California's Historic Drought May Run Breweries Dry

Hops, barley, and malt are all important ingredients for beer.

But water is essential.

As California enters yet another month of an unprecedented dry spell, some brewers are expressing concerns about how the ongoing drought could affect the price and taste of their product.

"The future is the thing we have to worry about now,” Dan Gordon, co-founder of Gordon Biersch Brewing Company in San Jose, said.

Gordon said the brewery uses 2.5 gallons of water to make one gallon of beer. Most craft breweries use four to seven gallons of water for the same amount. If water companies impose mandatory restrictions, production could drop in the booming industry.

"If we were put in a position where we had to go to 20 percent restriction on the water usage, I have no idea how we would be able to cope with that,” Gordon said.

Even without mandatory restrictions in place, Gordon is feeling the effects of the drought. Changes in water can tweak the taste of beer, though the brewery can add or filter out some of the minerals to minimize the effect.

"What we notice is when the water supply gets a lot lower, the hardness of the water increases and that's absolutely been an indicator that we're running low,” Gordon said.

The concern is statewide. The California Craft Brewer’s Association Executive Director Tom McCormick fears if the drought continues for another two to three years, prices would jump.

"The industry has been good about water conservation in the past, but I think we need to get better. This year, we're learning to do that,” McCormick said.

California has more than 460 craft breweries. All are hoping those essential ingredients will be abundant for years to come.

"We have to prioritize. Swimming pools may have to go empty, lawns may have to go empty, but we got to keep brewing beer," Gordon said with a laugh. "We're going to have a lot of angry people out there.”

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