Most folks know that climate change incites rising sea levels and extreme weather events, but there are other, less obvious effects, ahem, brewing as well. The sad truth for suds lovers is that global warming will likely make your favorite brews less tasty and more expensive.
Two Colorado beer fanatics have set out on a mission to save our favorite beverage. Denver couple Dan and Virginia Carreno launched their Save the Beer tour earlier this year, where they tackle the issue of climate change—and how it affects Colorado beer—during a series of talks at local breweries.
After attending a training in Pittsburgh in October 2017 by Al Gore’s nonprofit Climate Reality project, which educates people on how to effectively communicate climate issues, the Carrenos were looking for a way to bring that message back to Colorado. “People usually use churches or community centers. But we tended to hang out at a lot of breweries, and we consider that our sort of church,” Dan says. “So we decided a brewery would be a great venue for this.” And so, Save the Beer was born.
For their sixth event, which takes place on May 15 at Jagged Mountain Brewery, the couple will cover how climate conditions impact beer’s three main ingredients: water, barley, and hops.
Fires, droughts, pests, and floods are all becoming more common, which has led to shortages of barley and hops, as well as harvests of fruits and other flavor enhancers. In turn, farmers jack up prices, and many brewers are forced to rely on less-than-fresh imports. Brewers in drought-stricken regions like California face water restrictions that limit their production, while here in Colorado, reduced snowpack is rapidly diminishing the supply of our famous Rocky Mountain water, shifting brewing to less-tasty groundwater.
Colorado breweries, such as Fort Collins-based New Belgium Brewing Company, have already experienced a few near-devastating close calls due to climate. In 2017, when Hurricane Irma devastated Florida, brewers scrambled to find orange peel, a key ingredient in one of their most popular beers. This year’s drought in Montana—a barley-growing region—forced the brewery to import the grain from Canada. While in 2014, an unusually wet season caused the crop to sprout prematurely (once barley sprouts, it cannot be turned into malt for beer). Luckily, there were reserves, but if it were to happen two years in a row, “we’d be in a world of hurt,” says Katie Wallace, the brewery’s corporate social responsibility program manager.
While Dan and Virginia use beer as a starting point in their talks, they also cover the broader implications of climate change across the globe, such as pollution and rising sea levels. But it’s not all bad news: A significant part of the presentation focuses on the progress we’ve made, and how we can continue it. “Part of the message we try to get across when we look at these solutions is that people think that they have to make these drastic changes, and that creates this paralysis,” Dan says. “But most of the changes are things that actually improve people’s lives.”
For beer lovers, that could be as simple as where they buy their brews. New Belgium was one of three Colorado breweries—along with Odell Brewing and Aspen Brewing Company—to sign the Brewery Climate Declaration, a document recognizing the impact of climate change on the industry and urging policymakers to take action. These companies also boast numerous sustainability initiatives, including solar power, treating their own water to create electricity, and heat exchange to reduce their energy usage, while donating $1.25 from every beer they sell to environmental nonprofits.
“We just think it’s the right thing to do, and it also makes business sense,” Wallace says. “A lot of times companies want a quicker payback on a technology, within a year or even a quarter. We’ll be a little more patient, and once we see the savings, we know that it’s worth it, and we plan on being in business more than a year or a quarter.”
The Carrenos plan to continue their presentations at any breweries that will have them, aiming for one or two a month. With only half of Americans believing climate change will harm them personally, their talks distill a remote and complicated concept into a tangible problem—and that can be an effective tool to create change. With so many beer lovers in Colorado, that might just be enough to tip the scales.
If you go: Tuesday, May 15, 6 p.m.; Jagged Mountain Brewery, 1139 20th St; 720-689-2337; free