‘Drought’ Beer: California Breweries Hit a Dry Spell

How many bottles of water go in that beer on the wall?

A lot.

“Beer has to have water,” said Luis Cayo, general manager for the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Los Angeles, which has survived many droughts over the last 60 years. “The amount of water in a standard can of beer is about 92 percent.”

This drought, however, is the most severe on record, and there’s no end in sight. Agriculture operations and manufacturers across California are drilling deeper, paying more, and competing with each other, with wildlife and with residents for water. But in the brewing business, it’s not just the water going into the cans which is now at a premium. It’s the water used to clean tanks.

At the Budweiser plant, Cayo said the company has started using reclaimed water to clean tanks. It also ripped out landscaping and replaced it with drought-tolerant plants: “Believe it or not, it saved about five million gallons of water.”

The brewery encourages employees to come up with more water-saving measures, which Cayo said reduced water needs by 3 percent “without any capital expenditure.” They’re even working with barley farmers in Idaho to manage irrigation more efficiently.

“Every day we track our water usage,” Cayo said. “Since 2009 we’ve reduced our water usage 31 percent, 9 percent in the last year, and we’re targeting 10 percent in the following year.”

It’s not just beer giants like Bud that are struggling to make beer with less water. California’s fast-growing craft brewing industry is having the same problem.

Up in Cloverdale, business had been so good at Bear Republic Brewing that CEO Richard Norgrove wanted to double capacity. However, the city said expansion would be impossible without more water. The nearby Russian River, which supplies most of the local water, is running low, and even though the brewery said it reduced water usage by half with a “state of the art waste water treatment system,” it wasn’t enough.

Cloverdale applied for funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to drill two new wells, but that process was taking a while. So Bear Republic decided to pay $450,000 in development impact fees in advance in order to give the city the cash it needed to drill right away.

“The brewing company came forward and said they wanted to be in Cloverdale, this is where they wanted to put their brewery, this is where they wanted to have their employees be, this is where they wanted to produce their beer,” said City Manager Paul Cayler.

Standing by one of the new wells created with the brewery’s money, Cayler said Cloverdale was able to drill last October before the drought became especially severe. “It’s not a loan, it’s not a gift, these were fees that any developer who would come into our town would have to pay,” said Cayler. “What Bear Republic did was made the investment now rather than later.”

Both Cayler and Norgrove believe there is now enough water for the next 3-5 years, but what about after that? Other breweries are expanding back east, in part to reduce transportation costs to new markets, in part to have access to more water. Norgrove said his company has at least considered moving, too.

“I mean, can you imagine a drought like this going over the next 10 years?” he asked. “I think you’re going to see a lot more than breweries leaving this area. You’re going to see your major agriculture areas picking up and going somewhere else.”

That could leave California high and dry and crying in its beer.

Pro golfers crafting new beer product line

A threesome of pro golfers have teamed up to create some new options for the 19th hole.

With the help of Florida-based brewer The Brew Hub, PGA tour members Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley and Freddie Jacobson are teeing up a line of new craft beers targeting golfers.

The three beers — G-Mac’s Celtic Style Pale Ale, Keegan Bradley’s New England Style Lager and Freddie Jacobson’s Scandinavian Style Blonde Ale — will initially be available this month on draft at select Florida golf courses and on-site restaurants and country clubs. The beer will be available in cans in December and bottles during the first quarter of 2015. Distribution will expand to grocery stores, bars and other restaurants in Florida and then to other regions.

Golf and alcoholic beverages have gone hand in hand for years. Twenty years ago, David Frost bought his own winery in South Africa, and in 1996 Greg Norman started his own, too. Since then, golfers from Annika Sorenstam to Mike Weir have launched wine labels.

But this is the first swing at beer for golfers. “For some reason, all the golfers previously have always ended up in wine, and we just felt there was a natural gap with the golf-beer connection,” Jacobson says. He hatched the idea after talking with friend and business associate Patrik Waxin, a founder of the National Golf Course Restaurant Association. “We wanted to create a product that was really refreshing and drinkable, a craft beer for the outdoor living we participate in all the time.”

Once the idea was brewing, the Swedish-born Jacobson, who has several start-up companies, asked McDowell and Bradley whether they might want to join in. The plan appealed to Bradley, who says, “I grew up in New England drinking craft beers watching the Celtics, Patriots and Bruins. All my buddies and I loved drinking them, but I had trouble finding one that was drinkable and had a lot of flavor.”

Each of the beers is between 4.5% and 5% alcohol by volume. The Blonde Ale is a light ale made with European hops, while the New England lager uses North American hops. McDowell, a native of Northern Ireland who like the other two has a home in Florida, says his beer — the Celtic Style Pale Ale — is “the punchiest of the three. But it is very approachable and very conducive to drinking a few on the golf course or one in the clubhouse.”

Typically produced locally and more flavorful than mass-produced brews, craft beer is a growing market in the USA. Craft beer’s share of the nearly $100 billion U.S. beer market rose to 14% in 2013, up from 10% two years ago, while overall beer sales have been flat.

Craft beer’s share of the beer market is expected to increase to 20% this year, says Tim Schoen, CEO of The Brew Hub, the Lakeland, Fla., brewery, which helps fledgling brewers and companies with new product launches.

Golf courses have begun offering craft beers in addition to major-label beers such as Miller Lite and Budweiser. But often the alcohol levels of the craft beers offered are higher than golfers might want, Schoen says. “We thought we could do something with a very sessional taste profile that is directly linked to the golf community through these three guys.”

Brew Hub arranged some tastings for the golfers to help them refine the flavor they wanted. When the three golfers converged earlier this month for the final tastings, “It was really a fun moment,” Bradley said. “And it was a proud moment for all of us, to see a beer with my name on it.”

The three have formed a company, GolfBeer Brewing, for the venture. “We feel like the golf market is such a huge beer market and especially young golfers are the next big craft beer market,” McDowell says. “We think if we can make a refreshing, approachable craft beer that is synonymous with PGA Tour players like ourselves that golfers can relate to, we certainly feel there is potential for the market to become so much more educated about craft beer.”