World’s biggest brewer is country’s only grower.
Among the assets acquired by AB InBev when it merged with its rival SABMiller in 2016 was SAB Hop Farms, South Africa’s sole hop-growing company. SAB Hop Farms produces high-alpha hops mainly for local brands Castle Lager and Castle Lite but has also developed new aroma varieties such as Southern Passion. On 10th May 2017 it was announced that no SAB Hop Farms produce would be available on the commercial market since a low yield means the entire harvest will be needed for AB InBev’s own brands. In a statement the company said that, rather than withholding supplies of hops from independent brewers, it merely does not have a surplus to sell in 2017.
Coming off the back of AB InBev’s acquisition of Carolina brewer Wicked Weed, outrage was swift in the United States. Industry analyst Brian Roth has noted, however, that the impact of South African hops in US craft brewing is minimal and that other varieties will easily take the place of those rendered unavailable by this decision.
Either way, a single brewing company having this level of control over a vital beer ingredient for an entire nation is certainly a worrying situation, especially as consolidation by the world’s largest breweries becomes ever tighter.