Hops are an increasingly valuable agricultural product for breweries around the globe. Getting a grasp on changing acreage, trending varieties, farming practices and agricultural policies is critical as the number of craft breweries exponentially increases and macro multi-national beer companies shift territory and influence. This is not just relevant to those of us in the beer industry, however–consumers always benefit from a sharper focus on the big picture. When it comes to beloved consumables like craft beer, everyone should know not just what makes up the products they’re buying but also where those ingredients came from and why they’re significant. Knowledge makes everything taste bigger.
Before I delve into a summary of the major hop-growing regions of the world, a quick note on hop growing needs. Hops are tenacious, fast-growing plants that have some specific needs, notably total hours of daylight. You will note that most hops are only grown in a certain latitude on either hemisphere, as distance from the equator influences daylight hours in the growing season. Additionally, hops are susceptible to a lot of types of mildew and blight. This makes growing them successfully in certain (often humid) regions additionally challenging (or impossible).
The Pacific Northwest of the US is a hotspot for hops. Washington state alone produced 75% of the nation’s hops in 2016, and Idaho and Oregon are high-producing states as well. Other states are now growing hops: New York, Michigan, and Colorado, for example. High national and global demand for hops has lead to a five year 95.8% acreage growth in the US, reports Hop Growers of America. It turns out we have some space here for agriculture, and a lot of love for beer.
European hops have long been an important regional and global influence, though unlike the US, space is constrained, and contemporary varietal desires are sometimes at odds with what has been common growing choices. Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia and the UK are the main countries where hops are produced. Continental or landrace varieties like the Nobles are of course what you think of being grown in Europe, but some new development is happening as well, especially in the UK.
The southern hemisphere has been expanding a hop growing influence over the past several years. While nowhere is yet producing the level of product that the Pacific Northwest does, specific terroirs and regions are making names for themselves–take the Nelson Sauvin hop, for example, grown in the same region that NZ sauvignon grapes are grown. Southern hemisphere hops are harvested at opposite times of the northern hemisphere, obviously, which both complicates and adds demand to available crops.
Australia’s hop growing powers have truly been expanding, just like New Zealand. Different types, mostly trademarked varieties are becoming popular among craft brewers especially in the US. It’s an exciting new market down under.
South African hop crops have come into the news in recent times. The macro beer giant ABI completed its purchase of SABMiller just a few months ago and as a result, now owns SAB Hop Farms, essentially the entire hop crop of South Africa. Though South Africa has not been producing a significant amount of the world’s hops, the lack of access to these products for up and coming small breweries in Africa and around the globe is a serious topic.
China was once a high producer of hops, but in recent years has drastically reduced its acreage to an essentially meaningless number, especially alongside how much beer is produced in China. It’s hard to predict China, though, so who knows what the future holds.
So there we have it–an introduction to the important players in the global hop-growing game. Any environmental, political, or business changes within one area can drastically influence the others for obvious reasons–pricing, availability, dedicated brands and contracts, you name it. It can be a complicated market.
Tune in for future articles diving a little deeper into each region and their notable hop varieties!