Beer shortages and poor taste; western wildfires are bad news for Austin brewers

Weather & Traffic In-Depth

AUSTIN (KXAN) – This year’s wildfire season has been one of the worst on record and is really bad news for beer brewers across the nation and in Central Texas, according to several local breweries. Will Golden with Austin Beerworks says his barley supplier called last week with the news. “He was like list, we need to talk today,” Golden says, “it’s looking like the crop is really terrible. 80% of what should be high quality is basically ruined.”

87% of this year’s barley crop has experienced drought this year. Nearly 73% of hops grown in the US are grown in Washington state, an area hit hard by several wildfires already.

While some of the crops survived. Its taste and smell were likely ruined by the wildfire smoke. “When you get these wildfires in these hops regions, they don’t get boiled,” Golden says. “Literally the way that the hops smells is going to go directly into that beer.”

This same “smoke taint” also impacts wine drinkers. Grapes grown in California’s wine country have also been coated in this smoke, meaning wine will also gain that smoky taste.

Smaller breweries may be better off than larger ones

Brent Sapstead with Hold Out Brewing says smaller breweries dodged a bullet during last year’s wildfire season. “We are fortunate this year. So far we haven’t seen anything substantial,” says Sapstead.

With so much of this year’s crop affected, Sapstead says, it may be smaller breweries that come out on top. “We are so small that we are able to be a little more nimble than larger breweries, that may need to have some flavor consistencies that they really need to focus on,” Sapstead says this is because smaller breweries can change their flavors based on what’s available.

Will Central Texans beer lovers be impacted by this disaster?

The short answer: not yet. The Hops producers set contracts with breweries years in advance, keeping prices steady for us. Farmers and suppliers, however, will have to eat the cost. However, expect the flavor to change.

Long term, as climate change creates more intense weather extremes, many farmers will move further north. The problem with this is that there is less sunlight the further north you go, meaning poorer quality barley.

Scientists predict that droughts and higher temperatures could affect barley crops enough that beer shortages could occur by the end of the century. In the US, the beer supply could fall by 20%.

“I feel bad for these generations of farmers who truly love beer,” Golden says about farmers being forced to move. “Hopefully they don’t lose generations long legacies because they’re forced to not grow in these regions anymore.”

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