The most water-intensive part of the beer making process is in the agriculture.
Craft beer has given a lot to California, but it has also taken away.
Last week, the California Craft Brewers Association announced just how much of a boon to the state the industry has been: Craft beer, it said, has contributed $6.5 billion to the state’s economy, an 18 percent increase since 2013. As of March 2015, there were 554 breweries in the state, making 3.4 million barrels of craft beer, or 105.4 million gallons. (One barrel is 31 gallons.)
But that’s a lot of beer for a state in the middle of an historic drought to produce. Beer is delicious and lucrative, but it also uses a lot of precious water. Figuring out just how much water, though, is a complicated question.
The production phase is where most of the California water is used. At 95 percent of today’s breweries, making one barrel of beer uses 3-7 barrels of water, says Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association. (How much exactly depends on the specific brewery’s practices.)
In California, craft brewers use an estimated 558 million gallons of water in processing, and another 93 million gallons that gets converted into beer annually. In total, California brewers use an estimated 651 million gallons of water to make craft beer, according to estimates in a report by the Public Policy Institute of California and available on the California Craft Brewers Association website. That’s the equivalent annual usage, the report says, of 12,000 people, or a 640-acre almond orchard. Of course, in a state with an estimated 1,020,000 acres of almond orchards, the water used by craft brewers is, ahem, peanuts.
The most water-intensive part of the beer making process, however, is in the agriculture. Growing the barley and hops to make just one gallon of beer requires an 590 gallons of water. But before you start boycotting Sierra Nevada, keep in mind that the vast majority of hops and barley come from out of state, grown in places where rain is more plentiful.
And the final verdict, after all that hand-wringing? “Craft beer has little to no impact on California’s drought,” says Dr. Jeffrey Mount, one of the authors the PPIC report.
This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.
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