Everybody has heard about it. 2015 hop harvest has not been good in some regions. While many of us enjoyed the nice weather during the summer, swimming in the beach or even drinking beer, the German hop fields were having a bad time with it. And being fair, who wants to work when the thermometer reaches 35C and above?

Hop cultivation requires a particular environment. Long light periods during plant growth (up to 18 hrs/day) and temperate weather (sufficient warmth and moisture) are the conditions in which  the hop plants like to grow. Normally, July is the month with the highest precipitation values in Central Europe. This together with the moderate temperature makes countries such as Germany, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Poland privileged for the growth of hops. But something totally different happened this year. This summer has been described as the summer with the most “heat days” on record and it had less precipitation than normal, even surpassing the record year 2003. This combination allows us to describe the 2015 crop as the worst crop for the central European hop industry within decades. At the end of August, the German hop industry association described the crop as significantly below-average in all European hop-growing regions due to the hot and dry conditions in the months of July and August.

In spite of an increase in acreage by 540 ha, the official harvest estimation commission’s forecast is down by 25-40% versus a normal crop in Central Europe. Also, experience shows that poor yields go hand in hand with low resin and oil contents which increase the problem exponentially. Fortunately, the US is expecting a more or less average crop so that at least the supply of US flavour hops should not run into any serious problems. The UK crop is looking good with an increase around 5% versus a normal crop. However, it’s not just supply that’s causing the problem. The huge demand increases that we have seen for aroma hops and continue to see will only make the problem worse. On the plus side, the supply situation in the high alpha segment is far more relaxed.

This year will be the year of creative solutions. Brewers and hop traders should work together to achieve the targeted results. Some recommendations are for example to look into prior year inventories. Good hop traders keep their products under cold conditions (0-5°) and under vacuum or controlled atmosphere to ensure a good quality of the products over the years. The important value here is not the harvest year but the Hop Storage Index (HSI), which indicates the freshness of the hops. The HSI measures the amount of α- and β-acids lost over a period of 6 months at 20C. This value, which aims to estimate the future α-content, depends on the analysed variety, the time of harvesting and the packaging among others. The conditions and moment in which hops are harvested have also an influence on the initial HIS. The combination of these influences develops in that even older hops may have a better HSI than younger hops. This in combination with the hops contracted for crop 2016 may help to bypass the shortage in some varieties.

Of course, those who have worked with and on their recipes and the sensory characteristics of the hop varieties contained in them will be at an advantage and well prepared for the hard circumstances. Looking into new varieties to substitute or to prepare mixtures of different varieties to achieve the desired aroma profile offers a good solution. However, it is important to keep in mind that there is no one to one substitution of any hop variety. We have accumulated a wealth of knowledge in this field in recent years and can assist brewers in finding the optimal solution with the help of brew trials, sensory panels and flavour analyses. Moreover, we have developed some mixtures of hops to achieve a defined aroma perceptions or to simulate a defined hop variety. For example T’n’T® and Fantasia® are 2 composition of hops which provide an explosive passion fruit aroma and taste character and a silky touch of cream and caramel, respectively. Or also our new launch, Yellow Sub, which is a mixture of hops recommended to substitute Amarillo. You can take a look to our website to find more information about it (http://www.barthhaasgroup.com/en/varieties-and-products/creative-products).

Also optimising the recipe by using CO2 extract or bittering products such as IKE, Isohop… may help to save in other products used to give aroma to the beer. Or maybe considering the usage of PHAs or other hop oil products to kick the aroma and flavour of your beer to balance the final desired sensory perception.

Summarising, hop harvest 2015 is thus anything but “business as usual” and will require the willingness of suppliers and brewers to cooperate in the search for the most suitable solution. So do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions…

…because the magic doesn’t happen in your comfort zone.