Behind the Forecast: Climate Change Tainting Our Beer?

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Climate change can impact beer's main ingredients: water, barley, and hops.
Climate change can impact beer's main ingredients: water, barley, and hops.(kfda)
Published: Oct. 13, 2023 at 8:19 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Is climate change impacting our beer? Say it ain’t so!

Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the United States. The U.S. produces around 80% of the beer the country consumes.

Climate change can impact beer’s main ingredients: water, barley, and hops.

Water makes up 90 to 95% of beer. The brewing process uses five to six times more water than beer contains. Farmers use even more water to grow hops and barley.

Of the 2 million acres of barley harvested in the United States in 2021, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota grew 80% of the crop.

Less groundwater and a reduced snowpack in these parts of the country could deplete the amount of water available for the growth of beer’s key ingredients and the production of the beverage itself.

Barley is responsible for beer’s flavor, color, frothiness, and fermentation. Droughts and excessive heat can reduce yields, increasing beer prices globally.

73% of the United States hops come from Washington State (mainly in the Yakima Valley). The rest of the crop is grown in Idaho and Oregon. Hops play a distinct role in a beer’s flavor and aroma.

These states are highly dependent on their snowpack for irrigation; the snowpack has been on the decline in recent years.

Wildfires in the west and northwest can also influence the hops crop. Smoke can taint the flavors of hops while heat and stunt the plant’s growth. While smoke may not necessarily make the hops taste smokey, it may change the flavor as the smoke impacts the amount of sunshine the plant receives.