America officially has a drinking problem—just not in the way you think.
Although California’s the dry topic of conversation this year, it’s not the only part of the country facing drought. The Yakima Valley in Washington is facing the pervasive problem of water shortage and uncharacteristically hot temperatures. And now the bastard heat threatens one of our country’s most treasured commodities: craft beer.
See, the Yakima region’s become a popular spot to grow varieties of hops, but that may not be the case soon. Water restrictions are forcing farmers to reconsider their plan of attack. Each hops plant takes up to 3 gallons of water a day, but the harsh summer may delay—or altogether rework—scheduling of the usually late-August aroma variety harvest as well as the typically late-September alpha variety harvest.
“We will have some fields that will probably see a little lower yield this year because of the combination of water stress and heat,” said Ann George, executive director of the Washington Hop Commission. “We really won’t know until harvest.”
A hops shortage is feared to start as early as 2016.
“Next year, you won’t have more land for hops,” said Michael Butler, Chairman and CEO of Seattle’s Cascadia Capital. “You have a shortage of water. You’re going to have more demand from the craft breweries, and so you kind of pass the inflection point where the demand is greater for hops than the supply.”
It’s a serious problem, given that 73 percent of America’s hops acreage takes up residence in the state of Washington, with nearly all of it being done in the Yakima Basin.
“The consumer will pay a higher price for beer,” added Butler. “That is without question.”
It’s going to be a quiet year.