The world’s third most consumed beverage after water and tea, beer, is facing a significant climate challenge. A recent spate of studies has highlighted how the intensifying effects of climate change are beginning to make the world’s favourite alcoholic drink a bit more bitter.
The Bitter Truth about Hops
The heart of the matter lies in the cultivation of hops, a critical ingredient that gives beer its distinctive bitter taste. European hop varieties, celebrated by brewers worldwide, are witnessing a significant reduction in yield and a drop in the concentration of compounds that impart beer its characteristic tartness, due to rising temperatures and decreased rainfall.
The Science Behind the Bitterness
At the foundation of this ‘bitter’ issue lies a plant resin called lupulin found in hops blossoms. It contains alpha acids, the key determinants of hop quality that provide beer its bitterness. An analysis of data from major European hops growers, including the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia, has revealed a troubling trend.
A Data Dive into the Bitterness
Researchers examined the production of hops flowers between 1970 and 2020 and the lupulin content in them. The findings were startling. The yields fell between 9.5 and 19.4 per cent at four sites, and the concentration of the bitter compounds, alpha acids, decreased.
The data extrapolation predicted a further drop in yield of between four and 18 per cent by 2050. Simultaneously, alpha acids concentration could drop between 20 and 31 per cent due to rising temperatures and fluctuating rainfall.
Consequences of the Bitterness
The consequences of this trend are serious. Excessive heat during the blossoming period can harm the plant, leading to a significant reduction in productivity. Some experts have even suggested a need for urgent adaptation measures to stabilise international market chains, like relocating crops to more suitable areas or increasing irrigation.
The Brewing Challenge
The brewing industry, already facing challenges due to the pandemic and inflation, now has to grapple with the changing taste and quality of beer. As the alpha acids content declines, brewers may need to modify their brewing methods or face the possibility of having to charge more to compensate.
A Bitter Future?
The future appears uncertain, with the spectre of climate change looming large. The study predicts that the bitter acids will reduce by up to 31% by 2050. The need for urgent action is clear, with the need for further investment in adaptation measures.
Farmers and brewers are trying to adapt to these changes, but their options are limited due to the specific combination of climate and soil that hops require. The introduction of genetically modified plants designed to better withstand warmer temperatures and drought is prohibited in Europe.
The Bitter Bottom Line
The bottom line is that the beer we love may soon become a victim of climate change, with its taste and quality affected. It’s a bitter pill for beer lovers to swallow, but the issue serves as a stark reminder of the far-reaching impacts of climate change. It’s not just about melting ice caps and rising sea levels – it’s also about the simple pleasures of life, like enjoying a pint with friends.
A Call to Action
It’s time for all of us – beer lovers or not – to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and take action. While some may joke about motivated drinkers joining the fight against climate change, it’s actually not entirely a laughing matter. The impacts of climate change on our daily lives are becoming more and more evident and it’s crucial for everyone to play their part in mitigating these effects.
Let’s raise our glasses to a greener, more sustainable future where we can enjoy our beers without the bitter aftertaste of climate change.
Cheers to that!