Lambic Beer Could Become a Casualty of Climate Change

Meteorological data shows the brewing window for lambics is an estimated 45 days shorter now than it was at the turn of the 20th century.

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Sep 12 2018, 6:14pm

Photo via Flickr user Nicola

The Bramble Cay melomys is a tiny, cartoon-worthy rodent that is believed to be the only mammal that lived on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. At least it was. After not a single Bramble Cay melomys had been seen for several years despite exhaustive searches by conservationists, it was declared to be extinct in 2016. It is also the first mammal whose cause of extinction was deemed to be climate change.

Trying to determine which of Earth’s species might slowly go the way of the Bramble Cay melomys has to be a difficult, overwhelming and likely terrifying task. According to The Scientist one analysis of more than 2,000 different species revealed that 50 percent of already-threatened terrestrial mammals and 23 percent of threatened birds “had already been negatively affected by climate change.” And according to even more disturbing research, one of our oldest styles of beer could also be at risk.

Lambic, the Belgian beer that one Danish brewer described to us as “the perfect, most pure of sour beers out there,” is spontaneously fermented in open-air vats, and the process requires overnight temperatures between 18 degrees and 46 degrees Fahrenheit. If the mercury slides beyond the upper 70s during the day, there’s a risk that the beer could be ruined by “unwelcome bacteria,” the Guardian writes.

But climate change scientists Mark and Asa Stone and Lambic info-guru Adam Harbaugh studied more than a century’s worth of meteorological data, and have determined that the brewing window for lambics is two weeks shorter now than it was at the turn of the 20th century.

According to their calculations, there were 165 days that were suitable for producing lambics in the early 1900s, a number that has since shriveled to around 140 days. By the mid-21st century, they estimate that number will further shrink to 120 potential brewing days. “Climate change is not only real but is a threat to not only a way of living but of cultural identity as well,” Asa Stone told Brussels Beer City. (And she’s saying this after Brussels profusely sweated through its hottest summer since the city started keeping track of high temperatures in 1901.)

In November 2015, Brussels-based Brasserie Cantillon had to stop its lambic production—and throw out some beer—because of unnaturally warm nighttime temperatures. Even then, the brewery’s owner blamed… all of us.

“Ideally it must cool at between minus 3 [Celsius] and 8 [Celsius]. But climate change has been notable in the last 20 years,” Jean Van Roy told AFP. “My grandfather 50 years ago brewed from mid-October until May—but I’ve never done that in my life, and I am in my 15th season.” (A couple of days later, Cantillon wrote that it had only stopped making beer for a week, and didn’t anticipate any decreases in its annual output; the brewery produces around 400,000 bottles every year.)

Even if you don’t care about what climate change might do to our plants and animals, then please think about the beer. Regardless, we should all raise a glass of lambic to the Bramble Cay melomys. We didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.