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Drought Affects California Craft Breweries

California’s crippling drought, now in it third year, is a serious issue for the State’s 400 craft brewers.

It takes four to seven gallons of water to make a gallon of craft-made beer.  Some of this is the result of inefficient production techniques but the smaller the brewer, the fewer resources available to ameliorate the problem.

The Los Angeles Times cites Lagunitas Brewing as using approximately two million gallons of water from the Russian River each year, and flow in the Russian River is shrinking.  This is the story across the State and the breweries worry that voluntary cuts of up to 20 percent may become mandatory.  Some brewers are already limiting production.  Bear Republic, which also draws its water from the Russian River, says their growth is limited because of the water shortage and their cap on usage.

Water imparts a special taste and color that is integral to the beer’s character.  Using ground water, for example, or relocating a plant, could alter the taste.  However, some producers like Lagunitas are installing filtration plants to reduce the mineral qualities of well water.  Others are locating new plants close to more stable water sources.  Sierra Nevada, one of the pioneering craft brewers in California more than three decades ago, recently opened a $110 million brewery in Mills River, N.C.  where there is a reliable water supply from the Smokey Mountains.  The abovementioned Lagunitas Brewing has opened a brew-house in Chicago where water is plentiful from Lake Michigan.

If the drought continues, it may also mean higher prices for beer consumers.  Right now there are cautious predictions of El Niño conditions this fall/winter.  Let’s hope and pray it brings rain.