The California Drought: Almonds, Water (And Beer)

You probably noticed that California is living under severe drought conditions, especially since governor Jerry Brown recently imposed restrictions on our water use. One of the frequent industries to bear the brunt of blame is, of course, agriculture, which uses a lot of water to feed the country. But more specifically, a lot of blame has come down on almonds with stories in the Chronicle, the Guardian and even Slate declaring 10 Percent of California’s Water Goes to Almond Farming, among many others. I haven’t paid too much attention to that, mostly for the selfish reason that I’m not much of a fan of almonds, and couldn’t care less if they stopped growing them.

Gizmodo has an interesting article suggesting that all that stuff about almonds was hooey entitled Seriously, Stop Demonizing Almonds. In a persuasive piece, it’s revealed that “Almonds might take 10 percent of the state’s water, but as the same report notes, they’re generating about 15 percent of the state’s total farming value and almost 25 percent of the agricultural exports from the state.” Of course, I’m no expert on these things, but I encourage you to read it and decide for yourself.

But I actually bring this up for wholly non-almond related reasons. Something in the article caught my attention, which is the chart below. It’s an infographic which originally was published in the L.A. Times, which the Gizmodo author, Alissa Walker, characterizes as a “very misguided infographic of “water-hungry foods.” The title indicates it shows the relative amount of water used to make the finished product, “Gallons of water per ounce of food.”


But look where beer is on the chart. Beverages are in blue. Soymilk looks like it uses the most, but apparently there was an error that’s now been corrected, and it’s actually pineapple juice that’s the biggest water hog, using 6.36 gallons per ounce of juice. Compared to all the drinks listed, beer looks to be the most efficient, and the interactive portions of the chart on the L.A. Times website indicates that beer uses 1.96 gallons to produce one ounce of beer. But even that seems high.

A bunch of years ago I wrote a feature article for All About Beer entitled It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green: The Greening of America’s Breweries, that examined the steps breweries were taking to lighten their burden on the planet, not just with water, but all sorts of things. One thing I learned was that brewing used roughly a 10-to-1 ratio of water, meaning they use 10 gallons for every gallon of beer. At that time, I also found. “Examining smart ways to conserve water, several breweries have reduced that ratio to four or five-to-one and Uinta Brewery from Utah has gotten it down to 3-to-1.” More recently, the Brewers Association’s Water and Wastewater: Treatment/Volume Reduction Manual claims that the average is now more like 7-to-1 gallons, with a few breweries actually below 3-to-1. Two years ago, Environmental Leader reported that MillerCoors managed to get their ratio of water use down to “3.82 barrels of water per barrel of beer.”

But even staying with a ratio of 10-to-1 for ease of math, this seems egregiously high. Converting the L.A. Times figure of 1.96 gallons to 1 ounce figure to ounces, it becomes 250.88 ounces of water per ounce of beer, or a 251-to-1 ratio, or 25 times reality, and undoubtedly more.

So where did this figure come from? All the Times reveals about its methodology is this. “Totals were converted to U.S. gallons per ounce (weight). Beverage values were additionally converted into fluid ounces using the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.” But that doesn’t really tell us where they got the numbers they’re basing this on. It doesn’t really tell us anything. But one thing seems clear, breweries are relatively efficient in their water use, much more so than is being reported during the California drought. And that brings us back to a statement U.S. Davis professor Charlie Bamforth recently made, which seems even more relevant in light of this. “When in drought, drink more beer.”

A Beer Bestiary

A Bestiary is an old-fashioned idea, from the Middles Ages, where various animals and other creatures, often fanciful, mythical and fictitious, were illustrated, and then there was a detailed description of each beast, usually accompanied by an allegorical story with a moral or religious teaching. You can see examples of many of these imaginary creatures at the Medieval Bestiary. A Los Angeles illustrator and graphic designer, Ian O’Phelan, has created a modern version, which he calls a “Beer Bestiary.” With just four mythical creatures in his bestiary, his fantastic four you’ll likely recognize, if not individually, at least for what they can become as a superhero team, your next beer.

Barley Beast
Virginal Hops
Water Bear
Cockatrice d’Yeast

Brewers For Clean Water

There was interesting article a couple of days ago on Newsweek, entitled Craft Beer Brewers Team Up to Improve Water Standard about a group of breweries partnering with the “Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a New York–based environmental group, to support stricter regulations on water pollution.” At least forty breweries are currently signed on as “Brewers for Clean Water,” including Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada Breweries.

According to Newsweek:

The NRDC and the brewers, including the California-based Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada brewing companies, are asking citizens to write to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finalize a proposed rule that would give federal government more latitude to enforce the Clean Water Act. The agency is currently considering public comments until November 14, before putting the finishing touches on the fine text of the rule, known as the “Waters of the United States.”

The NRDC also created a video about the issue of water.


The California Drought & Brewing

Climate Progress, the section of the website Think Progress devoted to the issue of climate change and related topics, had an interesting piece about the recent California drought and how it will effect the water needs of breweries. Entitled California’s Water Crisis Is Becoming A Beer Crisis, if you care about whether California’s breweries will make it through the coming drought, give it a read.


So You Want To Save Water?

