As if the current California drought wasn’t bad enough for breweries to have to deal with, the second half of the double whammy is a no good, very bad, horrible year for malt as well.
Half of the Montana crop and a much larger amount of the Idaho crop were hit with heavy rain, which led to too much water in the ground, which started the germination process way too early. Without the controlled environment of the malting house, the barley kernels can become unfit for brewing and somewhere around 120 million bushels of malt barley was used for brewing purposes.
Now half of the components of beer are in shorter supply. Usually, when supply is low and the demand is still growing with no signs of stopping, then prices generally go up. Economics 101 at work.
Fortunately, this malt barley shortage shouldn’t translate into higher prices on beer in the same way that the hop shortage of years back did. Or that the water problem may cause further down the road. There are still enough bags out there, and with the usual generosity of brewers factored in, it should be OK for the consumer.
This is a reminder that beer is an agricultural product at heart and as such is subject to Mother Nature.
The Beer of the Week is delicious. Or so the label says. Stone Brewing Co. has a new IPA (Gasp, shock!) that uses El Dorado Hops and Lemondrop Hops, but even those newer varietals aren’t the star of this show. The gluten has been lowered via a special process to make this a gluten-low hop bomb. This is one spicy and grape flavored IPA that will coat your tongue with bitterness, but not as much gluten from the grain as usual.
Your Homework is to check out the book Malt by John Mallett of Bell’s Brewing fame. This book will give you a thorough (very thorough) grounding into the aspects and science of beer’s real base. The book touches on the “history, agricultural development and physiology of the barley kernel…the enzymatic conversion that takes place during the malting process.” And much more about the backbone of every beer that you drink.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.