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You didn't listen to the warnings about climate change. You didn't care about sea levels rising. Warmer winters? You laughed and said, "Bring it on!" More hurricanes? No problem, what's a little rain and wind? That's why we have insurance, after all. Well, maybe a shortage of beer will grab your attention!

Yes, that's right. Beer may soon be on the endangered species list. Seems that higher climate temperatures will affect many aspects of the brew industry. This news comes on the heels of a United Nations report describing climate change as causing future food and water shortages, heat waves and a rise in disease.

The four main ingredients of beer are water, barley, hops and yeast. Yes, the craft beer industry tends to go overboard with new ideas for beer ingredients, but for purists those four ingredients are mainstays for beer brewing. Apparently, climate change may impact all four of these brewing essentials.

Take water, for example. By 2025 some 2 billion people will experience water scarcity, and the rest of us will be considered "water stressed." California already faces water restrictions, causing many of that state's brewers to use "recycled" water. No Rocky Mountain spring water here, folks. There is actually, I kid you not, a beer made in San Diego from sewage water. Stone Brewing produces it with the catchy name, Full Circle. This gives that old saying, "you don't buy beer, you just rent it" a whole new meaning. I'll pass, thanks (pun intended). Another company, Mavericks Brewing, uses purified "grey" water from sinks and showers to make their Tunnel Vision IPA. Sure, it's been treated and verified safe for consumption but I can't get past the "yuk factor," or the occasional hair floating on that head of beer.

Barley is the grain most often used for beer brewing. There are many ways to treat barley to obtain different levels of taste, from a smooth, mild flavor to a smoky, biscuit aroma with subtle overtones. The art of growing and malting barley has evolved over centuries. That is all in jeopardy now due to higher temperatures in areas that grow barley. It is also a food staple. As supplies of barley dwindle, more of the grain will be diverted to food use. The laws of supply and demand come into play and beer will cost more to make and purchase. This will inevitably lead to using other grains, such as oats, millet, rice and corn to produce a brew, but can it really be called beer? Those grains face the same issue as barley, and will also be affected by climate change.

The use of hops in beer is a source of many an argument amongst the brewing faithful. Hops impart the bitter taste and flavorful, delicate floral flavor to many an Indian Pale Ale, or IPA. Some like the bitterness, others don't. But we may not have a choice of using hops in the future. On a hotter, drier Earth, growing hops will not be a priority. Hops require a lot of water to grow (which is why they are grown in the Northwest) and they are not a food. Water rationing will force hops out of the beer market. Sure, there are other herbs that could be used but a beer made from mugwort or horehound just doesn't seem normal, or even morally right.

What about yeast? Yeast is hard to kill, but climate change is altering some wild yeasts. Belgian brewers are already seeing differences in some of their yeast stocks. If you are a fan of those tart, sour Lambic beers, which actually depend on some random wild bacteria infecting the beer batch, you may be in luck. Those bacteria may proliferate, for a while, anyway. Review the above concerning water, barley, and hops.

Humans often don't make changes until they are personally affected in a way that forces or compels them to do so. For many of us, the thought of beer extinction is as personal as it can get. Perhaps the rising cost of buying or brewing a beer will be the tipping point resulting in a call to action.

In the meantime, savor that frosty cold one while you can.

-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to devin.houston@gmail.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 11/07/2018

Print Headline: Save our beer!

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