California's Breweries 'Drop in the Bucket' When It Comes to Drought

By Mike Pomranz |

© Pinhole Photographic / Stockimo / Alamy

As California currently suffers through one of the worst droughts in state history, everyone’s water usage is under scrutiny. And beer, despite being America’s favorite drink, is no exception. Water is of course one of beer's primary ingredients.

Quartz recently looked into just how much water it takes to keep California’s 554 breweries running. The good news: You don’t have to feel guilty sucking down a hoppy California brew. “Craft beer has little to no impact on California’s drought,” said Dr. Jeffrey Mount, one of the authors of a report issued by the Public Policy Institute of California. Phew.

But how did they determine that? The numbers are actually quite interesting. State breweries produce 105.4 million gallons of beer. And for the vast majority of brewers (95 percent), every barrel (31 gallons) of beer requires between three and seven barrels of water. As a result, brewers use about 651 million gallons of water each year to make beer: 558 million for processing and 93 million that goes into what we actually drink. That seems like a lot, but the PPIC report puts that in perspective: The total amount of water in California beer is the same as the usage of 12,000 people or a single 640-acre almond orchard. There are well over 1 million acres of almond orchards in California.

Of course, you have to grow beer’s other ingredients, namely hops and malt. That takes water as well. In fact, growing enough of those two ingredients to make just one gallon of beer takes 590 gallons of water. But California isn’t really the barley capital of the world; most of the malt and hops used by California comes from other states, where drought is not a problem.

So, yes, the verdict seems to be a good one for beer drinkers: Feel free to drink with a clear conscience. Though if you drink too much, that conscience may start to get a little cloudy.

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