California water restrictions spell trouble for craft brewers

Slowly the great state of California has been drying up.

Since 2011 California residents have been struggling with an ongoing drought that has forced them to reconsider the way they live, eat and drink.  Recently craft brewers and wine producers have also felt the pressure.  Now, California governor Jerry Brown has ordered mandatory water use restrictions for the entire state, calling for a 25% reduction in water consumption for everyone, and it will come with the bite of fines and headaches for those that do not comply.

For some brewers this could be cause for concern.  

Four Sons Brewing is a family-owned brewery in Huntington Beach that opened in September and has been churning out delicious brews to their fans ever since.  Their location in southern California puts them close to the drought epicenter.  Four Sons produces on average 60 barrels every month.  That’s roughly 1800 gallons of beer a month and according to some estimates that means Four Sons is using 18,000 gallons of water a month.  

“It’s definitely going to cause issues in the brewing industry for sure” head brewer Derek Dufresne said.  

Brewers will have to start looking at ways to cut back where they can without cutting production.

“You can certainly make sure your cleaning regimen is a little more sound.  That can be a big waste of water.”  Derek said.  “The actual process of making the beer– there’s not really anything you can change.”

Hop farmers also have a bit to worry about as the mandatory reduction isn’t going easy on agriculture either.  According to this story from Forbes, the restrictions “will not apply to agriculture, with 80% of the developed water supply and 52% based on the total water supply in a dry year attributable to agricultural usage, to think there will not be special interest groups crying foul would be naïve I think.”

It will be interesting to see how this pans out for some farmers, including brewer and hop farm Ruhstaller, who’s mantra is “We Grow Beer.”  Fortunately a majority of the hops crops grow further north in Washington and Oregon.

Several larger California based breweries have opened up locations outside of the Golden State.  Sierra Nevada and New Belgium both have opened facilities in Asheville, North Carolina while Stone, one of the most well known craft breweries in the U.S., also moved east picking a location in Virginia.  

Lagunitas, based north of San Francisco in Petaluma, has a large brewery in Chicago.

This move to more aqueous areas prompt some to believe that the brewers did it to escape California’s water issues, especially since the moves happened after the drought began.

For brewers, like Derek with Four Sons, it is a waiting game.  Until more details emerge on how Governor Brown is going to handle the issue and how it will be enforced farms, beer makers and everyone else in between can only hope for a rain cloud or the return of El Nino.