Climate Change and British Beer

Beer Mat: Watney's Cooled Beer.

The Guardian today features a story about the Cantillon brewery in Brussels which, owner Jean Van Roy says, is suffering as a result of climate change:

“Ideally it must cool at between minus 3C and 8C. But climate change has been notable in the last 20 years. My grandfather 50 years ago brewed from mid-October until May – but I’ve never done that in my life, and I am in my 15th season.”

This reminded us of an exchange we had with a senior figure at one of the larger British breweries last year who said that climate change was among their biggest long-term worries.

In particular, they suggested, cask ale still relies to a great extent on naturally cool pub cellars. (And, as a result, warm summers can already be a problem for cask ale quality.) If those summers last longer, and get hotter, traditional British beer will struggle. Cellar refrigeration is already common but might become absolutely necessary, even in pubs that haven’t needed it in the past.

That’s on top of concerns over how it might affect hop farming and malting barley; a nagging sense of guilt over the amount of water used in brewing; and about the amount of energy used to ship it, and its ingredients, very often under refrigeration.

We’d be interested to hear from others involved in brewing and the pub trade: is climate change on your ‘risk register’?

6 thoughts on “Climate Change and British Beer”

  1. After being lucky enough to wind up at Brouweij Boon on a boiling August afternoon, I asked Frank Boon that exact question, as to whether he’d noticed any changes over the years and if it was getting warmer and shortening their brewing window for lambic.

    Just dug out what he said (or what I scribbled down) – “lambic is weather depended, but it is not vital. If we have to start brewing later in the year, it is not much of a problem.” So there you go.

    I also asked if he got recognised in the town, to which he sighed and said “I’m afraid so, yes.”

  2. I’d guess that the effect on the UK will be quite modest compared to the rest of the world. Your beautiful little island is bathed in water and is far north. It might alter the kind of beer the country produces, but is not an existential crisis, at least in the short term.

    1. It might alter the kind of beer the country produces, but is not an existential crisis

      We may have different understandings of ‘existential crisis’.

  3. Definately a concern. I worry that as an industry we haven’t started developing hop varieties with climate change in mind, especially when it takes so long to find suitable cultivars. Water use is much less of a concern though, we’re in the south west and all it does is bloody rain, and it doesn’t have much of a co2 footprint. Apparently the biggest problem with excess water usage in most of England most of the time is that river flows are not high enough to sustain maximum biodiversity. Thanks for bringing this subject to the table.

  4. The Microbrewers Handbook by Ted Bruning mentions the summer of 1995 as a disaster for brewers and especially microbreweries. This is the year when refrigerated beer storage at the brewery and in vans became desirable to a brewer. He also speculates that the golden/pale beers grew in popularity with micro brewers as they were more stable in heat. AGW and brewing, makes you think eh.

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