Despite the popularity of alternatives like hard seltzer, smaller brewers making hop-forward beers are keeping demand high.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated December 20, 2019
Credit: Jerry Sodorff/Getty Images

Sure, fruit-flavored hard seltzer might be the alcoholic beverage everyone has been talking about in 2019, but that doesn't mean beer is completely down and out. In fact, hop farmers are still seeing eye-popping numbers: For the third year in a row, U.S. hop production has a set a new record.

Looking specifically at Washington, Idaho, and Oregon—which, in that order, are America's three largest hop producing states—2019's hop total is 112 million pounds, up 5 percent from last year according to the National Hop Report released this week by the USDA. Not only that, but overall, those hops were worth more than the previous year, with the total production value jumping 9 percent to $637 million. It represents a rebound in price per pound after that metric dropped from 2017 to 2018.

The fact that hop production continues to grow at a time when overall beer consumption has been flagging might seem like a bad omen, but these numbers don't directly correlate for a reason. Yes, many of America's largest lager brand have seen sales declines, but the craft beer trade group the Brewers Association recently reported that craft beer still saw about 4 percent growth in 2019 and the number of small breweries has also continued to increase and break records. Unlike brands like Bud and Coors, these independent brewers tend to make more hop-forward beer keeping hops demand high. Meanwhile, as American styles and hop flavors continue to be popular around the globe, American hop exports have also increased.

The production numbers for Citra hops back this up. Only introduced back in 2007, Citra hops were once a novelty for IPAs. But this year, Citra finally nabbed the crown from Cascade as America's most-produced hop. (For the record, the rest of the top six were Zeus, Simcoe, C/T/Z, and Mosaic.) Citra's growth helps demonstrate how changing tastes—specifically, continued demand for hoppy IPAs—are reflected in the supply.

This isn't to say the good times will roll forever: As Bloomberg points out, before this three-year run, hop levels had previously peaked back in 2009 followed by three years of decline. And as recently as 2017, we've seen a rapid swing from a hop shortage to a hop surplus thanks to sudden changes in the market. But for now, at least, let's raise a hoppy brew and cheers American hop producers on a heck of a year.