Summer is steamier. Winter is snowier. Spring is soggier. And autumn weather is falling out of whack. As climate change accelerates, the steady drumbeat of grim environmental news can leave us lunging for a beer. But even that cold comfort is no longer a given.
Silver Bullets et al. are the end product of agriculture, and no raw material in beer is more vital than barley malt. It’s the bedrock ingredient of most every beer, from tailgate lagers to your local brewery’s haziest IPA. In recent years, however, barley farmers have dealt with drought, heat waves and deluges that can negatively impact quality and crop yield.
“You’re at the mercy of the climate,” says Jason Sahler, owner of Brooklyn brewery Strong Rope, which uses New York State hops and grain.
To better navigate an environmentally uncertain future, and keep beer flowing, some farmers and brewers are turning to resilient grains and newly developed barley breeds better suited for an uncertain world. Origin Malt in Ohio is working with farmers to plant nutty Puffin, a hardy winter barley suited for harsh Midwestern weather. Bred by Cornell University in Ithaca, Excelsior Gold barley excels in New York’s wet spring.
Earlier this year, Dogfish Head partnered with Patagonia Provisions on a pilsner containing topsoil-sustaining Kernza, a trademarked, perennial grain with deep roots that sequester carbon in the soil.
“We found Kernza has these beautiful peppery, earthy undertones,” says Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione, who promotes the beer’s mission with a slogan: drink up to draw down. “It’s an easy proposition for consumers to understand that it tastes good and it does good.”
Here, three beers that use resilient grains.
Beta Flash NE IPA: Nocterra Brewing Powell, OH
Named after slang for nailing a rock climb, the citrusy Beta Flash hazy IPA is brewed with Origin Malt’s Puffin, a proprietary winter barley variety that grows well in Ohio and elsewhere in the Midwest.
[Price varies by store; nocterrabrewing.com]
Patagonia Provisions and Dogfish Head Kernza Pils
Patagonia Provisions and Dogfish Head collaborated on this pilsner containing organic Contessa hops and perennial grain called Kernza, a relative of wheat whose roots efficiently draw nutrients from deep underground.
[$11.99, 6-pack; drizly.com]
Seismic Brewing Company Tremor California Light Lager
California farmers practicing no-till agricultural methods, a sustainable procedure that minimizes soil erosion, grow the 100 percent organic barley that forms the foundation of this award-winning light lager.