New Belgium, a brewing company based out of Fort Collins that is reopening its taproom Thursday, is launching a bland futuristic beer for Earth Day that makes an unpalatable point.
The company announced its new Fat Tire beer, called Torched Earth Ale. It mixes ingredients that would be plentiful in a "climate-ravaged future," such as "smoke-tainted water, drought-resistant grains, shelf-stable extracts and dandelion weeds," according to its website.
Just ask Steve Fechheimer, CEO of New Belgium, for his thoughts on it.
"It tastes terrible," he said. "The ingredients in this product were things that we think, unfortunately, are going to be endemic to beer production as we look out 10, 20, 30 years."
So, what does it taste like exactly? Fechheimer described it as "smoky, bland-ish, not particularly exciting." Not anything Coloradans would enjoy.
The company is coinciding the launch of the beer with the reopening of its Fort Collins taproom to guests on Earth Day, which is Thursday.
We give you: The Beer of the Future (that we hope doesn’t exist). Without aggressive climate action now, the impacts will be felt even in the beer aisle. Let's work together to make sure none of us have to drink beer like this. https://t.co/FrQQ2Lo7Cl pic.twitter.com/NyDyRoaXD8— New Belgium Brewing (@newbelgium) April 19, 2021
"The reality is we’re experiencing much more catastrophic impacts to our business in the past couple of years than at any time in our 30-year history," he said. "And with Earth Day coming up here at the end of the week, it’s really important for us to be able to continue to use our voice, continue to advocate for change in areas that are really important to us as a company and as a culture... (and) as a country, and frankly are really important to our business. We thought using Torched Earth was a way to bring awareness to this issue and let more people understand what the future of beer — but unfortunately the future of many things in our lives — is going to be like if we don’t address climate change and address it rapidly."
Fechheimer said sustainability has been one of the core values and beliefs of the company since its founding in 1991.
The company broke down how climate change's effects will — and already is — trickle down to beer, and the many steps it's already taken to reduce its impact and encourage others to do the same.
Most of the water used to brew beer comes from snowmelt that accumulates throughout the winter and then melts and flows into rivers, which supply growth of hops and barley. As climate change reduces the snowpack, it creates a cycle of flooding and water shortages, which, combined with droughts and erratic weather patterns, can wipe out entire harvests, the company said. Barley's seed yield can decrease by 95% under the stress of drought and heat.
While detrimental to the production of beer, it's also a major concern for the farmers whose livelihoods rely on the crops. The already-heightening risk is starting to drive up costs for brewers and, as a result, beer drinkers, the company said.
Staying true to its word, the company has worked for years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, use renewable energy and fund research of climate-resilient crop varieties. It's also donated about $17 million to nonprofits working to combat climate change and conserve land and water.
New Belgium's Fat Tire is the first certified carbon neutral beer in the U.S. and the company is committed to being carbon neutral by 2030.
"We have 10 years until 2030. Really, almost 8 1/2 years at this point to make material impacts as a world around carbon reduction to meet the goals that scientists lay out and say are critical to us in terms of being successful in addressing climate change," said Fechheimer. "And so, we don't necessarily think that beer, when you get out to 2030 or 2040 and we start to see these irreversible impacts, is going to be our biggest concern. In fact, as a society, we know beer is not going to be the biggest concern at that point."
New Belgium has invested in various projects geared toward carbon offsets, including ones relevant to its supply chain of producing, packaging and distributing beer. Three major parts of this include renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, and carbon sequestration.
However, the company also acknowledged that purchasing carbon offsets isn't a viable long-term plan.
"We must work toward actual emissions reductions in our operations and supply chains," the company said. "While we have already made numerous investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, we still have a long way to go. Our carbon footprint management plan includes the following investments to reduce our footprint directly over the next decade."
This includes the following:
- Additional renewable energy installations at its breweries
- Increased investments in energy efficiency
- Improving refrigerant management
- Philanthropic contributions to climate justice and just transition initiatives
- Increased hybrid electric vehicles in the company's fleet
- Green supplier program, which supports suppliers of packaging, barley and malt in their efforts of carbon reduction
- Philanthropic support
- Climate and energy policies alongside Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy and members of the We Are Still In movement, which aims to cut carbon emissions in half in the U.S. by 2030
The artwork on the can was designed by Kelly Malka, an artist based in Los Angeles. Malka is a first-generation Moroccan immigrant who has experienced climate change's effects — such as worsening wildfires and air pollution — in her community firsthand.
Fechheimer said the goal with the beer is for consumers to put more pressure on businesses to develop sustainability plans and cut their carbon emissions so ongoing rapid climate change is not a foregone conclusion in the years ahead.
"What this beer does is it invites a conversation, and we hope in a lot of ways it drives a conversation. And yes, we don't set out to make bad beer. This is our one exception, I think, in the history of New Belgium in setting out to make an intentionally bad beer," he said. "But if by doing that, and spending some time, some energy, some money, on making a bad beer that drives more awareness of how climate change is impacting businesses like New Belgium, then we think that is far."
To learn more about this beer and climate change's effects, click here to visit New Belgium's interactive website.