Beer

Beer without Water

Variety. Choice. Options. When it comes to beer there seems to be no end to the innovation craft brewers the world over are capable of and there’s never been a better time to be a beer connoisseur. I recently went to my local liquor store and discovered that what was once just a convenience store with a really good beer selection had become a full-blown bottle shop with tons of cold and warm storage. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. Of course I got my bearings and expertly pulled 12 bottles of brew that I had never tried before. That right there my friends, is the joy of beer drinking today. But it doesn’t stop there. Even dive bars are getting in on the action. Bars where Bud Miller Coors (the BMC beers) were the only thing on tap, now often serve up a healthy dose of local and regional craft offerings.

Craft beer in the United States (and the rest of the world for that matter) is exploding in popularity. So as I sit here, sipping and contemplating the aroma, flavor and mouthfeel of my beer, watching others in my local watering hole gazing up at that large chalk board menu listing the rotating taps of seasonals, why do I feel a twinge of guilt?

Drought

Drought. The west and southwest are taking it in the teeth, but the realities of drought are that it affects everybody. Is it Global Warming? Is it Climate Change? Is it our fault? Or is it the planet evolving? These are political hot button issues that I won’t discuss in context of this topic. Personally, I’m just a conservationist. Clean water. Clean air. Keep our state and national parks and our lakes and rivers pristine so that current and future generations can continue to enjoy them. I’m also a cynical optimist which means I believe in the human capacity to do great things, but expect us to fall short on our potential most of the time.

It takes a tremendous amount of water to make beer. Professional and home brewers alike know all too well that brewing beer is really about cleaning and sanitizing. Obsessively. Making beer takes too much effort and takes way too long to have some stray bacteria infect your latest batch and waste all that effort. So brewing is cleaning.

How much water does it take to make a barrel of beer in a commercial operation? Right now the US average is seven barrels (31 gallons per barrel) of water per barrel of beer though many craft brewers have gotten their ratios down to around 3:1 according to the Brewer’s Association. Cleaning, sanitizing, brewing. Rinse wash repeat.

Water-to-Beer-Chart-Water-Stewardship

However, there are a lot of breweries out there that are raising the banner of environmental stewardship and leading the charge on changing the way industry uses its resources. Yet it’s not just the water, but the WATERWAYS themselves that need to be looked after. Ninkasi Brewery in Eugene, Oregon recently added a LiveRoof Hybrid Green Roof System to their administrative building in an effort to have a positive impact on the local environment and waterways. And this isn’t some hippie dippy tree hugging movement. It’s also good for the economy by creating demand and the need for jobs.

Here’s another aspect of beer that most people may not be aware of: beer is mostly water. I know. Shocker. Though it’s not as sexy a topic as say, hops, water is the most important ingredient in beer. Why promote your beer by saying it’s from Rocky Mountain spring water if something like that doesn’t matter? Yet not all breweries can tap local rivers. So where do they draw their water from? Local municipalities. Oskar Blues of Colorado recently opened a new brewery in North Carolina and immediately ran into some problems.

So where does that leave us in a world that could potentially be facing overpopulation and drought? We love our beer and we want more. Hell, 4300 BC Babylonian clay tablets detail recipes for beer and I don’t see us giving it up anytime soon. Will we develop an infrastructure to desalinate the oceans? Will we be saved by El Nino? Will we put restrictions on liquid libations? Like I said earlier, I’m a cynical optimist. Living in permanent equilibrium is probably unachievable. I believe humans thrive only by pulling things back from the brink. To come up with a solution to a problem at the 11th hour. Maybe it makes us feel more alive. And after that effort, after all that hard work to push the outside of that envelope and then haul it back it, Bill Murray is right.

 Hop-tastrophe!

Hop FarmsThere’s much talk in the news of a hop shortage in the United States that is driving up hop prices and forcing craft breweries to come up with clever ways of redesigning their beers to keep up with the demand for brand favorites. On a recent visit to Sonoran Brewing in Phoenix, Arizona head brewer Scott Yarosh told me he had to contract his hops three years out and lamented the scarcity of some of his preferred hop types. One of the joys of brewing beer, as home brewers and professional brewers alike know, is the variation that is possible when putting together a recipe for a batch whether it’s a hopped up IPA or a malty Scotch Ale. Professional brewers, however, need to recreate their core beers time and again with the same ingredients or risk losing sales if consumers turn their noses up at the changes to their favorite brews. When making the recipe for one of his new ales, Scott explained that because of the lack of availability of a particular hop he wanted to use, he instead had to combine two others to approximate the aroma and flavor profile he was looking to create.

Is this cause for alarm? Will an inevitable hop shortage catastrophe drive commodity prices (and consequently retail prices) through the roof and kill the craft brew industry? I doubt it. A recent analysis by the Brewers Association shows that even with the sharp rise in brewery permit applications, the United States doesn’t even come close to European countries in terms of breweries per capita and there’s no sign of slowing demand by craft brew consumers. In addition, Americans are pretty resourceful and always on the look out for opportunities. As demand grows, hop farmers will continue to create new and exciting varieties and develop acreage all over the country to make room for more hop farms. The end result could be a boon to consumers in the form of variety and choice and that is good for everyone.

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