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Your Beermonger: Water, Water Nowhere

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

Much like winemakers, chefs, and cheesemakers, there’s a strong conservation streak that runs through brewers.

GreenBiz recently ran a good piece illustrating the efforts that breweries of all sizes are making to ensure they are as sustainable as possible. It’s smart business sense to save energy to keep costs down, of course, but that’s not the sole motivation at play with beer. At the heart of good beer is the quality of its ingredients: the hops, grains, yeasts, and, most of all, the water used to create it.

Water is, and always has been, the single most important factor in brewing. Elements found in local water supplies have influenced the styles of beer made in various locations all over the world (perhaps most famously in Munich, where the hardness of the water led to the development of less hoppy Lagers).

So what happens when a brewery’s water supply starts to dry up? Breweries in California are starting to find out, as a three-year drought has begun to choke brewery growth predictions and has many looking for new locations (and water supplies) to use in their production.

The L.A. Times reported at the end of July that Bear Republic Brewing Company (Racer 5, Red Rocket Ale, Hop Rod Rye) has cut its expected growth rate from 35 percent to 15 percent this year because of the shortage of water from its source, the Russian River. Bear Republic has facilitated the creation of two new wells, but the mineral content of well water requires a filtration system to ensure the consistency of the final product; an additional expense to the brewery.

Bear Republic hasn’t been alone in feeling the effects of California’s water woes: MillerCoors and AB/InBev have both taken steps to reduce their water consumption over the past few years, especially at their California facilities. The L.A. Times article also reported that Lagunitas has cut its water consumption by 10 percent over the past two years, and has started incorporating well water into its production.

Lagunitas executives told the Times that they’re concerned the state may require them to switch to well water completely, which may have an impact on beers produced there in the future (though the brewery has already installed a filtration system for the well water it currently uses). Even before the most recent drought concerns, Bear Republic was worried that its 8 million gallon per year water use cap would negatively impact growth.

So what’s a West Coast brewery to do? If you’ve been following the beer industry over the past few years, you’ve already seen the answer in action: go East. Bear Republic is reportedly exploring the options breweries like Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, New Belgium, Oskar Blues, and (soon) Stone have already enacted and opening a brewery on the East Coast (Lagunitas stands out by having opened their second location in Chicago).

The influx of breweries in the area of Asheville, N.C., to take advantage of the Smoky Mountains’ water supply is inspiring others to find new water sources of their own. Whether this leads to a future where breweries play a game of “musical chairs,” jumping from one available water supply to the next, remains to be seen. In the meantime, California breweries are left in the same position as many Golden State residents–praying for rain.

Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Community discussion guidelines: Our sponsored columns are written by members of the local business community. While we encourage a robust and open discussion, we ask that all reviews of the businesses — good or bad — be directed to another venue, like Yelp. The comments section is intended for a conversation about the topic of the article.

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