Saaz it ain’t so – Bell’s Brewery Inc.’s European hops provider for Oberon pulls out of contract

Posted by John Liberty | Kalamazoo Gazette June 05, 2008 09:40AM

KALAMAZOO — They haven’t started brewing it yet, but next year’s batch of Bell’s Brewery Inc.’s flagship beer, Oberon, could taste differently.

The Czech Republic farmers who have grown Saaz hops as part of a contract with Bell’s Brewery Inc. have pulled out the deal with the Kalamazoo brewery, which uses the hops to make its popular seasonal brew Oberon, president Larry Bell said.

The move could effect next year’s brew.

Bell said he found out about it a few weeks ago and that the contract with the farmers had “some loopholes.”

It’s another example of the hurting smaller brewers. Between bad weather in Europe, a spike in barley prices and a decrease in hops production by U.S. farmers, those with hops know they are sitting on a coveted product.

“The amount of dollars flying around for hops, these guys are seeing the opportunity they have and jumping at them to make some real dollars this year,” Bell said.

Bell said the brewery has already started experiments at the Comstock facility and they “may substitute things because of the sheer lack of availability.”

Some of those experimental brews will be available at the Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave., in the coming weeks. Bell also said he will meet with a hops broker next month in Washington to see if he can get Saaz hops elsewhere.

Other hops shortages may effect other Bell’s brews, including Two-Hearted Ale, Bell said.

“If we have to change the hops in our recipes, we’re going to come out and tell our consumers what’s going on,” Bell said. “We will return to basic recipes as quickly as we possibly can.”

Bell said he’s also hoping this summer will be prime for hops growing — timely rain, an abundance of sunshine and few straight-line winds, powerful winds associated with thunderstorms.

“We don’t really know what the harvest is going to be. We have a long summer of weather ahead of us,” he said.

As for Oberon, even without Saaz hops, “I don’t expect a huge taste change,” Bell said.