Saturday, 6 July 2013

The collapse of UK hop growing

Bit of a change of pace today. I'm extracting my head from the past's arse to look at the present. Or the near past.

You may have noticed that I've been collecting hop statistics. Mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But I thought it was time to have a gander at the last couple of decades. I must admit that I was shocked.

I'd heard about the decline in UK hop growing, but until I saw the firgures for the last 30 years, I hadn't realised just how catastrophic that decline had been.

Between 1955 and 1970, UK hop production averaged just under 250,000 cwt. per year. Which was a little more than required for British brewing - an average of just under 210,000 cwt. 1955 - 1969. Britain was more than self-sufficient in hops and was able to export the surplus. Though the amount exported declined from just under 50,000 cwt. to just under 10,000 cwt between 1955 and 1969.

Average UK hop production
years cwt
1955-1970 238,718
1971-1980 180,729
1981-1990 132,810
1991-2000 78,254
2000-2009 33,702
Statistical Handbook of the British Beer and Pub Association 2011, page 20.
1971 Brewers'Almanack, page 54

There was a slight decline in production in the period 1971 to 1980, when it averaged 180,000 cwt. That's when things started going badly wrong. Between 1981 and 1990 the average was down to 132,000 cwt. 1991 to 2000 the average was just 78,000 cwt. And for 2001 to 2009 a meagre 33,000 cwt. That's way less than the amount needed by British brewers. The UK hads gone from being a net exporter to a big net importer in a couple of decades.

UK hop production, imports and exports 1955 - 1969
UK production Imports: Less Re-Exports Exports: British Hops Consumption Years ended 30th Sept. following
Year Cwts. Cwts. Cwts. Cwts.
1955 256,821 5,836 49,049 218,820
1956 184,170 6,416 40,746 215,114
1957 267,677 8,848 38,635 208,870
1958 302,640 5,441 42,352 226,371
1959 222,768 6,007 34,291 234,611
1960 248,195 8,172 12,220 234,611
1961 204,306 19,235 24,914 226,437
1962 266,812 16,489 16,070 234,611
1963 276,384 10,063 21,790 226,437
1964 252,398 12,624 24,181 226,565
1965 258,727 12,961 19,474 237,356
1966 228,923 10,767 18,673 236,424
1967 215,025 10,165 2,709 207,249
1968 199,205 12,040 2,286 198,029
1969 209,543 11,401 8,543 186,103
1971 Brewers'Almanack, page 54

Britain is no longer a serious hop producer, at least in world terms. How very sad. Now I just need to understand why so few hops are currently grown in Britain.

Here are the full figures:

UK hop production 1955 - 2009
Year Cwts. Year Cwts. Year Cwts.
1955 256,821 1975 156,954 1995 101,979
1956 184,170 1976 142,180 1996 88,108
1957 267,677 1977 184,414 1997 64,386
1958 302,640 1978 203,247 1998 59,194
1959 222,768 1979 191,909 1999 53,138
1960 248,195 1980 183,838 2000 50,377
1961 204,306 1981 291,109 2001 50,089
1962 266,812 1982 167,473 2002 37,858
1963 276,384 1983 155,497 2003 40,772
1964 252,398 1984 127,883 2004 31,147
1965 258,727 1985 99,814 2005 26,633
1966 228,923 1986 102,161 2006 28,995
1967 215,025 1987 96,755 2007 27,737
1968 199,025 1988 92,897 2008 28,431
1969 209,543 1989 90,182 2009 31,657
1970 226,076 1990 104,326
1971 175,404 1991 93,365
1972 205,649 1992 104,326
1973 200,841 1993 87,392
1974 162,853 1994 80,272
"Statistical Handbook of the British Beer and Pub Association 2011", page 20.
1971 Brewers'Almanack, page 54
This is really turning into the Summer of Tables. Blame the bad weather. If it were sunnier, I'd be thinking more of Lager.


Bill said...

Perhaps the management from British Leyland found new employment in the hop industry?

Mike Austin said...

