By Joshua Blanco
When it comes to crafts, Western North Carolina isn’t in short supply. Especially if that craft happens to be beer. As artistic expression permeates this region, manifesting itself in new ways, many have begun using their creativity to bring awareness to causes they believe are worth fighting for. And the beer industry is no exception.
With the threat of climate change looming, many breweries are already seeing the effects of irregular weather patterns cut into their supply chain, affecting both the breweries and the farmers they source from. New Belgium Brewing, Asheville’s largest brewery and international poster child for craft beer, has already shown us just how vulnerable the industry is to changes in climate. “The threat of climate change is showing up all over the place for us,” says Sarah Fraser, sustainability specialist at New Belgium. From late rains to hurricanes and wildfires, irregular weather patterns have led to increased pressure on the company’s supply chain.
When New Belgium initially decided to open operations along the French Broad River, the area was seen as a safe haven capable of providing shelter from the storm—a nice contrast to the arid climate they experience out west, at their flagship brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado. But as wildfires started picking up, and droughts became more frequent, reality hit. “That really opened our eyes,” Fraser says. “We realized we’re not necessarily immune to this in the east.”
On Earth Day, New Belgium decided to get their message across by releasing a drink so awful it couldn’t be ignored. Torched Earth Ale, a beer made with less-than-ideal ingredients, gives anyone who tries it a taste of the future of beer provided we don’t take action to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. Drought-resistant grains, dandelions and smoke-tainted water work together to create a flavor as unappealing as the future we’re up against, inspiring people, businesses and breweries to take action fast.
“When we talk about a rise in temperature, or increased intensity of hurricanes, that seems so intangible to people,” Fraser says. “Doing something like this is a way for us to drive home the fact that climate change is showing up everywhere, even in their beer.”
Along with the release of Torched Earth Ale, New Belgium launched the “Last Call for Climate” campaign, asking customers to demand their favorite brands adopt plans that would put them at or near net-zero emissions by 2030, the year scientists say damage from climate change could be irreversible. Approximately 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies do not have a current plan in place. “If you don’t have a climate plan, you don’t have a business plan,” New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer said in a press release. He goes on to describe it as a “no-brainer” for companies with a long-term vision, citing aggressive action as “an urgent environmental and social imperative.”
But they can’t do it alone. “When we certify all our brands as carbon neutral or our entire brewery as carbon neutral, it doesn’t make a drop of difference in the grand scheme of things,” Fraser says regarding the company’s efforts moving forward. “We need all the solutions we can get. We need everybody to step up and do their part.”
To make a Last Call for Climate, visit DrinkSustainably.com or tweet at a brand directly using #LastCallForClimate.