New Belgium Brewing Co. is already prepared to serve beer in a future where climate change has made beer not worth drinking. The beer on tap (picture yourself at a Mad Max-type Atomic Café) is Fat Tire’s Torched Earth Ale, and it’s made with smoke-tainted water, dandelions and drought-resistant grains. It costs $40 for two 16-oz. four-packs, and it tastes like sadness, according to Cody Reif, R&D brewer with New Belgium in the video above.
“One of my favorite beers is definitely Fat Tire,” he says. “And I think that it’s kind of sad to compare the two. It just doesn’t have a lot of the things that make Fat Tire great, including that nice sweet balance with the bitterness. That nice fresh hop aroma to it. I think that’s just going to be really hard to accomplish in the future when we don’t have access to all these great ingredients.”
Released for Earth Day (sorry, I’m also part of the problem), Fat Tire’s limited-edition Torched Earth Ale starts with smokey malt to mimic the impact wildfires will have on water supply. Then drought resistant grains like millet and buckwheat are added, which are most tolerant to shifting agricultural zones. For bitterness, the New Belgium brew crew added dandelions, which grow anywhere, especially in my yard, and they also used shelf-stable hop extract, which sucks and we shall discuss no further. The beer brand is basically aimed at raising awareness of climate change, not winning any contests.
But even if this beer tastes like regret, the artwork is still pretty rad. Fat Tire commissioned Torched Earth’s apocalyptic label art from Kelly Malka, a Los Angeles-based artist and first-generation Moroccan immigrant who, according to the press release, “has experienced firsthand the devastating direct impacts of climate change, including worsening wildfires and air pollution, in her own community. For inspiration, Malka drew on neo-futuristic worlds in popular films and television to depict the iconic Fat Tire bicycle in an uninhabitable world swirling with flames.”
Climate awareness beer has become a thing at New Belgium. In 2020, the Fat Tire brand became America’s first certified carbon neutral beer, and it’s become a major marketing point for the Kirin-owned craft brewery. Read this letter via CEO Steve Fechheimer about his passion for the project. New Belgium has even announced plans to achieve net-zero emissions across the entire company by 2030. Here’s Fechheimer from the press release:
“If you don’t have a climate plan, you don’t have a business plan,” said New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer. “Aggressive action to help solve the climate crisis is not only an urgent environmental and social imperative — it’s also a no-brainer for companies seeking to create long-term shareholder value, compete with rivals like China, and create good-paying jobs here at home. 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.”
Alas, breweries have big challenges when marketing themselves as eco-friendly businesses. Just consider water usage, ingredients usage, wastewater treatment and the glut of packaging concerns alone. So, top craft breweries need to look for ways to balance the math. A carbon neutral-aspiring business like New Belgium Brewing pushing big issues like climate change is a pretty good example, even if it’s at the cost of making some crappy beer.