Ramble On

Monday, September 29, 2014

Food for Thought - re: Local Hops

Doing a little web research recently about Virginia brewing.  Between the Brewers Association website and my own recollection, I was trying to name off, out of the 61 Virginia craft breweries, how many of them are near (within a two hours’ drive) Hawksbill Cabin.  Here’s what I came up with:

·         Harrisonburg:  Three Brothers, Three Notched
·         Lexington:  Devil’s Backbone Outpost, Blue Lab
·         Lynchburg:  Jefferson Street, Apocalypse
·         Front Royal:  Backroom
·         Purcellville:  Corcoran, Adroit Theory
·         Leesburg:  Crooked Run, Barnhouse
·         Ashburn:  Lost Rhino

This list has the makings of a year-long day-trip fest to taste beers in breweries, especially if you add in several breweries to the east that you would encounter as you drove back towards (or out from) Washington, DC, including Old Busthead in Vint Hill (Manassas area), Bad Wolf in Manassas, Mad Fox in Falls Church, and Port City in Alexandria.  Last year I exchanged emails with a few of these about where they get their hops – I also talked to two larger brewers in the Tidewater area. 

Also from the Brewers Association website, there was news that about 130,000 barrels of craft beer are produced annually in Virginia.  The selection of breweries I highlighted range in size from nano, producing less than 5,000 barrels annually, to regional, producing more than 15,000 barrels per year, but they probably add up to about one-quarter of the craft beer produced in Virginia, or approximately 32,500 barrels. 

It’s just a point of interest to me at this point, but thinking about Dan’s (and Bill's - shown here) hop yard, and the other hop yards that are springing up throughout the state, I wanted to take this review to the next step of calculating how much hops this level of brewery production required.  Here’s what I came up with:

·         Approximate (dried) hops per barrel:  1.5 pounds
·         Total (dried) hops needed for 32,500 barrels:  48,750 pounds
·         Estimated (dried) hops produced by known Virginia hop yards:  14,000 pounds

None of the hop yards that I am familiar with actually dry their hops for commercial sales – that is a level of investment in machinery they haven’t made yet.  Instead, they sell their fresh hops into the market place, and we get some very good seasonal “harvest” beers, best consumed fresh, and only available in limited quantities for a very short time.  Fresh hops contain a lot of water, and are typically dried in an oasting process that reduces their mass by 80 percent. 

What would happen in this market if a hop yard were to come on the market with the capability to produce high quality dried hops – either whole or in pellets?  There certainly appears to be room for the product on the demand size, since these craft breweries identified survive and prosper without local hops, acquiring them instead from large, national distributers, such as Brewers Supply Group, Fresh Hops, and Hops Union.   

I guess I’ll have to leave the question as a rhetorical one for now.  But it is definitely food for thought.

No comments: