Want to make beer drinkers more conscious of climate change?
Give them a foul-tasting brew and call it the future of America's favorite fermented beverage.
That's what New Belgium Brewing Co.—maker of Fat Tire Amber Ale and Voodoo Ranger IPA—did last week with its release of Torched Earth, a limited-edition ale brewed from smoke-tainted water, dandelions and drought-tolerant grains.
"The future of beer is here. And it tastes awful," the company crowed in a sardonic print ad for its unpalatable brew. The Torched Earth Ale logo features the company's iconic red bicycle in a denuded landscape, its rubber tires melting.
According to New Belgium, Torched Earth is much more than a bad beer. It's a sensory warning that climate change could wreak havoc on both the ingredients and the conditions needed for successful brewing.
"The resulting dark starchy liquid with smokey aromatics is not likely to win any awards but does highlight the stakes of climate change for beer lovers everywhere," the company said in a release.
But that's not really the point.
U.S. brewers, and hundreds of other food and beverage producers, are following the path to consumers' hearts through social and environmental causes. Industry laggards need to get on board, said New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer.
"If you don't have a climate plan, you don't have a business plan," Fechheimer said in a statement released on Earth Day when Torched Earth debuted.
He described the brewing industry as "in the crosshairs of climate change," particularly as core ingredients like barley and hops shift to new growing regions under a changing climate.
Extreme precipitation, flooding and drought could also result in crop losses, driving up the price of production. "And all kinds of ingredients would become perpetually tainted by smoke from wildfires, which have rapidly grown hotter and more dangerous in recent years," the company said.
New Belgium threw down the growler with a "Last Call for Climate" campaign asking beer drinkers to demand that producers of their favorite suds adopt climate plans with hard metrics for 2030. "As a medium-sized company, New Belgium can only have a medium-sized impact. We need more of the big guys to step up, too," Fechheimer said.
Last year, Fat Tire became America's first certified carbon-neutral beer. To celebrate, it launched a 24-hour sale price: $100 per six-pack to illustrate the rising costs of climate change. The company, bought in 2019 by Kirin Holdings Co. of Japan, also pledged to achieve net-zero emissions companywide by 2030 and is a certified "B Corporation," meaning it meets verifiable standards for environmental and social performance and transparency.
New Belgium spokesperson Leah Pilcer-Pitman said in an email that sales of Torched Earth "were not necessarily the goal of this since we made a limited run and it was only available at our tasting rooms to go, in addition to a scarce amount online for delivery to select sites."
Even so, she said, many consumers were interested in tasting the "off" beer.
Asked if she had tasted Torched Earth, Pilcer-Pitman responded: "Funny you ask, as I had my first one a few weeks before the campaign. I'll be honest in that after a few sips of the warm beer, it wasn't something I wanted to finish. The smokiness of the flavor didn't agree with my palate."
For now, intrepid swillers and fast-acting climate stalwarts can buy two four-packs of Torched Earth Ale in 16-ounce cans for $39.99 online. Road warriors can get a taste of Torched Earth at one of two New Belgium "liquid centers," in Fort Collins, Colo., and Asheville, N.C.
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.