I-TEAM Consumer Alert: Why Beer Tastes Different, Costs More

We are well into the heat of the summer and there is nothing quite like an ice-cold beer to cool you off. But could the taste of your favorite beer be changing, alongside a price hike?

News Center 7′s Consumer Investigator reporter Xavier Hershovitz explains that it all starts with a small plant.

Before you can drink it from a glass or straight from a can, every beer you get starts out as a hop, and it matters big time when it comes to the quality and taste of your favorite brew.

Dave Volkman with Ohio Valley Hops said, “As a human being, loved to grow things.”

Volkman is in his 10th year growing hops in the Buckeye State.

“When we started off there was no Ohio hops industry. Hops have been grown here for probably 100 years or more,” he said.

The hop itself provides much of the flavor in your favorite beer.

“They are essential for those hop-forward, aroma-forward, and flavored-forward beers,” Volkman said.

While he provides his hops to brewers in the Miami Valley, the vast majority are grown in the Pacific Northwest.

In 2022 alone, more than 100 million pounds of the nation’s hops were grown in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington state.

Volkman said, where that hop is grown makes a difference in the taste of the brew too.

“Midwestern Chinook is 100% different than Pacific Northwest Chinook. Genetically identical creatures, but when it comes to that flavor, ours has got a much different sort of flavor profile to it,” Volkman said.

That’s why brewers like Brett Smith of Branch and Bone in Dayton love to get creative with locally grown hops.

“Grown out in the northwest, it takes like pine trees. It’s very tiny. All of it grown here tastes like cantaloupe, it’s cool,” Smith said.

While they get local when they can, like most brewers, the majority of their hops come from out west.

“Everything’s increased in the last three years specifically,” Smith said.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, hops production from 2021 to 2022 was down 12 percent. That’s a $15 million pound difference.

This year, the harvest forecast is down 8 percent from last year. For brewers like Brett, it’s made hops more expensive. But that’s not the only hurdle. One of the other key ingredients is seeing a change too.

“American-grown grain has become higher protein content, just primarily due to changes in the weather,” Smith said.

Now, that doesn’t affect the taste of your favorite beer, but “It takes longer for us to make because it just doesn’t run off as well. But, that’s all a symptom of the weather and it’s honestly getting worse,” Smith said.

You combine those costs with the rising costs of just running a business, and it puts brewers in a tough spot.

“Things just continue to get worse and worse. Eventually, you kind of get forced to increase your prices, or you know make hard decisions about what you can and can’t do,” Smith said.

Passing those rising costs onto their beloved beer consumers, But Smith keeps his focus on what he loves – making a good beer.

“It’s kind of out of our control. So, I can’t put too much worry into it,” Smith said.

As for Volkman, being a hops farmer in Ohio, he’s had to adjust to whatever mother nature throws at him.

“You just have to be on top of what the potential problems are. And, bused on what you’re seeing watch for those very carefully,” Volkman said.

Farmers and brewers alike – watching these changes closely – to keep your favorite brew tasting the same, and hopefully, costing the same too.

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