Why climate change could be bad for beer

Some archaeologists theorize that early humans settled near rivers not in pursuit of stable food supplies, but to domesticate crops for brewing beer (a process that made water safer to drink). That thirst for beer—and freshwater’s essential role in making it—hasn’t changed much since. But as erratic weather and droughts driven by climate change impact crops and freshwater, the world’s favorite fermented beverage could take a hit.

Closeup of glass of beer© ADAM VOORHES/GALLERY STOCK

The majority of water used in beer production goes toward farming. Barley, which gives beer its flavor and color, requires 15 to 17 inches of water to complete its growth cycle, while some hops varieties require four times that. Scientists predict that droughts and higher temperatures could affect barley crops enough to cause beer shortages by the end of the century. In the US, the beer supply could fall by 20%.

Water droplets

The average beer is 90%–95% water.


Clinking glasses of water

Wastewater from the brewing process often contains nutrients or by-products that can pollute freshwater ecosystems. In response, many better-managed breweries have begun to rethink their wastewater disposal, treating water through on-site facilities or green infrastructure, such as constructed wetlands.


WWF works with global brewing company Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) to measurably improve water availability, water quality, and freshwater biodiversity in at-risk watersheds. The partnership’s efforts include improving water use efficiency across ABI’s operations, working to restore and protect rivers and water resources, and collaborating with peer companies to advocate for industry-wide change.



The amount of water needed to produce one gallon of beer inside the average craft brewery. Most goes toward cleaning, cooling, and packaging operations, while some evaporates or washes away. Now, some breweries have adopted innovative strategies for reducing their water waste, from installing hot-water recovery systems to sourcing recycled H20 from wastewater treatment plants.


The number of craft breweries in California in 2019, the most of any US state. But while craft beer pours billions into the economy, it’s a water-intensive industry for a drought-prone region: In total, California craft brewers use around 651 million gallons of water annually—the equivalent annual water usage of 12,000 people.

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