"A serious shortage of hops, which are used to flavor beer, and an almost astronomical rise in the cost of malted barley, from which sugars and proteins are extracted to create alcohol and to give beer its body, have combined to strike the industry in the kneecaps. 'A ton of malted barley is over $1,000 now,' said Jürgen Knöller, brewmaster at Bayern Brewery in Missoula. 'Six months ago, a ton of barley was $460.'
The giant leap in malted barley prices is due, in large part, to several years of poor harvests, devastating droughts in barley-producing areas such as Australia, and to the fact that despite Montana being one of the best barley-growing regions in North America, barley is a commodity.
'It's a global thing', said Tim O'Leary, owner of Kettlehouse. 'It's not just the U.S. We're a global economy now, and malt barley is a commodity whether it's used for feed or brewing. If a farmer can make more growing sunflowers and making fuel oil, that's what they're going to do and not worry about beer drinkers.'" (The Billings Gazette)
Since the craft-brewing revolution of the 1980s, brewers of small-batch, highly diverse beer styles in America have enjoyed sustained growth (while sales have been relatively flat in recent years for the mega-brews). If the cost of the primary ingredients goes through the roof, will these brewers be able to sell enough of their product to you and me at $12.00 or $14.00 a six-pack? Will the heavy invisible hand of the market compel a return to a few, bland, mass-produced choices at the expense of zymur-diversity? And is it time to plow under the corn field and start planting hops? At $22 a pound - up from $4 eight months ago - that might be a wise investment.