A Tear in Your Beer

How Seattle can cope with the international hops crisis.

By Sarah Anderson January 4, 2009 Published in the April 2008 issue of Seattle Met

WE’RE GOING TO BREAK THIS to you nice and slow. Set your beloved suds aside, sit down, and listen: We. Are. Running. Out. Of. Beer. The worldwide supply of hops, the essential ingredient in your favorite beverage, is shriveling up. Too much rain in Europe, a drought in Australia, hail in Slovenia, fire in Yakima Valley, and fungus, lots and lots of fungus—the list of calamities that have killed the hops crops goes on and on.

Experts predict a steep rise in the cost of beer (up to 10 percent) and that, before long, you won’t be able to find a six-pack under $10. And don’t expect special favors from our hops-growing friends east of the Cascades. Yakima Valley does provide 70 percent of the nation’s hops, but most of the precious crop (at least the portion that wasn’t scorched in an October 2006 fire) is already promised to Big Beer, corporate brewers with long-standing contracts.

Your best shot at continued beer bliss are the folks who’ve been quietly slinging the really good stuff for years: your neighbors. Seattle’s home brewers, those enthusiasts so bonkers over beer they slave over makeshift mini breweries, have scraped by outside the international hops market forever, explains James Stieg of Enumclaw. “We get what’s left over from those contracts,” says Stieg, who’s brewed his own beer for 20 years.

Stieg is now growing his own crop in the backyard and organizing an exchange club for brewers to barter different varieties of hops. “It will be great,” he says, “to meet after the harvest, exchange beer, and have a good day.” Your next move? Befriend a home brewer near you.

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