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Are Hops Sustainable?

With climate change and industry upheavals on the rise, breweries grapple with hops sustainability while looking for aroma and flavor solutions.

It’s no secret that hops require specific environmental features and no small amount of resources. They need lots of moisture in the spring, warm summer temperatures, and plenty of energy to heat and cool water, wort, and beer. 

These expenses exist for brewers even in the best of times. However, between climate change and changing consumer demands, the entire beer industry is now contending with questions of economic and environmental sustainability. In addition to the obvious issue of business survival, various factors are increasing the risk that some hop varietals may disappear forever.

Fortunately, advancements in hop extracts not only offer a much-needed solution for breweries but also create a living hop record that will protect the flavor and aroma of hop varietals for future generations.

The Environmental Cost of Hops

Even without the potentially disastrous impact of climate change, the industry has been battling efficiency and sustainability for years. For example, according to Craft Beer & Brewing, when it comes to barrels of water used to barrels of beer, “Anything below 4:1 is considered relatively sustainable.” However, the majority of the industry averages closer to 7:1.

251 gallons of water is required to produce 1 kg of alpha hop pellets. 423 gallons of water is required to produce 1 kg of aroma hop pellets.

Hop Growers of America 

2022 Life Cycle Assessment


Overall, the carbon footprint of hop production leaves something to be desired. The 2022 Life Cycle Assessment from the Hop Growers of America found that 47% of the carbon footprint of hop production comes from the drying process and that processing hops into pellets “generates 0.32 kilograms of carbon dioxide for each kilogram of pellets, putting the total carbon footprint at 3.5 kilograms to 4.1 kilograms of carbon dioxide.”

Even before the increased cost of fuel and utilities over the last several years, there was already a significant financial incentive to reduce energy usage. Now, however, climate change has made this endeavor non-negotiable. 

Optimized Hop Extracts | Abstrax Hops

How Will Climate Change Impact Hops Farming?

Climate change has not only made growing hops more difficult but it’s also made the entire process significantly more expensive. The cost of utilities and fuel have risen, water shortages make it difficult to supply adequate moisture, and both crop yield and alpha acid content are impacted by environmental changes.

Several important insights come from a Brewing Science study that examined aromatic compounds in German hop varieties in relation to their environment. The oil and alpha acid content of landrace hop varieties, such as Hersbrucker or Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, were more heavily influenced by climate changes. Conversely, younger varieties, such as Mandarina Bavaria, were more stable (likely from being crossed with American varieties that are better equipped to handle high temperatures and less water).

With that in mind, it’s not a stretch to say that the aromatic compounds hop produces will be impacted by environmental fluctuations from climate change. While determining the exact impact may be difficult, examining the resiliency of hops that are being cultivated in new environments can be helpful.

In response to recent cultivation efforts in the semi-arid region of southern Spain and Italy, a review published by the Frontiers of Plant Science examined how hop plants respond to abiotic stresses and the overall impact on crop production and quality. 

Biosynthesis pathways of secondary metabolites in hops, and therefore concentration levels in cones, proved very sensitive to stress conditions such as salinity, [low temperatures] and [high temperatures]. Such sensitivity is variable according to many factors, including genotype, intensity and duration of stress, the simultaneous occurrence of two or more stressors, but also phenology of the plant…. The findings from the research above might represent valuable information for growers developing hopyards in the increasingly warm regions of the Mediterranean. However, it also emerged that some hop genotypes are better adapted than others to environmental constraints, and are, therefore, more suitable to highly demanding cultivation areas.

Frontiers in Plant Science

Admittedly, the parallels between the above study and the environmental changes from climate change aren’t exact. However, comparing the two scenarios does help us ask important questions. Namely, as climate change continues, which hop varieties are likely to withstand these new environmental stressors, and what can we learn from these varieties?

Abstrax Hop Profiles | Abstrax Hops

Disappearing Hop Varieties

Historically, hop varieties have entered the hop graveyard for many reasons. Some disappeared in response to supply elimination, a reduction in demand, poor yield, disease, etc. For example, California Cluster hops nearly went extinct in the 1950s as a result of black root rot. In response, similar varietals were created via cross-pollination with the remaining crop.

This is a good time to remember that climate change will also impact things like pests, mildew, etc. Essentially, farmers may need an entirely new playbook to keep crops healthy in response to environmental changes. What’s worked in the past may no longer be adequate as climate change continues. 

It’s also worth noting that, as growing conditions change, hop varieties that are already performing poorly when it comes to sustainability will be even more difficult to continue working with. 

Data collection from Hopsteiner found that Cashmere is particularly problematic. It produces over 5 lbs of carbon dioxide for each pound harvested. The next closest variety is Bitter Gold, which produces a little over 3.5 lbs of carbon dioxide.

A Living Hop Record and Brewing Solutions

While farmers scramble to adapt to climate changes, breweries need solutions now. That’s why many are now turning to Optimized Hop Extracts that have been reproduced from varieties grown all over the world. The benefits of brewing with such ingredients include:

  • Decreased ingredient cost per barrel with no loss
  • Up to 75% dry hopping supplementation
  • 0.5 fl oz is equal to 1lb of T-90 pellets
  • Reduced dependency on fresh hop materials
  • Increase efficiency and beer throughput from reduced yield loss
  • Guaranteed true-to-type flavor and aroma with consistency
  • Exponentially reduced logistical costs such as shipping, refrigeration, and storage
  • Zero “hop creep” or lightstruck off-flavors
  • Increased speed to market of new hop-infused products
  • Significantly less water is required during the brewing process
  • Doesn’t stick to the tank and has a 100% utilization rate

In addition to these benefits, developing optimized hop extracts essentially creates a “living record” of hop varietals. Abstrax cofounder and CEO Max Koby told Craft Brewing Business that “Not only will this living record provide convenience, but it also protects the industry against all odds if environment and market factors challenge the status quo of the brewing industry.”

Quantum Series | Optimized Hop Extracts | Abstrax Hops

Abstrax Hops Offers Innovative Brewing Solutions

Our newest innovation, the Quantum Series, is an evolutionary leap forward in aroma and brewing efficiency. 

Compared to hops and pellets, the Quantum Series offers a 100% utilization rate and can be used at any stage of the brewing process. In addition, it allows brewers to drastically reduce the amount of water and hop materials required. Most importantly, it just tastes better.
Interested in brewing with our Quantum Series? Contact us today.

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