Hop crop low but stay calm
A surge in the popularity of craft beer could catch drinkers on the hop, as brewers face dwindling supplies of their main ingredient.
Brewers Guild president Ralph Bungard, who owns South Island Three Boys Brewery, said a hop shortage in North America was also contributing to the lack of crop in New Zealand and had the potential to limit production of some types of beer.
"That combined with a high demand from micro brewers, it means that we do run out of particular styles of hop," he said.
Mr Bungard said Americans were scrambling to get their hands on kiwi hops as they were becoming more trendy in the American micro-brew market.
In America, craft beer accounts for around 15 per cent of overall beer sales.
"It'll certainly be interesting to see if people start growing more hops," he said.
Head brewer of Waikato microbrewery Brewaucracy, Greig McGill, said there would be a lag for certain types of hops in the market while supply caught up with demand. But rather than getting in a fizz over running dry, drinkers were likely to have more variety as brewers scrambled to make up the shortfall.
"It can be interesting for creativity because brewers are forced to experiment with different types of hops. So you get different tasting beers."
Hamilton's newest brewery, Good George, is new on the craft beer scene and head brewer Kelly Ryan said they were starting out and experimenting with different styles.
"With the rise of craft beer a lot of consumers are starting to drink differently and they are looking for those hoppy beers because that's generally the type of beer that people start off on their craft beer journey with.
"For new guys like us, starting in the middle of the year between hop seasons, it's a bit of a struggle and we've chosen to begin with not to do a massive range of highly hoppy beers until we can guarantee supply," he said.
A recent Market Research survey found that over four years the total number of breweries in New Zealand has increased by from 48 in 2008 to 68 by the end of 2011.
The number of small craft breweries (those producing under 40,000 litres per annum) has grown the most, doubling from 15 to 30 over the four year period.
Mr McGill said that although there was huge growth in the craft beer market the beer giants would still dominate the market.
"You have the guys that have only ever drunk Waikato, and that's all their dad ever drunk too. It'll be a long time before they change their minds," he said.
The demand for more hops is not just coming from the commercial operators.
Brew Your Own director Chris Henry said the boom in craft beer has massively affected his trade - his store stocked only three different varieties of hops four years ago, and now stocks more than 50.
DB Breweries spokesman Simon Smith said craft beer was estimated to have 8 to 9 per cent of the total beer market in NZ with the pale ale style the most popular.
"The craft beer part of the market is growing while the overall beer market is declining," he said.