Australia and New Zealand are on the other side of the planet from a Stafford County brewery, but climate change there has impacted a key ingredient in one of its flagship beers.
Adventure Brewing used to order Galaxy hops from Australia and Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand for its Expedition IPA. But high demand and adverse weather have limited supply, especially for smaller craft brewers.
“We just can’t get them any more,” Tim Bornholtz, one of Adventure’s owners, said during a recent tour of the brewery. “They’ve had drought and floods and terrible, terrible weather for three or four years.”
The brewery now sources some of its hops from the Pacific Northwest. Oregon and Washington, along with Idaho’s panhandle, grow most of the hops in the United States, and each variety has a different flavor profile.
“We had to switch our recipe,” Bornholtz said. “You have to adapt and see what works.”
Bornholtz, who founded Adventure in 2014 with two partners, was leading the tour at the request of The Virginia League of Conservation Voters, an environmental nonprofit in Richmond that’s expanding its presence to the Fredericksburg area. The focus was on the ways climate change is impacting the craft beer industry, but the tour also served to spotlight Adventure’s efforts to cut its carbon footprint and reduce waste.
A study published last October in the journal Nature said extreme weather caused by climate change could make beer more expensive to make—and drink.
Bornholtz told the dozen or so people on the tour that Adventure tried using hops from South Africa for a time, but Anheuser–InBev more or less cut off the entire supply to independent American craft brewers in 2017. It blamed a poor yield, and said it didn’t have enough surplus to sell after supplying its own brands. Those South African hops included some of the most sought-after new varietals, and a number of craft brew publications have questioned Anheuser–InBev’s motives.
“I wish there were more hops being grown in Virginia,” Bornholtz said.
Virginia is at the southern edge of the plant’s range, so little of the crop is grown here now. Virginia Tech and Virginia State University are working to change that by researching such things as which hop varieties are best-suited to the state’s shorter summer days as more and more craft breweries open and the demand for local ingredients grows.
Barley is another of the four main ingredients in beer, and Bornholtz offered group members a taste of the malted, or dried, grain as they stood around a mash tun, where it’s mixed with hot water at the start of the beer-making process. Idaho, Montana and North Dakota produce most of the barley grown in the U.S., but Virginia Tech has developed a brewer’s grade barley that can handle the state’s wetter weather. Murphy & Rude Malting Co. in Charlottesville is the first company in Virginia to use 100 percent Virginia-grown barley.
“It would be cool to use Virginia-grown, Virginia-malted barley,” Bornholtz said.
Brewers use malted barley to create the sugar water base for their beers. Once hot water extracts all the sugar, Adventure gives the barley away to the Schlund Family Farm in Locust Grove and Luigi Castiglia, owner of Castiglia’s in downtown Fredericksburg, for their pigs. Castiglia turns his into the salami and prosciutto served in the restaurant.
Adventure isn’t the only local brewery doing this, Bornholtz said. So do all the others.
“Highmark and Maltese have coolers with the meat,” he said. “We’ve talked about having it here. Actually, for lunch, I had brats made from those pigs. Circle of life and all that.”
Adventure uses several other green practices as well. To save energy, Adventure reuses both the water that goes into a heat exchanger and the yeast that converts sugar water into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
“If I look at the cost of ingredients, it’s $600 for brand new yeast,” Bornholtz said. “If I can reuse it 10 times, that’s $60 a batch.”
One thing the brewery doesn’t capture and reuse, however, is the carbon dioxide that bubbles out of the fermentation tanks during the brewing process. Larger breweries are able to afford to buy CO2 reclamation systems and use a portion of the gas in carbonation and bottling, but the price is out of reach for most small craft breweries. A small version is around $50,000, Bornholtz said, although researchers are working on techniques that could help bring down costs.
“We don’t do that here because the capital investment is quite a bit. If anyone would like to invest $50,000,” joked Bornholtz as the group began to laugh, “we’d very much welcome it.”