You need barley to make beer, and 2015 may see a barley shortage.
2014 was a very wet year for some regions of the US and the barley growing regions of Idaho and Montana were no exception. Idaho alone, which grows most of the nation’s barley, lost about 1/3 of the 2014 harvest due to the grain molding in the wet conditions.
Much of the barley that was harvested may not even be suitable for beer. Barley used for making beer goes through a malting process which begins when the maltster moistens the grain so that it begins to germinate.
The excessive rains in the late growing season caused much of the US barley harvest to start germinating before it was delivered to the maltsters. Now much of the 2014 harvest is unsuitable for malting and consequently unsuitable for beer.
Barley malt is the second most common ingredient in beer (water is the first) so the cost of making beer is likely to increase with such a huge loss. But don’t start stocking up the shelves for the impending beerpocalypse just yet.
Now that you’re good and worried let’s get back to reality. Although barley malt is important for making beer it only makes up roughly 5% of the cost of craft beer. Ingredients overall make up very little of beer’s cost. The vast majority of the cost of your pint comes from packaging, distributing, and taxes. This is why a 4% ABV session beer can cost the same as a 10% ABV Double IPA.
Homebrewers may be the ones that are more impacted by this shortage. Homebrewers may have difficulty getting their hands on some forms of malt as farmers and maltsters under contract with large breweries are pressed to put together enough barley malt to meet their contractual obligations, leaving little for homebrew shops to stock on their shelves.
The bottom line is that American brewers will be paying more for American malt, and may end up buying more Canadian and European malt in 2015 than usual. It’s still possible that we consumers will see a slight rise in price at the bar, but probably not enough to make you think twice about sitting down and grabbing a pint.