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Trouble brewing for beer: Decline in hop production causes beer shortages and bad taste

The long list of issues associated with climate change is about to get longer. Researchers have linked an impending beer shortage to rising temperatures. Scientists predict a sharp decline in the production of hops over the next few decades.

More specifically, we could see up to a 19 percent drop in the harvested hops in Europe by 2050. Coupled with this decline is the possibility of having less of the most important active substances (alpha acids) in the harvested hops.

The special flavor of any given beer can be primarily attributed to hops. The alpha acids in hops give beers that distinctive bitter taste and quality that make it so popular.

Bad news for hop production

The scientists collected and analyzed data on hop production from 1971 to 1994 and 1995 to 2018. The data covers some of the biggest European hop-growing regions, including Slovenia, Czechia, and Germany.

According to the results, there has been a decline in the average annual hop yield between 1995 and now. The extent of the decrease differed across the regions, ranging from 9.5% in Tettnang to 19.4% in Celje.

The researchers also identified a considerable drop in the alpha acid content in all of the study regions. They observed a reduction of 34.8% in Celje, 15.6% in Hallertau, 15% in Tettnang, 11.5% in Spalt, and 10.5% in Zatec.

Climate change is the culprit

The team attributed this to a shift in the start of the hop growing season, which has increased by 13 days from 1970 to 2018. This, in turn, shifted the critical ripening period of hops towards the warmer part of the season. The gradual change in the lifecycle of hops over the years is directly attributed to climate change.

Martin Monzy is a researcher at the Global Change Research Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences and the study’s lead author. He stated, “The increasingly frequent droughts and heat waves are negatively affecting yields and alpha content in all hop-growing regions of the EU.”

Grim outlook for hop production

Expanding the scope of their research, the scientists simulated future crops and climate conditions to predict hop harvests. The findings do not look any better.

The experts predict a decline in hop yields by up to 35% between now and 2050. This is expected to cut across European hop production powerhouses, including Spain, Portugal, and Slovenia. The prediction of the alpha content follows a similar pattern.

“Moderate decreases in yield and alpha content were predicted for Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland, while the strongest declines in hop productivity were predicted for Portugal, Slovenia, and Croatia,” wrote the researchers.

Poor taste and higher cost for beer lovers

Many popular beer styles rely on hops from the affected regions, including Bitters, California Blonde Ale, Red Ale, Pilsner, Lager, American Amber Ale, and Pale Ale.

Low alpha content in hops means more will be required to maintain taste. This, in turn, translates to higher costs.

Not all doom and gloom

U.S. beer producers have been working on resilient hop varieties for some time.  Similar efforts are underway in Europe, particularly at the Hop Research Center in Hull, Germany.

Asian brewers are not sitting still. Speaking to the Financial Times last month, Atsushi Katsuki, president and CEO of Asahi Groups Holdings, predicted a drop in the quality of hop and barley crops due to global warming. Asahi Group Holdings are the makers of Asahi, Grolsch, Pilsner Urquell, Fuller’s, and Peroni beers.

In a similar development, Fortune has reported a significant investment in drought-resistant barley strains from Africa by Carlsberg and Anheuser-Busch InBev. The former is the biggest beer maker in Denmark, and the former is the maker of Bud Light and Budweiser.

These collective efforts underscore the need to address the broader impact of climate change on beer production. Fortunately, the brewing world is responding by working hard to ensure our glasses stay full.

This study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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