Well, one alternative is to change the varieties of beer you brew. There are lots of beer styles that use less hops or use hop varieties that are in greater supply. But another great way to face the hop shortage is simply to grow your own. I have been growing my own hops for several years, but until this year I have not been serious about cultivating, harvesting, and drying them for significant use in my own brews.
I'll be posting several more times on this as the season continues, but right now is planting and training time. First, planting. Hops are propagated from rhizomes, chunks of their robust root systems that send up spiny shoots called bines. Rhizomes are still available from a number of sources on the Web, including http://www.freshops.com/. And if you get them out soon, you still have time to get some hops started this year. Plant the rhizomes in cultivated, weed-free soil to which you've added some good organic fertilizer or compost. Above are three new "hills" that I've created on my place, with Liberty, Mt. Hood, and Nugget hops. I also have Cascade, Chinook, and Willamette planted elsewhere.
Then, when the hop bines appear above ground, you will need to train several of them onto some sort of vertical support, so that the vines can grow out to a length of twenty or even thirty feet and then set the hop cones which will be harvested and utilized in beer. On my place I have set a tall pole in concrete out in my garden area and each year I run lengths of baling twine down to stakes in the "hills" of hops. I train three or four hop bines onto each string and let them climb. (You might want to wear gloves for this, since hop bines will sting your hands and arms a lot like stinging nettle.) Cut off all the rest of the emerging bines so that the root system puts maximum vigor and productivity into just a few bines. Keeping the hops well watered will help ensure a good set of cones.
As the season unfolds I'll talk more about harvesting, drying, and using homegrown hops. An excellent resource on growing hops, as well as utilizing other garden-raised produce in your beer, is The Homebrewer's Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs. I'll be reviewing this book in more detail in another entry, but the book covers not only growing of hops, but also barley (including how to malt the barley yourself, which I definitely want to try sometime), and other herbs and spices that can be used in beer for bittering and flavor.