New study finds global climate change could impact the flavor and cost of American beer

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By Alex Hood (Virginia Tech)

Newswise — There are few things tastier than the crisp bite of a cold IPA…for now.

A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications found the changing global climate may be affecting the flavor and cost of beer.

A warmer and drier climate is expected to lower the yield of hops — the aromatic flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant that give beer its signature bitter flavor — in Europe up to 18 percent by 2050. The alpha acid content of hops is also expected to drop as crops begin to ripen earlier.

“These climate variations may cause changes in the essential oils of particular varieties of hops,” said Herbert Bruce, assistant professor of practice for undergraduate education in Virginia Tech’s Department of Food Science and Technology and co-creator of the university’s official Fightin’ Hokies beers.

Bruce says that temperature and rainfall are a big part of that, which directly affect hop aroma and flavor. “It’s difficult to predict, but that could noticeably alter the aroma and flavor of beer. There’s already seasonal variation in the same variety of hops, but changes in the climate could exacerbate them.”

According to Bruce, these changes might be more widespread in the brewing industry than consumers would think.

“It’s important to remember that hops are a key ingredient in all beers, not just IPAs and other very bitter beers,” he said. “It’s also fairly common for American breweries to use European hops, especially noble or German hops in pilsners and other traditional lagers.”

Bruce was quick to specify that though the exact outcome is uncertain, bitter beers likely aren’t going anywhere, as brewers can adjust the amount of hops they use to maintain bitterness. But that’s much more difficult to do with the unique aromas of different hop varieties.

If warming temperatures cause decreased crop yields, Bruce said that price will likely be another factor affected.

“In the U.S. most hops are grown in the northwest. If the study is correct and drier climates reduce hop yield there, it will likely cause prices to go up. This could have a disproportionate impact on smaller craft breweries, as they tend to use only one to three types of hops in their beer,” said Bruce.

Bruce said it may take some time to see those costs impact the price of beer itself.

“Hops are only about four percent of the cost of a bottle of beer, so the price jump isn’t expected to be large initially. However, it’s really difficult to predict what other factors might come into play as the climate affects other areas of the economy.”

Image: Poojitha Prasad/Unsplash