HopsI have written before about the world-wide shortage of hops (and malts) that is causing the price of beer to go up. Now it seems the next logical step is already taking place: breweries are having to change their beer recipes to use less hops.

Here’s the root of the problem:

The bulk of U.S.-grown hops are produced in the Yakima, Washington, area. Farmers weren’t getting a profitable return and got out of the market, switched crops or went bankrupt. The same was happening in Germany, the world’s No. 1 hop-growing country.

In the United States alone, there were an estimated 515 hop growers in 1950; 75 in 2000 and just 45 today, Ward says. In 2006, about 2 million pounds of hops were destroyed in an S.S. Steiner warehouse in Yakima, equaling about 4 percent of the U.S. hop crop.

All the while, beer sales are increasing worldwide by about 1 to 2 percent annually. The craft brewing industry is growing yearly by 12 percent. That economic reality is pushing hop growers back into the fields.

The larger breweries are not being hit as hard because they have long-term contracts with hops farmers. it’s the little guys that are suddenly having to figure out how to make their brews with much less of a key ingredient. There really is not substitute for hops to the taste of the altered recipe is inevitably different. This is bad news for “hop heads” but personally I like my beer to be less hoppy than most. Still, it’s got to suck for these small breweries who have carved out a little local niche with their one-of-a-kind recipes and now have to change it.