The cultivation of aromatic hops in Europe, which gives beer its bitterness, is under threat due to climate change, warns a study published in Nature Communications. The European varieties of hops are highly valued and used by brewers worldwide, but the rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall are leading to reduced yields and a decline in the compounds that provide beer its refreshing tartness.
To understand the extent of the problem, the researchers analyzed data from Czech Republic, Germany, and Slovakia, which together with Poland are the primary hop-growing regions in Europe. The study’s co-author, Miroslav Trnka, reported that yields fell between 9.5 and 19.4 percent at four out of five sites, while one site experienced stable yields. These results were observed when comparing data from 1995-2018 with that from 1971-1994.
Predicting Future Decline
Based on their analysis, the researchers extrapolated future predictions, which indicate a drop in hop yield of between four and 18 percent compared to the period of 1989-2019. Furthermore, the concentration of alpha acids, the bitter compounds in hops, could decrease by 20 to 31 percent with the expected rise in temperatures and the impact of reduced rainfall.
Given the projected increase in droughts in central and southern Europe, the study emphasizes the necessity of taking immediate adaptation measures to stabilize international market chains. The researchers suggest a 20 percent expansion of the area dedicated to aroma hops in order to compensate for the future decline in potency and yield. Furthermore, they recommend strategies such as relocating crops to more suitable areas or implementing irrigation techniques.
While hops farmers are attempting to adapt, their options are limited. Hops require a specific combination of climate and soil, which makes it challenging to find alternative locations for cultivation. Additionally, the introduction of genetically modified plants, specifically engineered to withstand warmer temperatures and drought, is currently prohibited in Europe.
To mitigate the impact of reduced bitterness in hops, brewers can explore modifying their brewing methods. By adjusting their techniques and processes, brewers can adapt to the changing properties of hops and maintain the desired flavor profiles of their beers.
The study’s findings highlight the urgent threat that climate change poses to Europe’s hop cultivation. With declining yields and a decrease in bitter compounds, it is crucial to implement adaptation measures to ensure the stability of the international market chains. Hop farmers are facing limited options, but the brewing industry can also play a part in modifying their practices to accommodate the changing characteristics of hops. Ultimately, collective efforts are necessary to safeguard the future of hop cultivation and preserve the quality and flavor of beers worldwide.