Monday, 25 January 2016

The 1952 hop crop (part two)

If the 1952 hop crop was disappointing in the UK, it was disastrous in much of continental Europe.

Almost no-one had produced enough Hops:

Continental Districts
The position of continental brewers has been aptly summarised by a spokesman who commented : "It seems that England and the United States of America will have to make up the  deficit in European hop production this season."

In the countries West of the iron curtain 1952 production of brewing-type hops is substantially down on the previous year, and quality has suffered as well as quantity apart from England and Yugoslavia. The latter country's crop is calculated to be something like 20 per cent lower than 1951, but on the other hand, the quality is exceptionally high.”
"Brewer's Guardian 1953", 1953, February pages 11 - 12.

Interesting that the author placed Yugoslavia West of the iron curtain. Not sure what Stalin would have thought of that. Though lacking a border with Yugoslavia, there wasn’t much he could do about it.

Let’s go through all of Europe’s hop regions.

“In Belgium growers in the middle of the season were highly confident but in the result found quantity down and quality of the major portion below that of the previous year. French hops from the Alsace region are much on a par with the Belgian produce.”
"Brewer's Guardian 1953", 1953, February page 12.

Belgian hops were considered to be some of the lowest quality foreign hops by British brewers. Who only ever used them for one reason: they were cheap.  If the quality was below even the normal level, they must have pretty crap.

The poor harvest in Germany was compounded by another factor:

“Though of good quality, the crop in West Germany failed to produce more than 90 per cent of the lowest estimated yield—a position which, for the home brewer, was aggravated by freely allowing all export orders in the early stages before the actual extent of the harvest had been realised.”
"Brewer's Guardian 1953", 1953, February page 12.

Not too bright, that, exporting hops before you know whether you’ve enough to fill domestic needs.

It all added up to a shortage of hops on the continent. One which couldn’t be remedied by UK supplies. There was one obvious source – the USA. But that presented another problem:

“Continental brewers therefore looked westwards for the supplies necessary to supplement local products to fulfil their demands. A reduced crop in England forced attention even across the Atlantic for hops which most of these brewers could not enthuse over— and for which invaluable dollars would have to be expended. !”
"Brewer's Guardian 1953", 1953, February page 12.

It’s hard nowadays to remember the problem that foreign currencies used to present. You needed US dollars to buy goods from the US. Unlike today, most European currencies weren’t freely convertible.

“Attention at first turned to Czechoslovakia—where Switzerland returned for the first time since pre-war days as a customer but there also the growers had suffered the same diminution in crops as the neighbouring German areas, being at least 10 per cent down in quantity on 1951. The trend of that country's selling policy may be seen in its offer to Belgium to exchange on the basis of one ton Hallertau type hops for 2 tons Belgian hops. In other words, in order to obtain a footing again in the international market Czechoslovakia was prepared to let other countries have her best produce, her own consumers having to  accept a drink prepared from materials  below the standard of her own produce — perhaps a very enlightening reflection upon that country's regime!”
"Brewer's Guardian 1953", 1953, February page 12.

According to my figures, the Czech harvest was closer to 20% down on 1951. Those naughty communists swapping good hops for crap ones. Like lots of other European countries (including the UK) they were pretty broke and desperate.

You can see how yields were down everywhere in 1952:

World Production of hops 1951 - 1957
Country 1951 1952 1953 1955 1956 1957

cwts. cwts. cwts. cwts. cwts. cwts.
USA 564,634 546,991 372,786 329,233 342,705 358,349
United Kingdom 321,821 282,348 266,000 256,821 184,170 267,670
Czechoslovakia 98,420§ 80,705§ 98,420§ 120,428 96,304 73,813
Germany 252,795 206,187 280,500 253,358 277,027 283,473
France 41,330 34,446 48,223 41,214 33,071 33,696
Belgium 19,366 17,062 19,179 26,571 16,027 23,821
Yugoslavia 24,652 23,652 25,589 36,616 45,866 52,848
total Europe 659,964 563,695 639,491 735,008 652,465 735,321
Total Europe + USA 1,224,598 1,110,686 1,012,277 1,064,241 995,170 1,093,670
§ estimate
1951, 1952, 1953: 1955 Brewers' Almanack, page 65.
average 1950-54, 1955, 1956, 1957: 1962 Brewers' Almanack, page 63.

