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Intense West Coast droughts could mean future hops shortage

There could be trouble brewing for beer makers around the country. Scientists at NASA say climate change and intense droughts are making it more difficult to grow a key ingredient: hops.

At Milwaukee Brewing Company on Tuesday a party celebrated this year's release of "Louie's Resurrection". The barrel-aged seasonal uses perle and tettnanger hops which are only two of dozens of hop varieties purchased in bulk through contract.

"Hops are always a concern because we are larger than we used to be but we're still relatively small. It's our most expensive ingredient," Jim McCabe, owner and founder of Milwaukee Brewing Co. Said.

"We've paid as much as filet mignon prices for hops sometimes. Like $25 a pound," McCabe said.

2007 was the last notable hops shortage. The major producer states are Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. This year that region has been hit by drought and - to the south - severe wildfires.

NASA scientist Joshua Fisher say climate change is making the situation more intense.

"We are reaching this kind of tipping point to what we've been used to in terms of how much rain we're going to get and how plants grow. It's now no longer the norm," Fisher said.

Lakefront Brewery President Russ Klisch says the average consumers should not be worried short term because the growth of the craft beer market has somewhat slowed down.

"So you're finding some brewers trying to sell hops from other years - so that is affecting it. But you always look at the next crop and the next year and see what they bring. These abundances turn into shortages very quickly," Klisch said.

"Any time there's an unbalance anywhere in the industry. It seems to have a ripple effect," Klisch said.

At Milwaukee Brewing Co. McCabe point to their Beer "Hop Freak" as an example.

"So you use a lot. And this one uses amarillo hops which are in-demand. There only grown by one grower who's got a proprietary strain so if he has a problem - this beer goes away," McCabe said.

The smaller the brewery, the more likely it is to be affected by a shortage because smaller breweries typically need to buy hops on the spot market.

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