In 2010, a Feasibility and Market Research Study for Commercial Hop Production in New England was prepared and released by the Rosalie J. Wilson Business Development Services and funded by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. Aside from the hideous wonk in that title, the reason you’ve never heard of it, nevermind read it, was because little ever came of it.
While there has been substantial growth among some local hop producers such as Four Star Farms in Northfield, which now produces seven varieties including Cascade and Centennial, and Blue Heron Organic Farm in Lincoln which most recently worked with Peak Organic to provide organic hops, the commercial production of hops in New England is for the most part still on paper, and despite these few success stories, the road has been arduous and remains a passionate but micro agronomy. While some local brewers are tapping into locally sourced ingredients, a vast majority of them still buy their ingredients, especially hops, on an ever increasingly volatile national and global market, and that’s not a good thing.
The larger brewers will dismiss the concern, and rightfully so, their buying power protects a steady supply of hops for years to a come. But as more and more small craft breweries spring up locally and beyond, the ability to shave off a portion of that supply, especially unique and specialty hop varieties, has created a landscape of winners and losers. Just this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the growing demand for hops has also created a potentially dire and unexpected problem for the industry; as brewers cut production to address shortfalls in the hop supply chain for these highly desirable specialty variations, growth has slowed overall, which in turn creates the potential for a glut in the hop market among some of the largest producers in the country. Which in turn impacts their expansion and growth, and ultimately price, which is why they are likely to slow production to address the problem. And thus it begins.
Which brings us back to that market research study. If Massachusetts and New England can start producing more viable Atlantic varieties and meet the growing demand, local brewers might be able to sustain their own growth while potentially creating a substantial new industry in the process.
FOUR STAR FARMS, NORTHFIELD, MA / FOURSTARFARMS.COM
BLUE HERON ORGANIC FARM, LINCOLN, MA / BLUEHERONFARMLINCOLN.COM