Wouldn't brewers use a lot less hops in weight terms with the advent of new, high alpha varieties?

Ron Pattinson said...


I'm sure that's true and that has helped drive down hop numbers worldwide. But nowhere to the same extent as in Britain.

Jeff Alworth said...

Wow--that's amazing. In the US, it seems like the poundage has been hopping around, too. In 2012, we grew 61 million pounds. That's down from 2000 (67 million), but up from 1990 (57 million).

During that span, total US beer production remained constant at about 200 million barrels, so the variation probably has a lot to do with alpha percentages and exports. But it's nothing like the fall-off in England.

Stan Hieronymus said...

Peter Darby (now Wye Hops) nicely recapped this in a paper in 2004: "Hop Growing in England in the Twenty-First Century." He pointed out the quantity of hops grown dropped for many reasons: more efficient growing, more efficient use within the brewery (high alpha hops, processed hop products), less bitter beers.

In addition, Germany and the US won the arms race for higher alpha hops (and the Germans continue to develop varieties with even more alpha acids).

He also wrote, "Deregulation of the English hop industry with the abolition of the Hops Marketing Board in 1984 opened the domestic industry to fierce international competition."

Ron Pattinson said...


so basically Thatcher's fault.

Gary Gillman said...

I don't know the specific role of the Hops Marketing Board and its demise, but IMO English hop growers and brewers could have expanded production if English hops had been marketed in England and especially outside as the classic product they were (the past tense almost seems apposite now). No one in the world can produce hops with the particular flowery scents of the finest finest English hops. They had to get on this horse and ride it but they didn't. The Americans did with their (not-as-good IMO) citric- forward hops to the point that there have been shortages of some hop varieties in recent years such as Amarillo. At a minimum, numerous "craft" hop varieties are fashionable and sought after, yet Fuggles and Goldings and other fine English varieties seem to be vanishing from the beer scene. These are hops with a multi-century history and reputation for making the finest top-fermented ales. The Germans never would have let this happen to their produce and agriculture, only British insouciance to its own best products could have done that.

To be sure the brewers needed to push growers for these varieties, starting in Britain, and drinkers needed to push them to make more beers with these tastes, but this apparently hasn't occurred with any force and now American hops of all things are fashionable in English beer circles (I don't mean as a useful thing to formulate a blend but as a keynote taste).

It's not too late though, this product can come back if people recognize the great tastes these hops produce and will pay a premium price for the end product just as they do for the best brandy, wine, cheese or anything else. I hope the industry can be restructured but it will need foremost a recognition of the greatness of English-tasting beer. This has been only slowly coming and hobbled by the adoption of lager and other brewery-conditioned beer as the pub standard, a trend CAMRA was only partly able to reverse. When hops became fashionable again people starting talking about American and then Antipodean hops. Whaa?

Maybe it's not too late.


Anonymous said...

4MMP ! the levels of 4mmp are greatly reduced when plants are grown in Europe. Couple that with the bland straw tastes of UK hops. The Target,Sovereign and Challenger are some of the few varieties I have tried and liked but compare that to an Amarillo or Sorachi Ace; which I love and no amount of marketing or patriotism would change my taste buds. Weather this is the limiting nature of hop reproduction in the UK or the way we have poisoned our lands with bordeaux mixture I cannot say, but unless something less tried is produced in England I can strongly see a future decline

Christopher said...

@Gary: Speaking as an American hophead, I would dispute the characterization of American C-hops as inferior, but they certainly are different, and I would be happy to see fewer APAs where I live if it meant I could get more Goldings-dominated beers (not as big a fan of fuggles, though they're alright).

I think, however, that you're missing a broader emphasis on newness as a factor in hop preferences: Cluster is *the*classic American hop variety (and, used right, is delicious), and yet it's barely even grown any more, and plenty of micro- and homebrewers hold it in open contempt. Even Cascade isn't as sexy now as newer varieties like Simcoe and Citra.

I realize I'm postings month and a half after the fact, but still thought I'd toss in my two cents.