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Beer

Climate change could double the cost of beer. We are not kidding.

U.S. brewers relatively safe because so much barley is grown here, but in periods of extreme heat and drought, Irish consumers could see $20 added to the price of a six-pack.

An international group of researchers looking at the impact of climate change on barley production concluded during very bad years, a warming climate could double the cost of a six-pack of beer in the U.S. and put the cost of a cold brewski out of reach in some developing economies, such as China. (Jeremy Martinez, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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The risk of climate change just hit the cooler: Serious global warming is a threat to beer.

An analysis by a group of international researchers shows the availability of beer declining and its price going up in the face of drought and heat, potentially doubling the cost of a six-pack of cold ones at exactly the wrong time.

“Climate change is going to touch us in a million different ways and beer is one of them,” said Steven Davis, an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine and a study co-author. The paper appeared Monday in the journal Nature Plants

The study focused on the impact of the combination of extreme drought and heat on global barley crops and then the effect of reduced harvests on beer production.

The results are not pretty. In the worst-case scenario, climate change could add $8 to the cost of a six-pack in the U.S.

Average barley yield losses ranged from 3 percent to 17 percent, across 34 barley growing regions, depending upon how hot and dry it got. In some regions, under the most severe conditions, the projected drop is even worse.

U.S. brewers, including Breckenridge Brewery in Denver, may be relatively shielded from the impacts of climate change because the barley production is spread across a vast area of the U.S., including Colorado.  (Jeremy Martinez, Special to The Colorado Sun)

In Europe the barley gap could be 27 percent to 38 percent. What will happen to a German Spaten Oktoberfest, a Czech Velvet or a Duvel Tripel Hop from Belgium?

Colorado has a grain in this fight as the fourth largest barley producing state in the country, though it is far behind Idaho, North Dakota and Montana. Colorado also has 348 craft breweries turning out 1.5 million barrels of beer a year.

The researchers plugged the crop declines into an economic model to measure their impact on the price and consumption of beer.

The fact that barley production is so big and across such a large section of the U.S. helps protect the American beer drinker, said Steven Davis, a study co-author and professor in the Earth System Science department at UC-Irvine.  “We saw about $1 price impact and consumption didn’t go down.”

That was true except for in the very worst years, when drought and heat could double the average price of a six-pack. “The worst drought and heat, being a 1-in-a-100-year event, but those events are becoming more common,” Davis said.

The impact for a country like Ireland, which has to import its barley, was more painful, with climate impacts adding as much as $20 to the cost of a six-pack. The consequences for Guinness were not addressed in the paper.

As prices go up during these bad years, consumption in poorer countries, such as China, goes down.

“Future climate and pricing conditions could put beer out of reach for hundreds of millions of people around the world,” Davis said. In the U.S., it might lead to a cut in beer-pong tournaments and keg stands, he speculated.

In the hottest and driest years, global beer drinking could drop 16 percent, or the equivalent of all the beer consumed in the U.S. in 2011, the researchers wrote.

“For perhaps many millennia, and still at present for many people, beer has been an important component of social gatherings and human celebration,” the study said. “Although it may be argued that consuming less beer is not disastrous — and may even have health benefits — there is little doubt that for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer consumption will add insult to injury.”