When all else fails on the climate fearmongering front, try warning that beer shortages are likely in the near future. The Financial Times reports that the Chief Executive of the Japanese brewer Asahi, Atsushi Katsuki, says climate change could lead to beer shortages as warmer temperatures hit barley and hop supplies around the world. Fortune goes into full climate tragedy mode, noting: “Beer could face an existential crisis.” Needless to say, missing from all this doomsday drivel is a note that barley is the most adaptable cereal and can grow in many areas from the sub-tropics to the Arctic. Meanwhile, world hop production has never been in better health with global acreage rising in 2021 for the eighth year in succession.
This is not the first time the booze gets it in the climate crisis, with the need to constantly supply political messaging to promote Net Zero. Earlier this year, America celebrated National Margarita Day with CNN warning that climate change could be coming for the seemingly luckless libation. Behind the scare was some made-up nonsense about the weather affecting the ingredients going into tequila, despite the fact that since 1995 tequila production has increased six-fold, and from 2018 it has doubled.
Pushing the beer scare, the Asahi boss spoke of significant falls in the barley harvest and the quality of hops under the “UN’s four degrees scenario”. This assumption from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is used to posit a rise of nearly 3°C in less than 30 years, a ‘pathway’ that is an insult to scientific realism given that global temperatures have barely risen by 0.2°C over the last 25 years. Perhaps Mr. Katsuki was imbibing a little too freely of his excellent product when he told the FT that volatile weather has already interfered with barley yields in recent years. Curiously he added that climate change “had a bigger impact on the price of barley than even Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.
A great deal of barley ends up with brewers, and with important sectors like beer considered a mature business, with steady rather than spectacular growth, the demand for the grain is fairly constant. Like all harvests it can be affected by local weather conditions but the Statistica graph above shows a steady trend with 2020-21 posting a record total of 160.91 million metric tons. If there are to be dramatic shortages in barley going forward due to climate change, they have yet to show up in the production record. Meanwhile, the situation in Ukraine is of particular concern since it is one of the world’s top producers of the crop.
Barley is a versatile global grain and ranks fourth in both quantity produced and area of cultivation. It is much prized because it is so versatile and can thrive in regions where cereals such as maize and rice do not grow well. According to the agricultural scientist Meixue Zhou, it grows in areas up to the Arctic, along with near desert areas such as North Africa. Other areas where it can thrive include those with a Mediterranean climate, as well as those with oceanic and continental features. In the United States, barley can be grown from the northern tip of Maine down to southern Florida, Texas and much of California. Throughout human history it has played an important part in both food production – humans and animal – and brewing, due to its tolerance of aridity and salinity along with adaptability to weather.
Over on the hop front, two countries – Germany and the United States – account for 77% of world hop acreage, according to Craft Brewing Business, quoting from the BarthHass Report 2021-2022. Alpha acid content is an important factor in beer flavouring, and volumes of this prized ingredient in recent years are said to be at their “highest levels yet”. In the FT, Mr. Katasuki, noted the role hops played in flavouring beer, but claimed that analysis conducted by his company found global warming meant the quality of hops would reduce “significantly” over the next three decades.
In the meantime, the recent problems for the hop growing business are somewhat different to those forecast by Katasuki. “Production cost increases and over-production are a dangerous combination presenting the hop industry with huge challenges. The global hop industry can only counter excess production by adjusting acreage,” observes Peter Hintermeier, of BarthHaas.
Perhaps the Asahi boss gets extra ESG points for pumping out climate fear stories. Back in the real world, with shareholders to keep sweet, he seems to be somewhat more bullish about the future, telling the FT that he hopes to have the brands Asahi Super Dry and Peroni Nastro Azzurro established in the global top 10 by 2030. The company intends to reduce debt by not making further acquisitions until next year, but from 2025, “we’ll be able to become more aggressive in investment again”. Big plans are being made in the U.S., although he suggests that acquiring smaller craft brewers will not achieve the goal of having “wide reach throughout the region”.
While we can, we must all raise a glass to such positive plans for future global expansion.
Chris Morrison is the Daily Sceptic’s Environment Editor.