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Beer breweries are having to adapt to climate change conditions

The base of beer is always the same: Water, yeast, barley and hops. The recipe hasn’t changed since 4,000 B.C. But Earth’s climate is changing.
Beer breweries are having to adapt to climate change conditions
Posted at 5:40 PM, Aug 31, 2023

The base of beer is always the same: Water, yeast, barley and hops .It's a recipe that hasn’t changed since 4,000 B.C. 

But Earth’s climate is changing, and brewers are taking note.

Breweries are going green

In Kansas City, Missouri, Boulevard Brewery’s head brewer Craig Pijanowski explained the multiple ways in which climate change is impacting their brewing process.Boulevard works to protect the environment via sustainable business practices. 

However, Pijanowski said many are unaware of the environmental impact when it comes to certain luxuries. "Beer is an agricultural product. A lot of people forget it because it's nicely packaged in bottles and all that," he said. "But anything agriculture is going to be impacted by global warming."

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Climate change and ingredients

While the ingredients for making beer haven't changed much over the years, the environments where barley and hops grow have. Climate change is forcing the growing region for crops like barley to move toward Canada. 

A study by Climate Central found more profitable crops, like corn and soybeans, are on pace to displace malted barley. The study also concluded drought conditions impact the starch suitability for brewing. 

When it comes to hops, the bottom line is that the plant is getting harder to grow. This is important because hops are the key to the aroma and flavor of beer. 

Over 70% of American-grown hops come out of Washington State: An area that is warming by 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. Warming in the Northwest reduces snowpack needed for irrigation, and hops is a sensitive plant that is intolerant of wide temperature and moisture swings.

Pijanowski explained that there aren't many suitable locations for growing hops outside of the Pacific Northwest.

"Hops need a very specific environment — it's high desert, and they are grown at a very specific latitude," he said. "That latitude is Yakima Valley Washington, then Germany, and on the other side of the globe, it's Australia and New Zealand.

Stinky or flavorless beer is not something any beer producer or connoisseur wants, which is why breweries across the U.S. have signed a Brewery Climate Declaration. In this document, brewers indicate their commitment to sustainability and finding green solutions to protect their products. 

But, being green at Boulevard comes easy — Pijanowski said it's just part of the culture now.

"We did a lot of green-type stuff before it was cool — we had one of the first electric car charging stations in the area," he said. "We went solar. We do all the spent grain stuff. We have a green roof up top to keep the rainwater out of the sewer systems, which gets overloaded. And also, we are a zero-landfill facility. Nothing goes straight to the garbage."

Businesses are working together

Spent grain, or brewer's grain, is a big waste product Boulevard has to manage. Brewer's grain is the byproduct of the grains used in brewing beer, and it makes up 85% of brewing waste. But, for Pat Ross of Lawrence, Kansas — about a 40 minutes away from Boulevard — spent grain is anything but waste. The Nunemaker-Ross Farms farmer has been working with Boulevard since the 90s to help recycle and reuse spent grain. 

Brewer's grain is a high-protein product at roughly 25% protein. On his farm, Ross works with a nutritionist to make the perfect blend of spent grain, corn, corn silage and hay to fit his cows' needs on a daily basis. He also claimed his cattle are more mellow because of the spent grain, which contains an unknown alcohol content. 

"The cattle are probably eating better diet than you and I are eating ... sure better than what I eat," Ross joked. 

Keeping it local to reduce his carbon footprint is important to Ross, too. "We get calves locally, our feeds local, including our feed that we raise ourself, and then the brewer's grain we get from Boulevard," Ross said. "And then the end product, much of it ends up back in Kansas City at the Bichelmeyer meat company."

Pijanowski said there is something special about being able to enjoy a steak with one of his beers, knowing they are connected. 

"So, the story I always like to tell about it is — Pat Ross, the guy who owns the feedlot, he supplies all the cattle to Bichelmeyer Meats. Bichelmeyer Meats is right down the road from the brewery," Pijanowski said. "So if you go to the store and you buy a steak at Bichelmeyer and a Boulevard Pale Ale, it's like a closed environmental loop."

Causes connecting

From a glass of beer to a cut of beef, the weather and climate play an intricate role throughout the entire cycle.

"We have to be [involved]. We all have children, and we all see what's happening in the world, and it's not getting better," Pijanowski said. "So if you aren’t part of the solution, then you are part of the problem."


This story was originally published by Cassie Wilson at Scripps News Kansas City


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