Hoppy ending: Dire times ahead for beer and its flavors, study warns
First wine, now beer. Each day we’re learning of new, devastating impacts of climate change, and what's now brewing has researchers sounding the alarm on the future of European beer, thanks to a steady decline in the quality and quantity of the all-important high-quality hops that the region cultivates each year.
Beer-producing regions in Europe are facing a dire future unless swift adaptations are developed, according to researchers, with news that the common hop plant (Humulus lupulus) is becoming increasingly difficult to produce as the globe warms and other environmental conditions upend growing conditions.
Researchers from the Czech Academy of Sciences have looked at hops yield and their alpha acid content – which gives these types of European beers their bitter taste – and seen a steady decline of both since the 1970s.
Martin Mozny and team examined the yield and alpha content of 90% of European beer-hops-growing regions in Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, from 1971 to 2018. They found that, since 1994, hops begin to ripen 20 days earlier and production has declined 0.2 tonnes per hectare (178 pounds per acre) annually. In the US, an acre yields around 1,800 pounds (816 kg) of hops per year.
And the forecast is nothing to raise a toast over: The researchers predict a drop of 4-18% in traditional aroma hops yield by 2050, and a 20-31% fall in those key alpha acids.
In Europe, high-quality aroma hops are restricted to small regions because of their once-ideal climate and environmental conditions. Now, that’s in jeopardy, as warmer and dryer seasons are expected to bring unknown changes to growing and flavor profiles of these hops.
Beer is the third most widely consumed beverage on the planet, and the alpha acids and hops quality of European styles make them one of the world’s most popular drops. The researchers are calling for inventive adaptations to find a solution, but much more scientific investigation is needed.
"Since the cultivation of high-quality aroma hops is restricted to relatively small regions with suitable environmental conditions, there is a serious risk that much of the production will be affected by individual heat waves or drought extremes that are likely to increase under global climate change," the team noted in the study. "New findings in hop physiology, such as the beneficial effect of elevated CO2 on the primary metabolism of hop strobilus and the effects of vernalization and dormancy, may help in the future to breed hops that are more resistant."
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.