Headlines: Beer Under Threat from Climate Change

April 19, 2014 – Watch what happens when beer drinkers around the world find out that because of climate change a pint of their favorite beer and ale may cost much more, and taste different as well.

Barley is a key beer malting ingredient and it appears to not like drought conditions brought on by climate change. The grain expresses a “stay-green” characteristic which has also been seen in sorghum, a related grain, under similar climate conditions. In barley “stay-green” means the starch quality in the grain is altered. Change the starch and you alter brewing processes and the beer’s taste.

In a study reported last November, 2013, in the  Journal of Cereal Science, University of Queensland researchers reported that where “stay-green” characteristics in sorghum and barley improve yields, that trait in barley creates characteristics not conducive to current brewing processes. The change impacts starch properties and rates of enzymatic degradation. That’s a good thing if you are growing barley for food because it maintains quality even in stressful growing conditions.

But for brewers “stay-green” may prove to be a pain. And for drinkers who like the taste as well as the reasonable cost of their favorite ale and beer, it could lead to a pub revolt. I quote from the article that first alerted me to this brewing problem. Peter Gous of University of Queensland states, “If normal starch in the grain is pushed to the point that it becomes resistant starch, it would push the cost of a serving of beer up from around $5 U.S. to as much as $20.” Ouch!


beer and climate change



Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...


  • Brian Gilbey

    Perhaps some brewers should start looking at the gluten free beer production as a means of blending green hops with alternates in order to minimize cost increases. There are several out there on the market that are made in the US and Europe. They seem to be a little better in taste than current Canadian blends.

    • lenrosen4

      I’m not sure what this has to do with the changes to barley brought on by climate change, but not being a beer drinker myself I take you at your word. If there is a market for gluten free I’m sure the brewers will find it.