Abating Hop Forces Alaskan Brewing Co. to Discontinue Golden Ale

Alaskan Brewing Co.’s most dedicated fans are sprinting for its gift shop, and one of its brewers is devastated, according to Andy Kline, the brewery’s communications manager.

What is causing this emotionally charged scene? The end of one of Alaskan’s most popular beers.

The Juneau-based brewery announced on Wednesday that it will discontinue the production of Alaskan Pale, which Kline said has “gained a legendary status in Alaska.” The decision was forced by the diminishing availability of the U.S. Tettnanger hops required to produce the golden ale (and former year-round offering).

“With most hop varieties, we are able to order based on the characteristics we are looking for in the taste and aroma,” David Wilson, quality assurance manager at Alaskan Brewing Co., said in a release. “But because so few farmers are growing this hop, we have had a hard time coming up with the consistency we need to brew Alaskan Pale year-round.”

The brewery’s distributors reported that there remains about one month’s supply left of the golden ale. The brewery hasn’t yet announced a direct replacement for the beer.

“We are always experimenting with different recipes, and we would love to find a similar flavor profile to the Alaskan Pale as many of us will miss this beer tremendously,” Marcy Larson, the brewery’s co-founder, said in the release. “But we wanted to be honest in that without those specific hops, it will not be the same beer.”

Pale is a blonde, lighter-bodied beer with a hoppy finish that’s not bitter, according to the brewery’s website. In 1987, Alaskan Pale was simply called “Pale” to contrast Alaskan Amber, then the only other year-round Alaskan brew.

“It’s a really delicate, subtle beer,” Kline said. “It’s not one of these real hop-forward beers.”

Today, along with its seasonal winter and summer ales and limited edition beers in the Alaskan Pilot Series, the brewery offers five other year-round beers: Amber, White, IPA, Stout and Freeride APA, the brewery’s latest year-round release.

Hop shortages have long hampered craft breweries across the country, especially during the famed hop shortage of 2008. According to an article in The Boston Globe, a fire at a warehouse in Washington’s Yakima Valley in 2006 and hail storms in Germany and Slovenia damaged harvests and heavily contributed to the shortage. These setbacks, among others, resulted in a significant spike in the cost of hops and the closing of some smaller breweries.

To counter these shortages, Boston Beer Company (BBC) launched a hop sharing program that will share up to 10,000 pounds each of Simcoe, Citra and Ahtanum hops. In February, Backlash Brewing Co. announced the release of Salute, a West Coast style Double IPA that used BBC hops from the sharing program.

“It’s one thing to say you support small business,” said Backlash founder Helder Pimentel. “But to actually do it through things like the hops sharing program is really special.”

The rise in contract brewing has simultaneously increased the contracting of hop varieties, as evidenced by Backlash’s case. Steve Dresler, Sierra Nevada’s head brewmaster, told Brewbound at the Great American Beer Festival in October 2012 that some breweries, especially smaller ones, are typically hesitant to invest in hop sharing contracts before their beer and brand is established in the marketplace. However, he suggests that brewers should think ahead and commit to a hop sharing deal.

“It is critically important to take care of your position and contract out for multiple years,” Dresler said.

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