A future without beer pong tournaments and keg stands?

Climate change may have impact on beer production

When thinking about beer and its ingredients, barley is the first and most important ingredient that comes to mind. However, few know how the cultivation of barley can affect the taste and brewing of beer. Climate change could negatively affect beer production in the future due to the impacts it will have on the cultivation of barley, according to a recent study at UC Irvine.

The UC Irvine team researching this issue came up with various scenarios to gain insight into how the decline in barley farming might occur. Due to the burning of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide emissions, places where large amounts of barley are grown would be greatly affected. This could cause a drop in barley crop production anywhere from 3 to 17 percent.

Malting barley is already a very sensitive crop in that it fluctuates in quality from year to year, resulting in different levels of problematic proteins and complex carbohydrates,” said Dr. Charles Bamforth, a distinguished professor in the Department of Food, Science and Technology at UC Davis.The rigid specifications that the malting and brewing industries put on the specialized barley that they need mean that it is a tough crop for growers to deal with — and for some farmers, it is already easier and more economic[al] to turn to alternative things to grow. Even now, there is no vast surplus of good quality grain from which to make beer.”

Even the slightest rise in global temperatures could cause droughts in major regions, which will decrease the already small percent of total barley grown that can be used in the brewing process. Subsequently, with less barley available, beer won’t be the same.

With the unarguable reality of global warming, things will only get worse,” Bamforth said. “Any shortage of malt will lead to a price war and a scary likelihood of an increase in the price not only of beer but also of other products that use malted barley — notably, whiskey.”

The UCI study further outlines other issues associated with a barley shortage, including how much more beer will cost, especially in countries like Canada, Belgium, Denmark and Poland. This price increase could potentially limit many people from purchasing beer, especially during heat waves. The study, using the most severe climate change predictions, shows that a drop of about 16 percent of beer production is possible, which is currently the total amount of beer consumed in the United States.

“The obvious approach to avoiding this ‘Beer-pocalypse’ is to implement strict, short-term regulation on emissions while simultaneously allocating sufficient resources to the research and development of long-term solutions (i.e. clean energy sources, emission reduction practices, localized environment recover efforts, etc.),” said Jordan Beaver, an agricultural and environmental chemistry Ph.D. student, via email. “But if society decides to continue down its current path, there are still some options for mitigating a potential barley shortage.”

Not only will our future contain less beer for personal enjoyment, but also some workers in beer production may become unemployed with less supply and less demand. Students studying in fields such as food, science and technology might suffer the consequences if changes in beer production occur.

“As a senior who will be entering the workforce soon, it is a worrying position for industry to be in,” said Camron Clifton, a third-year food, science and technology major. “A lot of infrastructure will have to change and it could turn out to be a huge headache for current breweries, as well as ones trying to get their feet on the ground. Brewers tend to be very resourceful, so I think the industry will adapt, but they are also creatures of habit and like doing things the way they have traditionally been done.”

As the saying goes, no one can predict the future, but if that was possible, it wouldn’t look very bright for brewers and their brews.

Written by: Lauren Tropio — city@theaggie.org