How Western Wildfires May Cause Beer Shortages

by Josh Lanier

Droughts and dry conditions have fueled some of the worst wildfires in American history this summer. And those fires could bring about a dry season for beer and wine drinkers.

Wildfires have burned through millions of acres along the West Coast. But the fallout from them will spread across the entire country. For example, the hops that breweries use to make beer are mostly grown in Washington. And wildfires have destroyed or damaged much of this year’s harvest.

Will Golden with Austin Beerworks told KXAN that his supplier called him last week to explain the situation.

“He was like list, we need to talk today,” Golden recalls. “It’s looking like the crop is really terrible. 80% of what should be high quality is basically ruined.”

The biggest problem is what brewers call “smoke taint.”

“When you get these wildfires in these hops regions, they don’t get boiled,” Golden said. “Literally the way that the hops smells is going to go directly into that beer.”

And it’s not just beer. Wineries in California are also struggling to save whatever they can of this year’s grape harvest.

Though, there may be an upside to this for smaller brewers. Large breweries strive for consistency in flavor. They also need a massive amount of hops. Though the wildfires could upset both of these goals. Smaller breweries, however, survive by being able to adapt and change the flavor profiles of their beers, Brent Sapstead with Hold Out Brewing told the Texas news outlet.

This is the second consecutive year of record-setting wildfires along the West Coast. And scientists expect this trend to continue as climate change causes more droughts and weather extremes. That also means many farmers who grow hops and grapes may decide to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

“I feel bad for these generations of farmers who truly love beer,” Golden said. “Hopefully they don’t lose generations-long legacies because they’re forced to not grow in these regions anymore.”

Experts Warn Wildfires Could Last Until December

So far, this year’s wildfires have scorched more than 2,300 square miles. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly twice the size of Rhode Island. And the fires are still raging.

Much of California is under extreme drought conditions, which has set the stage for more fires that will burn for months, Anthony Scardina, deputy regional forester for the Forest Service, told Fox News. Experts expect to see more fires start in September and likely last throughout the year as high winds blow across the West Coast in the fall.

And firefighters are already stretched thin as they battle more than 100 separate wildfires.

“Here we are — it’s not the end of August and the size and distribution and the destruction of summer 2021 wildfires does not bode well for the next months,” said Bill Deverell, a University of Southern California history professor. “The suggestion of patterns across the last two decades in the West is deeply unsettling and worrisome: hotter, bigger, more fires.”