Monday, 9 November 2020

The Outlook for Hops

Throughout the war brewers worried where their hops would be coming from. Emergency stocks which many brewers sensibly had, helper ease the situation in the first year or two. But when these had been used up, UK brewers were 100% dependent on the local hop harvest.

Unfortunately, the UK crop fell short of brewers' needs.

"The Outlook for Hops
With the picking of the 1943 crop nearing its conclusion, there seems to be a general feeling that the quantity available will not be less than last year, and may show a slight increase. However this may be, the fact remains that last year’s crop fell far short of a full year’s requirements of the brewing industry, and it is quite certain that this year it will also fall substantially short of that desirable target. Consequently brewers cannot expect to receive the full quantity of their contracts, which again will have to be scaled down by a percentage which cannot be determined until the total number of pockets available has been ascertained. It is clear, therefore, that the average brewery, which to-day has enough hops to last until about the end of the present year, will receive only enough of the 1943 crop to carry on until perhaps early November next year. There is no reason to hope that the supply will improve next season, and by the autumn of 1945 the position will, indeed, become serious. There may be cases where a greater reduction than the present 20% as compared with pre-war hop rates is practicable, and indeed some few breweries have been able to show a greater reduction, but breweries by and large are finding that a reduction in the neighbourhood of 20% is about the limit to which they can go without danger to the stability of their beers."
The Brewing Trade Review, October 1943, page 306.

A 20% reduction in hopping rate already had some brewers struggling. If you remember, there was a minimum hopping level of 1 lb per standard barrel, under which they were not compelled to fall. Though some did voluntarily. Some brewers, such as William Younger, had been under that minimum rate before war erupted.

Even if shipping were available for the importation of hops, where would you find them? Pre-war, Germany, Bohemia or the USA would have been the obvious choices. But the first two were in enemy hands and the last was experiencing a shortage of its own.

"There is the prospect in view, therefore, that before the end of next year shortage of hops will bring about an enforced curtailment in the quantity of beer brewed unless some means can be found of easing the position. That means can only consist in bringing in from overseas additional supplies of hops in some form. There has continued to be some quantity of hop oil imported, but it is quite infinitesimal, and although useful in maintaining flavour it is doubtful whether it is of much assistance from the point of view of preservative value, and it is from the point of view of preservative value that the brewer is most anxiously watching the hop position. There is a world shortage of hops. For five seasons the supply from the Continent has been cut off, and America, which normally exports a large quantity annually, is now herself short of hops. Other countries, such as South Africa and New Zealand and Canada, which grow hops do not do so on a scale which would admit of any exportable surplus, in fact in at least two of the three they are not self-supporting. Nevertheless, America is the only possible source from which it may be hoped to obtain some relief of the position. Hops as such are bulky and occupy too much shipping space to leave any likelihood that this space can be spared at the present time, but there is some, hope that it may prove possible to bring over a quantity in concentrated form. Brewers have been given an opportunity of bespeaking a share in this supply if it can be obtained, and if the necessary permission is accorded to import it."
The Brewing Trade Review, October 1943, page 306.

 That's the first I've heard of a shortage of hops in the USA during WW II. I wonder what caused it? With exports impossible, I would have rather expected a glut.

The collapse of brewing in Nazi territory at the end of the war meant that there were plenty of Bohemian hops available for export as soon as the war ended. And they turm up it lost of UK brewing records in the late 1940s


Anonymous said...

It's possible labor shortages were the issue and a lot of the crop was left unharvested. A number of niche crops struggled to get workers at harvest time because the usual migrant labor force was diverted to war-related efforts or bigger crops. Gas rationing also made it hard for a lot of laborers to get around even if they had the time.

Ron Pattinson said...


that makes sense. Labour shortages affected a lot of activities deemed as less essential for the war effort.