The New Scientist gives us the bad news:
Climatologist Martin Mozny of the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute and colleagues say that the quality of Saaz hops – the delicate variety used to make pilsner lager – has been decreasing in recent years. They say the culprit is climate change in the form of increased air temperature.
Mozny’s team used a high-resolution dataset of weather patterns, crop yield and hop quality to estimate the impact of climate change on Saaz hops in the Czech Republic between 1954 and 2006. Best-quality Saaz hops contain about 5 per cent alpha acid, the compound that produces the delicate, bitter taste of pilsners.
The study found that the concentration of alpha acids in Saaz hops has fallen by 0.06 per cent a year since 1954, and models of hop yields and quality under future global warming scenarios predict bigger decreases
As for the Saaz hops? To understand the significance of this, one has to understand a bit of beer history. Pilsners did not exist as a type of beer until roughly the 1840′s. But when it arrived on the scene, it altered the landscape of professional brewing worldwide. Lager popularity soared, and breweries from Bavaria to Milwaukee sought to replicate the recipe, some of whom ended up coming up with unique recipes of their own.
While the hops is but one component that made pilsners different from other beers, they do play a critical role. To see their chemical composition change is akin to having a different caramel added to a Snickers bar, or a different type of sugar added to your favorite soft-drink. At first taste, the product seems unchanged, but something does end up seeming a little…different.
As the global temperature rises, a lot of the foods we take for granted are going to change, both in taste and in nutrition. Alas, I don’t see these changes doing anything other than making more people aware of global warming.