The number of craft breweries in the US has rocketed, and so has demand for aromatic hops. The market-leading Barth & Sohn family firm has traded hops since 1794 from the historical center of hops growing in Bavaria.
Tasty craft beers are being brewed in ever greater variety and volume around the world, but particularly in the United States. Craft beers now make up 8 percent of all beer sold in the USA, and production continues to grow at double-digit annual rates.
That's good news for hops growers, because craft beers use far more hops per liter than standard mass-produced lagers - from four to twenty times as much. Craft breweries need a number of special aromatic varieties of hops to brew their beers. That means new opportunities and challenges for hops suppliers.
Nuremberg historic center of hops
Barth-Haas Group is the world's biggest supplier of hops and hops-related products and services. The group of family-owned companies has roots in Nuremberg, Germany, going back to 1794. Large-scale hops trading began in Germany, but as the US population grew in the 19th and 20th centuries, the center of the industry shifted to America.
Stephan Barth is one of three managing directors of the now global family firm - and a member of the eighth generation of the family that has guided the firm's fortunes. He remembers helping with the late-summer hops harvest at his grandmother's farm in the Hallertau region of Bavaria when he was a boy.
"When you travel through Hallertau in late August or September, you breathe in the aroma of hops, a spicy, earthy smell I've always loved, even as a child," he told DW.
That's one of the reasons he moved back to Germany in the late 1980s after growing up mostly in the US. Now he manages a company that processes hops into a variety of intermediate products, such as hops pellets, to supply breweries around the world.
Demand for aromatic hops set to grow
Standard, industrially produced beers generally have a "light" flavor. Craft brew aficionados tend to describe mass produced lagers as having very little flavor, and a paucity of hops is the main reason. One result of the fact that industrial brews are low in hops was that hops prices remained low for decades, as a large supply met limited demand. All that started to change in the 1990s with the burgeoning craft beers movement.
Prices for flavorful aromatic hops have doubled over the past five years, to about $7 to $10 per pound. Demand is strong and growing, and not only in the US, which now has nearly three thousand craft breweries. The trend has spread to other countries - among others Japan, the UK, and also Germany, the historic heartland of brewing, where the number of small breweries has been growing again after a decades-long consolidation trend.
China beer and hops megamarket
Even China now has a thousand craft breweries - and because of its 1.3 billion strong population, it's the world's biggest beer market.
The craft breweries trend means specialist aromatic hops growers have their work cut out for them. The demand for their product is likely to grow for years to come. And Stephan Barth is making sure his company keeps abreast of the changes.
The company built a test brewery in the 1990s to enable its clients to experiment with hops varieties and recipes, and it hosts a 'hops academy' for brewers to develop their skills. It's a well-worn cliché that Germans tend to be serious about pretty much everything. If there's a job to be done, they don't quit until it's been done right. Fortunately, there's more than a little truth to the cliché, and Barth-Haas Group does it justice: They're incontestably serious about hops.