Hop to It

I bring you a tale of good tidings today, friends. The plot is a happy one and the hero is a beer company. Sound like something right up your genre? I thought so.

Once upon a time, in the land of plenty, the people brewed beer using barley, yeast, water and hops. Times were good. Ingredients such as these were happily plentiful and many made merry. Then one year, the hop flowers went thirsty. And once they went thirsty, they fell victim to disease. And the harvest was small.

The brewers shrugged and figured, "Well, one year won't kill us." With so many hops in the bank, they might get a little more expensive. But then a tragic fire in a major hops warehouse burned many of the savings into the ground. And all of a sudden the lead singer in American beer-making went scarce. A scramble was on.

Slowly distributors began to raise their prices, from $3 a pound to upwards of $30 a pound, and brewers began to worry. Just as a signficant diversity in American beer was settling in, marking the Golden Age of Brewing on this side of the ocean, the microbrew industry began tofaced a dark possibility: no hops means no beer, and no beer means bankruptcy.

Cue the perilous violins in our little story. Dangling from the ledge of the castle wall, craft brewers felt their breath quicken. Most of the market's remaining hops were contracted to huge breweries who owned entire fields and could afford to finance an entire producer's hop crop. Small timers were calling suppliers to hear a resounding SOLD OUT echo back through the phone line in a mocking cackle.

Even the brew kettles were starting to get nervous. Scrap metal was a better business than brewing. But then, a woosh & a swoop! Boston Brewing Company to save the day.

Jim Koch, owner of BBC, is sort of a good guy. BBC is the sort of place that's gotten pretty much huge. They are a big time brewery whose beers are almost everywhere, but they still have some of the spirit of craft brewing. Which is after all, how they began. Every year for the Great American Beer festival, they sponsor a homebrew competition and produce a mix-six of the top three brews. They also still make a top shelf beer that goes for over a hundred dollars a bottle. These are the artisanal touches that keep them on the reputable side of the Macro vs. Micro American Beer fence. And their most recent stunt is maybe the best test of their character yet.

When Koch heard about the impact of the hop shortage on small brewers, he set aside 20,000 pounds of BBC's own hops for small brewers to purchase at cost--read: far below market prices at roughly $6 a pound. A brewery could request up to 528 pounds each and brewers were asked to apply only because they really needed them and not because they'd save money. Nearly 350 microbreweries applied for them, which is nearly a quarter of American brewers and the the lot of them were raffled off in a lottery.

And so the people were spared! And the nation breathed a deep sigh of relief. Farmers have already begun planting an immune strain of hop vines, which won't be ready til 2011, but in the meantime, beerlovers are hoping the next two harvests will be better off than the last. And I think Boston Beer Company goes down forever as what we call, Good People. A fine example of remembering your roots and thinking always of the struggle of the smaller guy.

No comments:

Post a Comment