Hops are the ambrosia of the cerevesiac gods. For most of human history, beer did not contain hops. But at some point in the Middle Ages, Europeans discovered that hops not only add a nice bitterness and other flavors to beer, but also help to preserve it, and so from that point onward, beer has tended to contain hops. Hurray for the Middle Ages, I say, because hops adds a very welcome element to the aroma and flavor of beer. Hops have a very special property as well: they are a strong bactericide, that tend to allow the brewing yeast to live, while killing off other undesirable microorganisms.
The word hops refers to the flower of the plant Humulus lupulus. It has preservative and flavoring properties that have become prized in beermaking, especially in the modern craft beer movement in the US and in the UK. This crop is a commodity, and so for the time being, it trades at a market price. Well, over the past 4 or 5 years, the craft beer industry has continued to double its profits annually. This means that the demand for hops is at an all-time high, so naturally, hops farmers have raised the price to match the market.
The current price of hops in the US is $7-$10 per pound, an enormous increase from the price just three or four years ago — actually double. This is important, because craft beer brewers in the US use significantly more hops that the standard mass-produced beer – anywhere from twice the hops, to ten times the hops or more (especially in double and triple IPAs). So for the average craft brewer, and especially the microbrewers, this can add up to enormous price increases. So far, these higher prices have not been passed along to us, the consumers, in any noticeable amount. Let’s hope it stays that way. But even if prices rise due to the hops market, I hops that we will still buy our favorite beers, since it is not the fault of the brewers.