California Droughts Worry Craft Beer Brewers

imageDedicated craft beer fans should be able to mechanically recite the four main ingredients of beer: water, hops, barley, and yeast. We have gone into the importance of yeast, barley, and hops on the brewing process and the resulting beer but the largest ingredient water has been largely ignored.

As mass market brewers like to imply, water can have a significant effect on the flavor and texture of beer. Home brewers in areas with hard or over chlorinated water rather than fresh Rocky Mountain springs can attest that building a cathedral of beer on a foundation of sand is fraught with peril. We’ve discussed before how a Belgian monastery is fighting nearby development worried their hundreds of years old water source might be tainted by the construction.

Meantime Brewing in England actually invests considerable effort in filtering their water source. Then they shape their water to exactly how they want it by adding different impurities. In this way they can create softer water or harder water or water with a slight flavor before brewing. They have pushed this method to the point of making water as historically accurate as possible for their very authentic English IPA.

California is beginning to realize the fact that their lush, green state is largely a marvel of modern engineering than an accident of nature. Most of California should be considered desert except for mankind’s industriousness and engineering prowess at diverting water. Repeated summers of intense drought has seen water conservation become a necessity for private citizens ans businesses alike. And some of those businesses feeling the strain of dwindling water supplies are craft brewers.

California’s Russian Rivers plays a huge part in many of California’s amazing craft beers. And many of the craft brewers are realizing the importance of this water supply. Lagunitas uses two million gallons of water a year in their brewing. Leon Sharyon, chief financial officer for Lagunitas has said, “We are at the maximum growth threshold here in California because of water.”

While the drought will hit brewers like Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas hard the effects are wors on smaller breweries. Smaller breweries can use up to twice as much water as their larger craft cousins and limited water supplies only add additional costs to an already pricey luxury item. Their smaller equipment is less efficient than larger scale opperations. It requires more water for brewing and cleaning.

Currently some breweries are already feeling a pinch. Bear Republic, brewer of the delicious, Racer 5 IPA, has be forced to limit it’s output as strong restrictions in its water district has limited their use of water. Other breweries have been lucky that voluntary calls for a 20% reduction in water usage. Many brewers are nervous that if drought conditions continue the voluntary restriction may become compulsory.

Major brewers like Lagunitas have started incorporating well water to offset water shortages but this mineral rich water can often add a metallic taste to the beer. They have invested in filtration systems to handle this problem at significant expense but this isn’t an option for smaller breweries.

It is a serious situation that will result in an increase of cost change of flavor, and decrease of output from many California breweries. Many breweries may move to other states where water is abundant.

Maybe this will end California’s craft beer dominance.

Peter Kruger, brewer at Russian River said, “We took water for granted before this and we have learned a valuable lesson.”

Source: LA Times