From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 47 - November 22, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Brewmaster Richie Strom, left, and assistant brewmaster Honis Luther don’t have to worry about running out of hops soon at Bottoms Up Brewery.
Local brewmaster’s hustle keeping customers ‘hoppy’

by Jennie Oemig

The global hops shortage may cause some serious problems for microbreweries across the nation, but Bottoms Up Brewery & Grill manager Linda Schumacher and brewmaster Richie Strom assure that patrons can expect to continue enjoying their favorite malt beverages here in Pinedale.

“We’re still in business,” Schumacher said, putting to rest any rumors that the hops shortage may lead to the closure of the brewpub. That may have not been the case had Strom not been aware of the situation and taken action, Schumacher said.

“Richie was on top of it and in touch with suppliers,” she said, adding that Bottoms Up has, in the past month, secured contracts with hops suppliers to ensure the brewery does not run out of the grain.

And the securing of those particular contracts came right down to the wire.

“We came really close to not securing any hops at all for our production,” Strom said. “It was a matter of hours.”

Using 12 different varieties of hops for all the brews at Bottoms Up, Strom said the brewery only deals with a few hops suppliers, which is a business that has taken a hit in recent months.

“One [supplier] completely shut down for sales,” Strom noted.

With contracts guaranteeing Bottoms Up has hops to continue brewing, Schumacher said she is glad she has a brewmaster who knows the ropes of the brewery business as well as Strom does.

“It could have affected us in eight months,” she said, noting that it could have been very possible to be completely out of hops and beer by next summer. “We would have been in trouble if we wouldn’t have secured these grains.”

With some hops farmers switching their crops to grains to produce ethanol, along with a bad harvest, Strom said he did have to use substitutions while waiting for this year’s crop to bring the supply back up. But that didn’t happen.

“All of a sudden, there’s no supply,” he said.

Though it won’t impact the serving of beer at Bottoms Up, the hops shortage has stymied some of the plans Strom had for his brews.

“We were looking at packaging our beer in a can next year,” he said, noting that such an effort will now have to be put off. If he were to go forward with canning, Strom said he would likely run out of beer for Bottoms Up patrons by August.

“That’s gone out the window now,” he said. “ … We’d kind of be shooting ourselves and the town in the foot.”

Even though Bottoms Up is out of the woods in regard to the hops crisis, Schumacher said that other microbreweries might not be so lucky.

“There’s probably a lot of breweries going out of business,” she said of the smaller and newer breweries across the nation. “ … The little guys just starting out might be affected if they don’t realize the seriousness of the situation.” And Strom agrees that it is a serious problem and feels for those brewers who are now the victims of a situation that was caused by bigger breweries years ago.

“That’s gonna be the sad part of the deal,” he said of the microbreweries being put out of business. “It’s survival of the fittest.” Though the hops supply at Bottoms Up is not a problem at the moment, Schumacher said other ingredients used to brew the ales the brewery is famous for might pose the next threat to the brewing process.

“We may have to cut back on the choices,” she said, noting that the pub currently offers eight types of beer.

If unable to get the right ingredients, Schumacher said Bottoms Up will continue to brew four or five of the best-selling brews. “We will keep the most popular ales,” she said, adding that making that decision may still be quite a ways down the road. “We have a lot of inventory.”

With the shortage, Strom said he might have to stay away from brewing beer that takes an excess amount of hops. But he admits he is lucky that the most popular brew is one that does not use too much of the grain.

“Kolsch is the number one seller and uses the least amount of hops,” he said. While the hops situation may force some microbreweries to raise the prices of their beers, Strom said, having known about the possible dilemma since February, he was prepared.

“We raised the prices at the start of the summer,” he noted, adding that he does not foresee a need to do so again in the near future. “I’d really hate to see that happen again.”

But Strom looks at the bright side of things when it comes to the cost of Bottoms Up brews.

“A pint of beer’s still less than a gallon of diesel,” he said with a chuckle. So, for now, brewing will continue as usual.

Strom and his assistant, Honis Luther, brewed the most potent of ales served at Bottoms Up, the T.K.O., with an alcohol content slightly over 11 percent, on Saturday to be ready for New Year’s Eve.

Photo credits:  Jennie Oemig

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