Oh No, Not the Beer!

Barley, Hops, and the Future of Beer

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
January 6, 2019

Beer lovers take note: barley a key ingredient in beer is in trouble around the world.

Glass of Beer. Oh No, Not the Beer: Barley, Hops, and the Future of Beer.A recent article in Nature Plants warns that increasing episodes of extreme drought and heat due to climate warming will cause a decrease in world barley production. Today, beer is brewed most commonly from partially germinated (malted) barley. To find out about the effects of climate change on beer, researchers modeled the effects of more frequent droughts and heat waves on 23 barley-growing regions around the world. Under the worst case conditions, barley yields would decrease by 17% and beer prices would double on average.

In bartender speak, low barley supply means less brew to satisfy the world’s surging thirst for this popular beverage. Beer is the third most consumed liquid after water and tea, and the most popular alcoholic drink in the world. So rising costs for this valuable drink will quickly become visible to consumers.

How Beer Got Started

Farming began 10,000 years ago with the domestication of wild wheats and barley. As these grains became the food mainstay, early farmers discovered grain fermentation, and the resulting alcoholic drink we call beer. By the time the pyramids were under construction in ancient Egypt 5,000 years ago, the workers were paid in vegetables, grain, and alcohol. In 2017 the world produced approximately 140 million tons of barley, 20% of which goes for brewing beer.

Although well adapted to a wide range of climates, barley prefers temperate regions such as the northern prairies of North America. Barley does not like extreme heat and drought, which brings us to climate change…

A Changing Climate

From the earliest farming to the year 1800, carbon dioxide levels remained at a stable 280 parts per million (ppm). With world industrialization, CO2 levels began to rise. In 2018, the concentration reached 410 ppm. This is the highest amount of CO2 in several million years and is quickly pushing the earth into a new and unstable climate system. This new climatic era is predicted to suffer more frequent extreme weather events. For instance, researchers point out that the rapid heating of the Arctic and loss of sea ice is linked to the stalling of the northern hemisphere’s jet stream, which contributes to prolonged heatwaves and droughts.

Climate Change, Beer, Barley, and Hops

Hops flowers. Oh No, Not the Beer: Barley, Hops, and the Future of Beer.

Hop flowers

In addition to barley, these climate consequences extend to the other main plant ingredient in beer: hops. Most modern beer is brewed with hops. Hops are the flowers of the climbing perennial vine, Humulus lupulus. Depending on the variety, hops add bitterness or fruity aromas to the brew’s taste while preventing spoilage by a mild antibacterial effect in the cooking process. Hops like lots of sun, moderate temperatures, and well watered or irrigated soils.

Most of North America’s hops are grown in the Pacific Northwest under friendly climate conditions. That changed in 2015 when Washington State’s hops growing areas suffered an “unusual” summer with extreme dry and hot weather. Long-term climate models for the region predict frequent droughts will become the “new normal,” with potential harmful effects on hops yields. Projected declines in barley and hops output together will contribute to reduced beer production.

“Beer is proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy.” —Ben Franklin

Barley. Oh No, Not the Beer: Barley, Hops, and the Future of Beer.


A Tall Cool One…

So in the near future, whether you plan to drink ale, lager, pilsner, stout, porter, bock, malt, or craft brew expect the price to rise in a hotter world.

The good news is, however, that although beer will cost more, it will still be available to help us in our long transition to a sustainable world. We’ll certainly need a drink!


More articles:

oregano, a culinary herb that can help reduce methane emissionsHow Oregano Can Help Fight Global Warming

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