Beer: Global Warming's Next Victim?

Elissa V.

We have seen many devastating effects of global warming in recent years – melting ice caps, damaged ecosystems, extreme weather conditions – but one troubling development might make a few more people sit up and take notice of the growing problem. Hold on to your kegs, kids – we've got a beer shortage on our hands.

A triple whammy of bad weather in Europe, an increase in the price of barley and a decrease in hops production in the U.S. has lead to a price increase of 20 percent for the most widely grown varieties, to 80 percent for specialty hops. The shortage is particularly hitting microbreweries, since they use more hops than major brewers. Industrial brewers like Anheuser-Busch and Miller are more insulated against the shortage because they have futures contracts with hops farmers. The contracts, which help big brewers hedge against rising prices, allow them to buy a quantity of hops for a specific period of time for a certain price. – NPR

If you love craft beer, this is the type of news that can send chills up your spine just in time for the weekend. Similar to what is happening among gasoline users, beer drinkers from Australia to Oregon can expect to have to pay more for less in the coming months – or even years. Many industry professionals are predicting a 10-15 percent price jump, while others are more worrisome about shortages affecting the quality of beer.

To make beer, you need water, malted barley, yeast and hops – the dried female flowers, also known as cones, from hop vines. When you crush a hop cone, you get a yellow pollenlike powder on your fingers called lupulin. That's the zing brewers get from hops. Without hops for bittering, there would be no way for brewers to temper the roasted sweetness of the malt. Hops also provide aroma – that burst of floral, spiciness you might get in the head of an American-style India pale ale. Hundreds of years ago, British brewers sending IPAs off to India also appreciated the natural preserving qualities of hops. – FOX Business

Brewery owners insist that any difference in taste will be minimal, but the news of the shortages and price hikes has many beer enthusiasts paying closer attention to global warming's influence on the matter. Hail storms across Europe damaged farms, Australia recorded its worst drought to date, and extreme heat in the western U.S. wreaked havoc on yields and quantity. Several brewers are concerned more people will turn to wine and spirits, though both of those industries are facing their own battles as well. Perhaps Bud Light will leave a bad enough taste in people's mouths – well, a worse taste than normal – to motivate the masses into noticing the widespread effects of global warming. Or maybe it will just continue to get worse until bathtub gin and moonshine are our only options. Cheers!


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Kent Brockman (anonymous)

I've been looking for the stories about the record hops production in 2008 & 2009. Where are they?

Written in January 2010

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  • Posted on April 17, 2008. Listed in:

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