This blog post is a shorter version of the lecture I gave at Nolia Beer about the future of beer in general, but more focused on lager brewing.*
The heat wave and drought took almost half of the crop yield in a few important barley growing regions in Northern and Eastern Germany this summer**, and Sweden's cereal harvest was at its lowest since 1959 with barley yields dropping to only 45% of the average numbers.*** Climate change also poses big threats for hop yields, for example one of the most important lager hops, Saaz.
What challenges and issues does this entail for the future of lager beer?
At Humlegårdens Ekolager's brewers' conference in 2018, I asked this question to representatives from malt houses and hop distributors, and despite the very different answers there was one aspect of the future of the beer industry that I made out from all the answers - the importance of flexibility and adaptability in the future. A unique situation in climate history will force brewers worldwide to adapt their brewing procedures while still maintaining quality (and to a certain extent, stay afloat economically). Here are three key points I've identified so far:
1. Flexibility and adaptability - readiness to change malt bills, working with different types of barley crops, high malting expertise
2. Adjunct lagers - with cereal yields in decline, the above mentioned flexibility will have brewers adapting to many different types of crops, depending on which crops can make it in the drought and heat, or milder winters, or the new upcoming ice age when the Gulf stream stops [just kidding, there is no certainty whatsoever that that will happen]. I'm no expert in brewing with every different kind of starch and sugar source, but if I were a brewer right now in it for the long run, I would start looking into brewing with rice, corn, millet, sorghum, among others. Same thing goes for being flexible in spicing, why not take the opportunity to get more aquainted with gruit while we're at it?
3. Quality control will be even more crucial than earlier. As fun and amazing the boom of microbreweries is, the stakes and the necessity for unrelenting quality control is going to become higher with the increase of the uncertainty of possible crop usage. If push comes to shove, the smaller artisanal breweries might start to decline rapidly, and we might see a faster rate of consolidation and centralization of brewing to the most affluent big breweries.
I believe lager beer has an advantage compared to some other beer styles since lager brewing is already the perhaps most versatile in cereal usage and starch sources on a larger commercial scale. I just feel extra bad for the German lager brewers if (or when) their barley yield keeps declining. That might take a real turn for them and the fundamentals of the taxation laws might have to be completely overlooked. No matter what will happen in the future, it is absolutely crucial that brewers all over the world start taking this into consideration for the future world of beer.