Frightening future for global beer
The latest issue of Brewers' Guardian is devoted to the Brewery of the Future and is concerned about how beer can be made in a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable way. Many of its suggestions are eminently sensible: in countries threatened by drought, it's clearly vital to make the best possible use of water. The magazine also looks at the possibility of making beer in African and Asian countries from local grains such as sorghum, cassava, rice and corn when barley is difficult or impossible to grow.
But some of the steps being taken, while good for the environment, may not be good for beer or drinkers. Denmark's Harboe Brewery has launched a beer called Clim8 using 100% raw barley. The company says CO2 is saved by not malting the barley. All Very worthy, but beer traditionally is made from malted grain that contains the natural maltose that can be fermented into alcohol. Raw barley on the other hand offers starch, not sugar. It appears that the only way maltose can be extracted from the grain is for large amounts of industrial enzymes to be added during the brewing process.
In Japan, where low-malt and no-malt beers have been developed, brewers are now looking at the possibility of making beers they call "third category" -- aimed at the Third World -- from soya protein, pea and corn.
It would be the height of western impudence to tell brewers in Africa and Asia how to brew their beers. But the worry is that the global producers, who are feeling the pinch from falling sales, will look at these developments as a way of cutting costs of the beers they produce in Europe and the Americas. In recent years, the global brewers have drastically cut the time they lager or mature beers -- many international lager brands are now produced as quickly as ales -- and they may be prompted to look at the possibility of reducing costs still further by using cheaper grains.
Of course, craft brewers won't be distracted by this and will continue to use the finest raw materials for their beers. But it's a worrying thought that in a few years the lager drinker standing at the bar next to you may be drinking a global brand made from soya or peas.