeast ferments barley and hops to create alcohol content and carbon dioxide.Water: For obvious reasons…