As California craft beer makers convened for their annual convention in Mission Valley last month, they tipped a glass or two to the frenetic growth of their industry—3.4 million barrels produced, contributing $6.5 billion to the local economy in 2014, the California Craft Brewers Association reported.
Then talk turned to water. Not the quality of the water, but rather the lack thereof. California craft brewers sit at the epicenter of a historic drought that is deepening past four years now. As one report put it, the good news is that despite the drought no brewery has been forced to cut back on production.
But the bad news can be right around the corner, the San Diego Times Union reported: “Do I believe that is going to happen? Absolutely,” said John Stier, a water management consultant with the Antea Group. “It’s just a matter of time.”
MillerCoors operates a brewery in the San Gabriel Valley. It’s operated there for 50 years, 35 years at the current location. Operations people there have seen droughts before, but none like the current one. MillerCoors produces about 6 million barrels of beer from that brewery, and so an historic drought carries its share of risk.
The thing is, MillerCoors has long considered how it uses water and how much it uses. MillerCoors water-to-beer ratio is among the best in the business: the company uses 3.36 barrels of water to make one barrel of beer, reported Jonah Smith, MillerCoors’ sustainability policy and reporting manager, at Beverage World’s BevOps conference in Las Vegas last month. The industry average is about 6 to 8 barrels of water per one barrel of beer.
Water usage amongst craft brewers may be much higher than the industry average. Antea’s Stier said at the California craft brewer meeting that amongst smaller brewers the median operation requires 26.2 barrels of water to make one barrel of beer.
The irony, as MillerCoors’ Smith pointed out at BevOps [page 54], is that because craft brewers are “local” the perception is they’re more environmentally friendly than the big brewers.
But the worries over water amongst beverage makers big and small go way beyond perception, as Managing Editor Andrew Kaplan uncovered for this month’s cover story [page 32]. In California alone, Governor Jerry Brown on April 1 directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions by 25 percent, the first time such an action was taken in the state’s history.
How will the directive affect beverage operations in the state? It’s too soon to tell since local governments and water boards are determining how they will enact the mandate.
The bigger beverage companies like MillerCoors may be well-positioned to manage the worst of what may be to come. As for the smaller producers, Stier advises companies to seek out secondary sources in case primary sources run dry; to take steps to limit water use through better production practices and equipment; and to recycle or reuse wastewater.
One other thing, he offered: “Get used to more expensive water. Cheap water may be going away.”