Citra Hops, I Presume?

Here's a little tip to anyone attempting to open a brewery: make sure the ingredients for your launch beers are readily available, specifically hops. At the time of this writing, February 2012, there are certain hop varieties that are in very short supply through 2012, 2013,  2014, and beyond. Varieties in short supply include Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo, Galaxy (Australian), and others. Any brewer will recognize these hops as the go to varieties for many IPA's, imperial IPA's and other hoppy beers. David Livingstone

This brings us to another topic which I will just touch on: hop contracts. Because there are relatively small amounts of land on this planet devoted to hop growing, hop farmers need to be able to plan ahead and know how much of each variety they need to plant. There are over 80 commercially grown hop varieties. Some are very common, others more obscure. Lack of acreage, numerous varieties, and increased demand create a perfect storm for hop shortages. To help mitigate this, hop distributors, such as Hop Union, create hop contracts for breweries. The brewery commits to buying a certain number of pounds of one or combination of many varieties at given prices per pound for one or more years. The brewery takes delivery of the hops as needed  (depending on production demands) over the course of the contract. By the end of the contract, the brewery will have purchased all of the hops they committed to. This also somewhat guarantees that the required hops will be in supply for the duration of the contract unless there are severe shortages in which case the hop broker may substitute a different variety. If a brewery does not buy into a hop contract, then it is subject to the "spot market" which means it will pay whatever the market price is (i.e. more $$$, usually) for the hop variety without any guarantee the hop will be available in the quantity required.

Hop contracts are signed well ahead of the brewing year, so any hops a brewery needs to secure for a given year will be contracted months or even years ahead of time. This is especially true for the varieties in high demand.

So how will this affect me? Well, for one recipe, not at all. The hops I plan on using are in good supply. Buuuuuuut....my other recipe would be well served by a few of the hard to get varieties so I'll need to have a backup plan in case I can't get a contract for them. Does that mean brew with different hop varieties or save the recipe until the varieties I really want are in better supply? I don't have that answer yet, but I'm a firm believer in contingency plans, so I'll be prepared one way or another.

For anyone out there who is trying to determine which beers they want to produce in their brewery-in-planning, I would suggest the same.