All hopped up

  • Hop vines are hung and then processed to strip the cones at Sod Busters Farm, Salem, Oregon.

    Lisa Bauso

Chinook, Magnum and American Fuggle -- these are just some of the Pacific Northwest's many organic hop varieties. But despite rapid growth in organic craft beer production, they're hardly flying off the shelves. That's because, until recently, USDA rules allowed organic brewers to use much cheaper conventional hops.

In 2007, the National Organic Standards Board declared that organic beer didn't require organic hops, since U.S. producers didn't grow enough to meet demand. This October, though, it reversed the "Budweiser exemption," so called because Anheuser-Busch, which makes organic "craft" beers like Stone Mill Pale Ale, had argued for it. The change takes effect in 2013, giving brewers time to make the transition.

Now, small craft brewers and consumer groups are clinking their pints in celebration. And Washington and Oregon growers, who produce the bulk of the nation's hops, can look forward to a revenue boost, since organic hops, at about $12 per pound, sell for more than twice the price of conventional ones. It's also likely the decision will convince hop growers to shift more acres to organic to meet demand.

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