We must adapt to fluctuations in hop quantity and composition during harvests. It is becoming increasingly clear that these are not merely minor deviations from average yields that brewers can offset with clever dosage adjustments. The challenge is much larger: the security of hop supply is at stake. Breweries are urged to take action now, collaborating with BarthHaas and hop growers to turn this challenge into an opportunity for sustainable change.
Good Times, Bad Times
Looking back at previous harvests, the differences could not be more pronounced. In 2021, we saw slightly above-average alpha values coupled with more intense hop aromas. Growing and harvesting conditions for German hops were favorable in 2021. In stark contrast, the 2022 harvest was disastrous; the worst since 2003 . It was too hot and too dry, especially in Germany. Out of the expected 46,500 tons of hops on 20,604 hectares of cultivation, only 34,500 tons were harvested, representing a deficit of 26%! The harvested alpha quantity of approximately 3,440 tons deviated even more, a staggering 32% below the average yield. This meant we had one-third less output!
Extreme Weather Fluctuations
What about this year's harvest? Final figures are not yet available, but nobody could have predicted that another poor harvest would follow. What made this year particularly challenging was not just the heat alone, but the fluctuating weather. It was excessively wet at the beginning of the growing season, too dry during flowering, and excessively wet again towards the end. The German Hop Growers Association predicts that the hop harvest in 2023 will also fall below the average. We are increasingly facing extreme weather fluctuations that stress the hops and have negative effects on both quantity and yield.
Old Varieties in the Crosshairs
It's mainly the old hop varieties like Hersbrucker, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Saazer, and the Saazer group with Tettnanger, Spalter, and Lubelskie that cannot withstand these changing conditions. Even breeding varieties from the 1970s, which were bred for improved resistance to pests and diseases, struggle with changing weather conditions, especially heat and drought. Here are some examples from the 2022 harvest: Instead of the expected 365 tons of alpha, the Perle variety only yielded about 160 tons, which is just 43% of the expected alpha quantity. The Herkules variety performed slightly better, achieving an estimated 71% of the expected alpha yield, producing around 2,164 tons instead of the anticipated 3,034 tons. The Czech Saaz variety, with an alpha content of 3.0%, was close to the average (3.1%) but due to a 45% drop in quantity, it could only produce 33% of the previous year's alpha.
It is clear then, that the varieties primarily used in lagers are at risk.These varieties play a significant role in the brewing of German style beers around the globe and form the foundation of German hop cultivation. It is no small thing then, that these varieties have now become a risk—a significant risk for breweries in terms of supply security and an existential risk for hop cultivation because yield stability is eroding. One thing is clear: the risk for growers cannot be offset by price increases. We are dealing with a structural problem that can only be solved collectively, with the involvement of breweries being of great importance.
For this purpose, BarthHaas has developed a risk analysis tool that assists breweries in identifying their specific risk.
New Varieties are the Key
Younger varieties like Mandarina Bavaria and Callista have proven to be much more stable in changing weather conditions. This is because these new breeds incorporate American varieties that can handle heat and lower water availability. The new varieties Tango and Titan, both of which yield well on smaller cultivation areas this year, are good examples.
Tango - Aroma and Alpha
Tango brings several advantages to the table. A crossbreed of Cascade/Hallertauer Tradition and Hüller Aroma lines, it boasts vigorous and uniform growth with compact cones. The plant is highly nutrient-efficient, robust and capable. It can of cope with heat and drought, and can thrive with minimal or no irrigation, fertilization, and pesticide use. It also offers high oil and alpha contents in the cones, along with a high yield per plant.
Tango’s aroma profile includes pronounced notes of sweet fruits like passion fruit, citrus notes like grapefruit, as well as berry-like and floral impressions. It also offers notes from the green-grassy, spicy, herbaceous, and woody spectrum. Just like Mandarina Bavaria and Callista, Tango has a diverse aroma profile that can be integrated into a classic lager beer profile through careful blending with other varieties or hop products.
Titan - A New High-Alpha Supplier
Titan, a crossbreed of Polaris/Herkules with a male Hüller breeding strain, also boasts excellent agronomic properties.It is stable with high alpha values and a large root system that ensures good water and nutrient uptake from deeper soil layers. It is a cylindrical vine with moderate growth, resulting in a favorable cone-to-plant ratio. Overall, Titan is attributed with a high and stable yield potential, with alpha values that even surpass the Herkules variety on average. Aromatically, Titan covers the entire spectrum with an emphasis on spices, sweet fruits, citrus notes, woody elements, and florals. With these qualities, the new high-alpha variety serves as an alternative to Perle and Herkules.
Switching is the Way Out
To avoid the potential supply risk and to sustainably secure German hop supply and yields, breweries are should now look at how they can transition to new varieties over the coming years. The risk analysis tool, coupled with the accompanying whitepaper available for download from BarthHaas, serves as an excellent starting point for identifying risks and implementing effective risk mitigation strategies. We encourage breweries to reconsider the formulations of their flagship brands and systematically replace old hop varieties with new ones. BarthHaas' Brewing Solutions team is ready to assist brewers with this task.
A Sustainable Opportunity for All
Speaking of sustainability, as the agronomic properties suggest - low input (water, fertilization, pesticides) and high output (high yields) - the new breeds are also the right choice for environmental and climate protection. This is especially true when you consider that growers are working on sustainable cultivation methods such as efficient irrigation concepts that protect groundwater, or experiments with cover crops to improve soil structure and composition.
When everyone works together, the risk of hop supply can quickly turn into an opportunity for all. Let's thrive together!