Beer lovers be warned: Happy hour just took a sour turn. In 2015, you might still be able to hop on over to the local pub after work and order a cold one, but you’ll likely have to shell out more per pint.
Blame bad weather for this unspeakable horror: Pouring rain across the plains this summer damaged much of the malt barley crop, which is an essential ingredient in beer-making. Many American brewers like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors rely on vast harvests of the grain grown in Montana, Idaho and North Dakota. But in August, drenching rains in all three states caused much of the malt barley crop to sprout early, making it useless for brewing, the Missoulian reports.
That could potentially make brewers go bottom’s up next year: No barley, no beer. But the more likely scenario is that the price of your ale could bubble up.
“We’ve been told to expect major price increases for malt,” Tim Mohr of Angry Hank’s Brewery in Billings, Montana, told told the Missoulian. “There is no panic yet. Everybody has been telling us not to panic. There is carry-over from last year’s malt supply. Our prices are stable until January, but beer prices are going up.”
The gravity of the situation might be terrifying for beer lovers, but malt barley farmers are facing a barrel of trouble in the form of millions of dollars in losses this season. The ‘draught’ on an essential money-maker for the region has even caused Twin Fall County in Idaho to request a disaster designation, MagicValley.com reports.
So how could a little rain threaten to make kegs across the States run dry? According to MagicValley.com, it wasn’t the amount of rain that fell in the region so much as the timing that was problematic.
Brewing is a very specific process in which dry malt barley kernels are sprouted precisely at the right time during the malting process to produce the sugar base that makes up alcohol, MagicValley.com reports. Once a kernel starts to sprout, the process can’t be reversed.
In August, ripe grain kernels are supposed to be just dry enough to be stored and farmers are usually starting the harvest process, according to MagicValley.com. But this year, the badly timed August rain caused many of the unharvested grains to germinate early. Commercial brewers won’t accept kernels that sprout early, so most of the crops that hadn’t been harvested yet were a total loss.
Still, at least some brewers are trying to think of the pint glass as half-full. David Mathis, who runs the American River Brewing Company in Rancho Cordova, California, told Fox 40 News in Sacramento that if supplies hit a bottleneck, he’d search far and wide to keep the kegs full.
“We start looking at Canada. We start looking at Australia. We start looking at Europe,” he told Fox40 news.
So don’t lose your head: In the future, you may have to pony up a few more bucks for a brew, but just be glad that for now, the taps are still flowing.