Close to 100% of Washington State is currently experiencing severe drought. If beer drinkers are getting a little worried, they should be. Seventy-three percent of America’s hop growth happens in Washington, and tons of popular hops are grown in the fertile Yakima Valley.
Thanks to the worsening drought that is currently affecting agriculture all along the West Coast—and because of low snowpack in Washington—there’s just not enough water to quench the thirst of hop vines. Roza Irrigation Manager Scott Revell, who oversees one of the primary irrigation districts in the Yakima basin, tells NBC, “We have 100 percent of the hops production in my district under a severe water restriction.”
Now for the really bad news: It’s likely that some of your favorite beers (specifically West Coast-style IPAs) are brewed with the hops most affected by the water shortage. NBC explains, “Most hops are fairly tolerant of a little less water and can handle the heat. That said, three varietals—Centennial, Simcoe and Amarillo—tend not to hold up as well in extreme conditions.” Russian River’s Pliny the Elder is brewed with those exact three hops (in addition to CTZ hops).
While most of the current crop is already locked up by contracts between growers and brewers, analysts project that the drought will raise prices for brewers without forward contracts. That definitely sucks for you if you’re a small brewery or homebrewer; and even if you’re just a beer drinker, you will likely see rising beer prices in 2016, according to Michael Butler, chairman of Seattle-based Cascadia Capital. Butler tells NBC, “The consumer will pay a higher price for beer. That is without question.”