End of The IPA

from theweeklybrew


There’s been no doubt for awhile now that the specialty beer of the west coast is the IPA. Both breweries in California and Oregon especially are known for their hoppy brews loaded with lupulin. But apparently that may be changing. A little bit back I commented on the increasing number of herbal beers out there. Personally I thought it was just a trend towards a newer flavor profile. After all if you watch beer trends it’s kind of silly the things they have to do to get the attention of beer snobs. On the 15th though JR Box emailed me an article originally posted at GuestOnTap and Mr. Abe Goldman-Armstrong has a different take.

Double or imperial IPAs that leave taste buds dripping with lupulin have become all the rage in recent years. In 2008, though, they might not be so prevalent.
  Hops, which impart resin and citruslike flavors, are in short supply and cost a pretty penny.
  Don’t blame the brewers in Oregon who pioneered the imperial IPA style or the San Diego brewers who parroted them; they’re not the reason for the shortage. A terrible hop harvest in Europe, increasing demand for hops in Asia and years of low prices pushing farmers out of business have caused the price of hops to leap from under $3 a pound to more than $14 for certain varieties

He points out that not only have prices gone up for hops, but malted barley also. The reality of our beverage is that we may continue to see rising prices for beer that never drop again. But do these rising costs mean the death of the Northwest IPA? Abe’s only interview that he directly quotes is one with Mark Martin. Mark is the owner of Calapooia Brewery in Albany. Mark talks about focusing on his popular beers that have less hops in them. The problem for Mark and other small breweries is that there is very little available in the way of extra hops.

My understanding of hop production is this. If you go out into a hop field one thing you may notice is that large chunks of the crop are earmarked for big breweries and suppliers. Hops aren’t a commodity where everything is dumped in one big pool and then people buy from that pool. Smaller breweries have a hard time squeezing their way into a share. Instead they generally wait and purchase either from a supplier, or wait for the stuff left over after harvest. Since farmers don’t grow extra this leaves suppliers who raise prices due to high demand. This means smaller breweries will have a much higher cost to produce that Imperial IPA that you love so much.

For the last bit Abe points to brewers who are using herbs in their beers. The problem is that places like Roots have been making herbals long before hops have reached their highs. Also he points to New Belgiums experiments with herbs. New Belgium however doesn’t have problems with ho procurement or low profitability of beers due to the large volumes they move. Besides that their not really famous for hoppy beers are they? It would be senseless then to argue this as a sign of switching from hops. More then likely New Belgium is hoping on the herbal bandwagon for sales, not to save costs.

So is this really the begining of the end for over hopped beers? Most likely not. Will we see more variety in terms of herbal beers available? Probably.

Thanks JR for sending in the article.

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7 Responses to “End of The IPA”

  1. kchophead says:

    Interesting post. What is a good example of an herbal beer? We’ve all questioned the hops shortage and the aftermath, but I continue to drink the hoppy stuff. Can the lupulin, alpha and beta acids that come from hops be reproduced? As much as the beer industry pulls in I am very surprised to not see a mass hops substitute from a chemical company in conjunction with AB (or someone big). I’ve read a lot of articles that say not to worry about the hops shortage but a little bad speculation goes a long way with the investors in hop farmers.

  2. Jared says:

    Hmmm not sure if there are any KC micro’s that make herbals….. Here in Oregon Roots is known for their gruit and heather ale, and many breweries have experimented with herbs as well as hops in their beers. New Belgium has a dandelion ale that I haven’t tried. Check out their Lips of Faith series. So far all herbal beers I’ve senn have been popping up at festivals or extremely limited releases.

    As to substitutes herbs have long been used as a substitute in bitterness, but generaly have not done as well as hops do to a supposed medicinal bitterness. Also herbs don’t have the aroma, flavor, or antibacterial properties of hops. I haven’t heard of any chemical substitute being created or used. I read an article once about Garcinia Kola being used as an herbal ingrediant to replace hops, but haven’t heard anything since.

    Thirdly I agree that this hop shortage is probably not as bad to the average consumer as it’s being made out to be. Smaller breweries will deffinatly feel the crunch, but for the most part I don’t think our beer will go up to much in price, nor the hop prices at the homebrew store. Prices will rise though since grains and hops are becoming more expensive. I need to do a post that breaks down beer consumption so I can show what he’s talking about with the increased Chinese consumption.

  3. J.R. Box says:

    Jared, you have thought about this topic far, far more than me. Regardless, I reckon breweries are developing herbal beer and beer aged in whiskey barrels and beers with fruit favors to distinguish themselves from the ‘madding crowd’.

    To kchophead’s point, I am new to knowledge of craft beers [however, I have two+ scores of years with beer, Schiltz, Jax, Lone Star, Pearl being my “mother’s milk”]; but, I can not imagine craft breweries departing from natural products. I can not imagine them being buyers of AMD or Cargill ‘food like substances’.

    To kchophead’s inquiry, Root’s Organic Burghead Heather Ale and Oregon Trail Ginseng Porter are two herbal beer. In Root’s Heather Ale, ‘heather tips’ rather than hops are used to moderate the inherent sweetness of barley beer.

    There is a 1/6th US beer barrel [41.3 US pints] of Root’s Burghead Heather Ale in the cooler awaiting a free appropriate tap at Venti’s Cafe. Knowledge of its posting will be broadcast at

    regards, jrbox

  4. J.R. Box says:

    Meant to / failed to say, very cool, appropriate, [dare I say] ingenious image for herbal beer.

  5. Jared says:

    Ha ha, thanks JR.

    Sadly KC lives in …… well, Kansas City so Roots has no meaning to him. I can’t think of something in his neck of the woods. I wish I knew the beer scene there better. I can’t wait till that keg of Burghead gets tapped though.

    Personally I wouldn’t be aversed to brewers using alternative alpha acids and lupulin sources if there was another cheaper way that didn’t rely on the intensive farming methods that are sometimes required for hops. I agree though that most craft brewers (Oregons especially) would reject it and let the Buds of the world use it instead. Essentially herbal beers are hop alternative beers. Also there are craft breweries out there that do use liquid hop oils that have been extracted from the hops. Pellets also are hops that have been processed and mixed with a binder. So really using engineered products from a natural source is common in brewing. In fact breweries even use “brewing salts” to alter their water profiles and change the beers flavors. Our beer often isn’t as simple or natural as many of us want to think. Not that it’s anything like Valveeta though 😛

  6. J.R. Box says:

    Additional, To kchophead’s inquiry re: Herbal Beer

    You will find 20 herbal beers listed at

    The list is not complete; ie, Mt. Shasta Brewery have a Hemp Ale.

    Adjectives such as: ginger, hemp, juniper, spruce are representative.
    You are likely to find Rogue’s Juniper Pale Ale; reportedly, Rogue are distributed in all USofA States and 22 foreign country [I was told on a brewery tour a few weeks hence].

    I wish you success on your quest.

  7. kchophead says:

    Jared, my google alerts finally caught up with these comments with my username in them. You should sign up for beer bloggers unite. There is a link on my page now. They are talking about a big beer bloggers gathering that you might be interested in. I may or may not see a reply to this so you can email me if you need more info…

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