What you need to know:
- Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world by volume consumed, and yields of its main ingredient, barley, decline sharply during extreme drought and heat
- Hops are the flowers or cones of the Humulus lupulus plant, which help keep beer fresh and retain that creamy, frothy head that is synonymous with each perfect pour.
- The study shows that there will be a 31 per cent reduction in hop acids by 2050
It is 2050, and you find yourself at your local bar, enjoying your favourite cold beer. As you take a sip, an unusual and disconcerting bitterness lingers, one that taste buds are unaccustomed to. It also dawns on you that this once-refreshing beverage has become a rarity, and its price tag has soared to exorbitant heights.
To start with, the journey of that beer in your mug, started long before it was poured; farmers worked tirelessly to produce high-quality barley and hop, which give beer its unique flavour. According to Allagash Brewing Company, hops are the flowers or cones of the Humulus lupulus plant, which help keep beer fresh and retain that creamy, frothy head that is synonymous with each perfect pour.
A new study published in the scientific journal, Nature Communications shows that climate change will affect European beer-producing regions, leading to a reduction in hop yields up to 18 per cent. Hop’s compounds, particularly their bitter acids, referred to as the alpha content, are critical in shaping the aroma and flavour of beer. This means that once the quality of hop are affected by extreme heat or drought and other impacts of climate change, the nature of the acids could change, consequently changing the very essence of your beloved beer.
The study shows that there will be a 31 per cent reduction in hop acids by 2050.The cultivation of high-quality aroma hops is traditionally concentrated in specific regions with the ideal environmental conditions to nurture their unique flavours and aromas. With the perils of climate change, the yields are likely to be affected by heat waves and droughts, compromising the very environmental conditions that these hops depend on for optimal growth.
According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), Kenya imports its hops mainly from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States, Germany, and South Africa. European farmers have relocated to areas with better conditions and implemented crop management changes to save their crops. Scientists analysed the impact of weather on aromatic hop yield and content in various locations. Researchers discovered that hop yields suffered due to insufficient precipitation, and excessively high temperatures resulting in the lowest levels of alpha content.
“When temperature and light extremes occurred, most growing areas tended to be negatively affected,” the study adds. The researchers now predict that by 2050, there will be a decline in hop yields, indicating that yields of aromatic hops recorded between 2021 to 2050 will be much lower compared to those recorded between 1989 and 2018.“The most pronounced declines are expected to occur in the southern hop growing regions in southern Germany and Slovenia (Tettnang and Celje), while the more northern sites in Germany and the Czech Republic (Hallertau, Spalt, and Zatec) are expected to experience less pronounced decreases in both parameters,” they say.
All scenarios predicted a decline in hop yields between 12 per cent and 35 per cent over 2021–2050 across all major hop-growing regions in Europe, with Slovenia, Portugal, and Spain exhibiting the most pronounced declines. Besides the water stress, they say that external factors, such as “health condition of the hops, epigenetic adaptation and heredity of the hops, irrigation systems, harvest maturity, habitat conditions, and the regulation of hop growth” can affect the yields and alpha content. Another study published in 2018 by Nature Plants predicted climate change could cause global beer shortages.
Prof Dabo Guan, a lead author of the study, argues that although some attention has been paid to the potential impacts of climate change on luxury crops such as wine and coffee, the effects on beer have not been carefully evaluated. “A sufficient beer supply may help with the stability of entertainment and communication in society. While the effects on beer may seem modest in comparison to many of the other - some life-threatening - impacts of climate change, there is nonetheless something fundamental in the cross-cultural appreciation of beer,” he offers.
Scientists from the United Kingdom, China, Mexico, and the United States collaborated to identify severe climate events and simulate how these events affected barley production in 34 different regions worldwide. They also analysed how the resulting disruptions in barley supply would impact the availability and pricing of beer in each region, considering various potential future climate scenarios. “
Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world by volume consumed, and yields of its main ingredient, barley, decline sharply during extreme drought and heat. These extreme events may cause substantial decreases in barley yields worldwide. Average yield losses range from 3 per cent to 17 per cent, depending on the severity of the conditions. Decreases in the global supply of barley lead to proportionally larger decreases in barley used to make beer and ultimately result in dramatic regional decreases in beer consumption and increases in beer,” explains the researchers. “
During the most severe climate events, our results indicate that global beer consumption would decline by 16 per cent and that beer prices would, on average, double. Even in less severe extreme events, global beer consumption will drop by four per cent and prices increase by 15 per cent,” reads the report.
In the future, the authors of the study recommend that farmers of aroma hops, especially those from Southern and Central Europe may need to “expand the area of aroma hops by 20 per cent compared to the current production area to compensate for a future decline of hop production