Since today is World Water Day, our infographic for the day is So You Want To Save Water? Though it’s not strictly about brewing or beer, it seems relevant since water is the biggest ingredient used in brewing beer. Two interesting mentions of beer are in the poster. The first is that it takes 19.81 gallons to produce a glass of beer. I’m not sure about the exact number, but I do know many brewers are aware of their own water ratio and work hard to lower it. The second is that you can save 15,582 gallons of water per year if you switched from a daily glass of milk to a daily glass of beer. Now that’s conservation I can get behind.

Click here to see the infographic full size.

Beer, Water & Responsibility From Full Sail

Boy, the Hood River is picturesque, especially as it’s filmed in this newly produced video for Full Sail Brewing, all about Beer, Water & Responsibility. In today’s Press Release, they discuss their water and how they strive to use it wisely.

A great brew begins with great water. Full Sail is located in Hood River, Oregon at the base of Mt. Hood, where pristine water literally flows from the springs on the mountain. The video was filmed at and around the brewery, celebrating both the breweries exceptionally low water use and the beauty of the environment that inspires this commitment to preserve this valuable resource.

“When we look out from our brewery we can see both the Columbia River and the snow-capped peaks beyond, highlighted up against the clear blue skies. We feel so lucky to work in this truly amazing place. It would be impossible to live and work in the Columbia River Gorge and not be inspired by the sheer beauty of the place. It’s not hard to figure out what would attract us to this setting. And it is our love for this environment that drives our sustainable practices, so pure water, local ingredients and responsible processes are poured into each and every pint,” says Full Sail’s Executive Brewmaster, Jamie Emmerson.

It really is a beautiful part of the country, something of a paradise, especially since there’s so much good beer all around.

Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished

This is one of the many reasons I loathe the neo-prohibitionist groups. Perhaps you saw the press release from Anheuser-Busch, detailing how they, along with many others, are trying to do what they can to help the people of Haiti, who were devastated by the recent earthquake that hit their country. They sent cans of water, hastily filled at one of their breweries, as they’ve done during other similar emergencies (I recall they did the same for New Orleans after hurricane Katrina). They’ve had plenty of negative publicity lately — some even from me — so I wouldn’t think anyone would begrudge them trying to win back some positive vibes for what really amounts to doing the right thing. That’s really what we hope any of us would do under the circumstances.


Except that you’d be wrong assume that no one would begrudge them. Those jolly folks at the Marin Institute wasted no time in admonishing Anheuser-Busch InBev, not for sending the water, but for using branded cans and for issuing a press release. In their own press release issued today, Help for Haiti Should Not be Branded, they claim that “most of these generous people are not putting out press releases about their good deeds.” I don’t know if that’s true and frankly, if those same people aren’t putting out press releases, then how can the Marin Institute claim to know about them or that they constitute a majority of the donations to Haiti’s disaster relief? How can they total up the anonymous donations that are, by definition, anonymous?

But they’re not done with their scolding. Next, they say most people making donations (of goods, one presumes) “are [not] branding their donated goods with their personal monikers” and asking the leading question “why does the beer behemoth need to brand the cans of this much-needed water with its corporate logo?” Well, I can think of one very good reason. Who would drink blank cans or cans just labeled “water.” I’d want to know where the water came from, who canned it to know if it was safe, etc. That just seems to be common sense. It would be counter-productive to can water with no information about its whereabouts or origins so people could judge its safety. I don’t want to go too far here, but a logo works better when not everyone speaks the same language, too. That way, even if people can’t read the can, they may recognize the logo and feel safer opening it as a result (though they may be disappointed it isn’t beer).

But the Marin Institute then concludes by saying ABIB’s efforts are “more than a tad distasteful,” calling their simple press release “bragging,” and suggesting that doing so “really does diminish your brand.” Wow. I thought there were no new depths that they could sink to in attacking alcohol, but boy, oh boy, was I ever wrong. So here we have a beer company who switches gears and spends their own money to create and donate much-needed water to Haiti. They have the apparent temerity to tell others what they’ve done, perhaps in part to inspire others to do likewise, and they also had the apparent gall to let the people they’re helping know who the water came from. Um, excuse me, but what exactly is the problem here? They helped. They did something. What exactly did the Marin Institute do to help the people of Haiti, apart from discouraging others from doing likewise, lest they also incur your misguided wrath. Or are you better than ABIB simply because whatever donations the Marin Institute gave were among the anonymous kind, you know, the better kinds of donations.

Do you honestly think the people Haiti give a rat’s ass where the donations came from? As long as they get enough to eat and drink so they can, you know, live, what possible difference could it make to anyone. Unless of course, you’re looking for absolutely any excuse to demonize your enemies and further your agenda. You criticize ABIB for issuing a press release, but that’s exactly what you did, too, using the opportunity to galvanize your supporters. But when you do it, it’s for a good cause, right? When ABIB does it, they’re shameless. This is seriously one of the ugliest and vilest demonstrations of how off the reservation the neo-prohibitionist groups are. Criticizing a good deed because it wasn’t done in the manner you’d prefer, or more correctly, by someone you already don’t like. You ought to be ashamed of yourself and your behavior. As they say, let no good deed go unpunished.