Hops shortage gives brewers a headache

The brewing industry is facing a mother of all hangovers because of a major shortage in beer hops.

Both Lerwick Brewery and the Valhalla Brewery in Unst have fallen victim to the problem, which has given beer-producing businesses throughout the country pause for thought in the search for a consistent supply.

The issue has been put down to a rapid growth in the market for craft beers, which has pushed up demand.

Around three breweries are said to be opening up per week in the UK, where 90 breweries operate north of the border.

However, a boom and bust in the hops extract market has also had producers drowning their sorrows.

Some American suppliers were also affected by droughts last year, which ensured that an anticipated bumper harvest never materialised.


Lerwick Brewery manager Rhanna Turberville. Photo: Dave Donaldson
Lerwick Brewery manager Rhanna Turberville. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Staff at Lerwick Brewery are toasting their success following its 2012 launch, with last week’s high-profile visit by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon adding to their prestige. It is looking forward to a two-fold increase in production this year.


But Lerwick Brewery manager, Rhanna Turberville, said the hop shortage was a “huge problem”.

“At the moment we have to sign up to a contract to make sure we get the hops that we need. We need to know a year in advance of the harvest what we are going to be using, and there are only a certain range of hops we can get access to.”

Popular among the hops on demand, typically found in America and New Zealand, are Citra, Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin.

The brewery believes at least part of the solution could lie in looking to other hop-producing countries, such as the UK and Slovenia, which have hitherto been overlooked.

But large businesses buying up in bulk have posed problems for smaller enterprises.

“There are a few we’re never going to get access to and that’s partly down to big brewers buying them up, and demand as well,” said Ms Turberville.

She added the business had signed a contract for supply during 2017 but was already being asked to look ahead for the next two to three years.

“It’s difficult to gauge what we’re going to need. There are a number of new breweries. There are 90 in Scotland, with three opening per week in the UK. So, with that, there is an increase in hop demand, and there are popular styles of beer, like hoppy IPAs.

“It’s an interesting issue and it is causing headaches.”

Sonny Priest with some of his Valhalla ales.
Sonny Priest with some of his Valhalla ales.

In Unst, brewery owner Sonny Priest said the issue was a major problem.

“We’ve cross-matched as best we can. You can’t get it exactly the same, but we’ve done trials with the hops. We feel that what we’ve achieved is pretty much the same flavour. It makes things a lot more awkward, but at least we are able to get the flavour we want.”

He said he had also come under pressure to sign up for hop supplies years in advance.

“When you’re a small business like this you have no idea what you’ll need. We brew on demand and it varies from year to year. You can’t present accurately what you are going to need.

“We’re working on a new brew just now that will be coming out at the folk festival. You don’t know quite what the response is going to be to that. If that’s popular you’ll need quite a bit of it, and that’s different hops again we’re using.

“The stock that you need to hold is much bigger.”

He said the problem stemmed from a hop excess, which had led to the development of a market for hop extracts.

That caused breweries to rely on the “mountain” of extracts available. By the time that mountain had been depleted, he said, hop growers, who had long-since lost their hop premium, had gone over to growing other things instead.

“It’s just one of those things that you have to deal with, and living remotely like this makes it even worse because you’re last in the line and you tend to get what’s left.”


Add Your Comment
  • Bill Smale

    • April 12th, 2016 22:11

    Huge quantities of hops were grown in the south-east of England & the West Midlands until the 1960s when the ‘big brewers’ decided to start buying in hops from abroad as they were cheaper & the varieties more suitable for lager which was then the trendy drink. Most of the hop gardens are long gone – some turned into vineyards! – and the distinctive oast houses used to dry the hops converted into posh houses. It is good to see increased demand for hops from the new-wave craft brewers – hopefully it will encourage the revival of the British hop industry. With global warming and poly tunnels, it might even be possible to grow them further north!

    • Frank Ormston

      • April 14th, 2016 13:31

      I don’t see why not – there’s a successful commercial hop garden at Ellerker in Yorkshire, and last year an experimental crop was reported to have done well at Invergowrie.


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