You can see that European hop production recovered in 1953, while in the USA it plummeted. Though 1956 was another poor year in most of Europe.

The Czechs provided only temporary relief. Once all their hops had been sold, there was only one option on this side of the Atlantic:

“However, even this source proved short-lived,  and  by   the middle of January it was stated that practically all hops on the continent had been sold. Economic considerations — the eternal dollar   problem — may influence the European market in the direction of seeking English hops, but even here there is only a limited quantity available. On the economic side, it would appear preferable to trade within the E.P.U. confines and so lessen the strain on dollar reserves implicit in obtaining supplies from the other side of the Atlantic; but the rapidly improving position of this country, at least in trading within the Union, is making its effect felt in an unexpected direction — sterling is becoming short in E.P.U. countries which wish to buy from us!”
"Brewer's Guardian 1953", 1953, February page 12.

The EPU was the European Payments Union. It existed between 1950 and 1958 and was basically a way of getting around Europe’s lack of hard currency after WW II. It seems to have been very successful in boosting inter-European trade.

Finally, something about hop prices in Germany. If you could find any, that is:

“The ban on exports by the West German Federal Government is not a general ban. Countries having a clearing arrangement with Germany can still take supplies, in certain circumstances; but it is understood that all available supplies have been disposed of. Local prices have ceased their upward spiral, but remain firm: Hallertau. 790 marks per zentner (.984 cwt.); Hersbrucker Gebirge 720; Spalt, 820; and Tettnang, 835.”
"Brewer's Guardian 1953", 1953, February page 12.

It’s amazing how close a metric Zentner is to an Imperial hundredweight. In 1953 I happen to know there were 11.7 DM to the pound. Which allows me to compile this table:

Hop prices per cwt. In 1953
Hop DM £
Hallertau 790 68.62
Hersbrucker Gebirge 720 62.54
Spalt 820 71.23
Tettnang 835 72.53
Goldings 386.1 33
Goldings Varieties 359.8 30.75
Fuggles 348.1 29.75
Brewer's Gold C9A 351.0 30
Bullion Q43 353.9 30.25
Early Promise X35 310.1 26.5
Key worth's Midseason OR55 339.3 29
Brewer's Guardian 1953, 1953, February pages 11 - 12.

The English hops are all grade 1, the top quality. Yet they were still less than half the price of the German hops.


Phil said...

Not that amazing - the Zentner is/was a measure of a hundred smaller units, as the name implies. In this case it was a hundred Pfund, a Pfund being 500g.

Zentner = 100 x 500g = 50,000g = 50 Kg
Hundredweight = 112 x 454g = 50,850g = 50.85 Kg

Metric tonne = 1,000 Kg
Ton = 20 x 112 x 454g = 1,017 Kg

(You get more for your money with imperial measures, of course.)

Matt said...

Yugoslavia split from the Soviet bloc in 1948 and later joined the Non-Aligned Movement of countries outside the control of the two Cold War superpowers.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, something odd was going on with hops in the US in the early 1950s.

This document

notes that in 1950/51 the US had 38,700 acres of hops grown. By 1955/56 those numbers had dropped to 23,700 acres.

Unfortunately, the table only covers every fifth year, but it fits the trend in the table for annual production.

Under normal conditions, if production drops and demand remains anywhere stable, prices ought to rise. But interestingly enough, prices dropped a lot from 1950/51 to 1955/56 from 62 cents a pound to 40.7. It's possible that this is all explained by the issues with the dollar mentioned in the report, but I wonder if there were also some kind of changes in US agricultural price support programs that made growing in the US much less profitable.