PRAGUE (AP) -- Fear not, beer lovers! Although the Czech hops harvest is expected to plummet by around a quarter this year due to bad weather, there's still plenty of stock to quench the huge thirst both at home and abroad.
Czechs are by far the biggest beer drinkers in the world per capita and the Czech Republic is also one of the top producers of hops -- the dried seed cones that give beer its bitter taste and aroma. Their hops are highly sought after and exported to about 80 countries, including Japan, China, Germany and Russia.
The Hop Growers Union of the Czech Republic said Friday that preliminary figures show a yield of about 0.95 - 1.00 metric tons per hectare compared with the average of 1.11 metric tons per hectare. They cited freezing temperatures in February and a drought in spring.
The country's overall production is expected to fall by 26 percent to 4,500 metric tons from 6,088 metric tons in 2011.
Authorities say there are enough supplies following the exceptionally high harvests of the previous two years -- and that prices are unlikely to rise.
"This year's harvest won't have any significant impact on the price of hops," said Bohumil Pazler, the chairman of the union.
Hops, soaring seven 7 meters (23 feet) into the air and supported by wire, have been cultivated on Czech territory for over 1,000 years. The heartland near the western towns of Zatec and Rakovnik provides an ideal climate for the local dominant brand known as Saaz, a fine aroma hop with a low concentration of alpha acids which give beer its bitter flavor.
Almost 80 percent of hops production is exported -- and more than two thirds of that is Saaz, which the Czechs call the "Rolls-Royce" of hops.
"The Czech Saaz is the best in the world," said Jiri Vesely, executive director of the Czech Beer and Malt Association.
In 2007, Saaz was granted the EU's Protected Designation of Origin label as the top hops brand. It is used by brewers for premium products.
Exports to the United States crashed to virtually zero in the 1990s after the beer giant Anheuser Busch stopped using Czech hops as a response to the ongoing trademark dispute with the Czech state-run brewer Budejovicky Budvar and a refusal of the Czech government to sell Budvar to its U.S. rival.