Who would have thought that the processes of mass agricultural production actually lead to a cheaper ingredient? Not me. But what do I know? And, well, is that the issue? Given the relatively small percentage hops represent in a craft brewer's overall costs, isn't it worth the difference to eek out that little possible note of terrior?
In Chico, Calif., Sierra Nevada employs two full-time farmers to tend to 30 acres of barley and 9 acres of hops adjacent to the brewery. The yield goes into making an autumnal seasonal, Estate Homegrown Ale, that’s now on the market in 25-ounce bottles. Only 800 barrels were brewed, reports spokesman Bill Manley, and that’s a thin stretch for the entire country... Will we see more breweries attempting state beers? Manley is pessimistic. Most breweries don’t have the real estate for growing their own ingredients, he notes. Moreover, these beers are expensive to make. According to Manley, Sierra Nevada president Ken Grossman has estimated that when you factor in the labor, it costs him $170 to grow a pound of hops, compared to $2 a pound he’d pay on the open market. Getting his fields certified organic set him back “in the tens of thousands.”
I've had one of Rogue's homegrown hop and malt brews and liked it if you believe the stuff I write. I thought there might have been more of this grown your own brew your own stuff given the great hop crisis of 2007 which lead, after hickups, to the great leap hop-ward in the spring of 2008. Are there post-hop-growing regrets from those that made the investment? Possibly. But isn't the real question whether the beer pays for itself overall? For example, if those 800 barrels of beer required 2 pounds of the hops each, that makes for $272,000 in extra hopping costs that might add $1.62 to the cost of a 22 oz bomber. But some of those costs, like the organic certification, are not one year costs so they should be amortized over a longer term to reflect the productivity of the investment. Maybe the marginal increased cost was more like $1.00 or $1.25 a bomber.
Result: would you spend $6.99 or $7.25 for a neato estate hopped pale ale instead of $5.99 for an otherwise normal one? Of course, you would. Because you are a nerd and you and your sort will drain every barrel with glee. Keep up the experimenting, Sierra Nevada.