Wednesday 13 April 2016 11:57 am

Craft beer prices threatened by hop shortages following heatwaves in Europe last summer

There's no easy way to say this, but if you're a fan of craft beer and ale, now could be the time to drink up fast. 

In the coming months, craft beer producers could be forced to raise the prices of their increasingly popular brews following heatwaves last summer that have led to shortages of one of the four key ingredients. 

Hot weather in Europe last year has led to a shortage of hops, with crops particularly affected in Germany, France and the Netherlands. 

Alongside water, malt and yeast, hops are a main ingredient in beer and are often used in much higher amounts in independently-brewed craft beers than in conventional beverages to enhance the flavours with which craft beer is renowned.

Germany's crop, which accounts for around a third of global supply, fell by 27 per cent last year, according to the International Hop Grower's Convention, while the worldwide harvest may have declined by up to 40 per cent. 

According to Chris Wisson, a senior drinks analyst at Mintel, some craft ales can use up to five or six times the amount of hops than traditional cask ale. 

The prices of some hop varieties have risen by up to 50 per cent, according to industry sources, while other hop prices have increased fivefold or are simply not available.   

However, shortages are becomingly commonplace these days. Outside of Europe the other major hop grower, the US, has also fallen prey to poor harvests in recent years, but the spike in demand for craft beer is also a major driver of market undersupply. 

Craft beer's momentum is hard to dispute. Yesterday, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced it had plans to swallow Wetherspoons' craft beer supplier, Devils Backbone Brewing, for an undisclosed sum. In December, the drinks giant snapped up the independent Camden Town Brewery

"It's definitely on the cards that prices could be raised this year, and in years to come. However, hop shortages on many variants are not especially unusual now that the craft beer trend is building such momentum across the world," Chris Wisson said. 

"Many of the most popular hops are also the ones that are not in a huge amount of supply. As well as the harvests affected in Europe, the crops in the Pacific North-West such as the Yakima Valley, which are very flavourful and aromatic, are also facing shortages.

"The problem for breweries is that unless they've contracted out to protect against fluctuations in harvest yields, they will find it harder to negotiate. What we could see is a lot more rotating beers – brewers might not be able to make certain flavours a permanent listing and will have to rotate more frequently.

"It takes two or three years to plant new hop fields and for them to produce high quality hops – but also it's just the number of breweries being launched across the world, we're seeing new highs being reached in the US and UK and hop farmers often just cannot keep up with this level of demand."