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Beer has been an integral part of many societies for millenia. It has been the inspiration for many appreciative quotes.

  • Beer is like liquid art - to be appreciated and experienced.
  • I've read that the ancient Chinese art of feng shui can bring a sense of peace, well-being, and positive energy to a home - same as beer.
  • Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer's day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented

Where does beer come from?

Two glass steins of beer
Two glass steins of beer

Beer is made from a mixture of ingredients.

Besides water which makes up 90-93% of its volume, beer contains plant and fungal species.

  • a complex carbohydrate (most commonly barley) which can be broken down to simpler sugars. Other sources of carbohydrate may  include maize (corn), rice, wheat, millet, sorghum and cassava root in Africa, potato in Brazil, and agave in Mexico.
  • a flavouring agent - most commonly a plant known as hops
  • a yeast which can ferment the sugars
This means that the story of beer is a bit more complicated than coffee or chocolate stories.
Modern industrial production of beer often involves the addition of preservatives such as sulphites, colouring agents such as caramel or others derived from petroleum products, anti-freeze, MSG and various clarifying agents.


Barley is the seed of several Hordeum grass species. It is used for multiple purposes such as stock feed and health food products; approx 20% of the harvest goes to the production of alcoholic drinks.

Barley is a widely adaptable crop in that it able to cope with a range of temperatures and salinities and is also relatively drought tolerant.

Depending on when it is planted, barley takes about 1 to 3 days to germinate and about 60 days to mature.

2021 global barley production was 145,000,000 tonnes. Barley is grown in a number of countries.

Map of global barley production



Hops are the flowers of the hop vine Humulus lupulus, a climbing perennial.The flowers are used to add bitterness and flavour to the fermented barley-water mixture. The hops component of the beer also retards spoilage.
The hop flowers are picked at the end of the flowering season and taken to an oast house to be dried. From there, they are pressed into bales or pellets.

Top hops growing countries

hops production 2020-2021

global hope production 2010-2022
global hope production 2010-2022
Hops vs gruit

Before hops were regularly used in beer, brewers used a mixture of herbs commonly known as gruit. The herbs in gruit have included

  • horehound
  • mugwort
  • yarrow
  • sweet gale
  • heather
  • lavendar
  • ginger
  • rosehips
  • elderberry

In Europe, there is a centuries long history of moving between hops and gruit depending on economics and politics.

Factors which threaten the production of beer


Physical features

According to a group of scientists who recently studied barley production in detail:

And, unlike many other food crops, barley grown for beer is required to meet very specific quality parameters. Malted barley gives beer much of its flavour, yet if it is too hot or there isn’t enough water during critical growing stages, the malt cannot be extracted.

Ali, Guan and Xei, 2018

Extreme events which may occur with more frequency due to climate change may cause substantial decreases in global barley yields. Depending on the degree of disruption, average yield losses could be substantial. And that would be in a much bigger market than today, so less beer available all round.


Not relevant as barley, like all grasses, is wind pollinated.

Pests and Diseases
  • Mealy bugs
  • Ergot
  • Fusarium head blight
  • Net and spot blotch
  • Scald
  • Septoria leaf spot
  • Smut
  • Stripe rust
  • Nematodes


Physical features

Different varieties of hops can be different areas, but in general, hops need friable soil and a  120 day growth period without frosts and with adequate water to thrive. Hops prefer a soil pH of 6.0–6.5

In 2015, a climate declaration created by a group of major breweries noted that

“Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops....Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250% over the past decade. "((Climate and beer))

It has also been noted that when alternative sources have had to be found in drought years, the quality of the hops grown and therefore the beer produced has changed noticeably.


Not relevant as the flowers used in beer making are not pollinated

Pests and Diseases
  • Powdery mildew (fungal)
  • Downy mildew (fungal)
  • Crown gall (bacterial)
  • Nematodes (inc. root-knot and eel-worm cyst)
  • Red spider mite
  • Hop mosaic (viral)

What can we do about it?

Solutions involve scientific, technical, social, legal and economic factors to varying degrees.

An example of a technical solution is growing hops hydroponically under optimum conditions.

Some veer towards pure technofix i.e. some new technology is developed and employed and no change in social or behavioural practices is expected. Sometimes technofixes can help, but often there are unexpected consequences because altering one factor in a system upsets the balance of other interactions in the system. Also decisions made in genetic engineering now may mean that genes that would be useful in unforeseen circumstances might be lost. Monetisation of genomic knowledge is expensive, driven by profits, not necessarily will thought be given to environ eg resistance to change.

And there are those who see global climate warming as requiring high level government environment intervention to rescue the whole earth-

  • Consider who you vote into power in your country
  • Consider your own consumption patterns and who you buy from
  • Consider the future and what you want it to look like

Acknowledgement of issues not covered on this page

Water availability, yeast, additives, disruption of people's livelihood and skillsets.

did you know clipart

how the raw products are turned into the commodity



brewing sequence flowchart
brewing sequence flowchart

Barley grain is cleaned and then malted by steeping.This means the grains are made to start germinating by soaking in water and are then, further germination is halted by drying with air or in a kiln.
This process releases a number of chemicals from the grains that make the mix suitable for the next step.

Malted barley is soaked in hot water to release the malt sugars.

The malt sugar solution is boiled with Hops for seasoning.

The solution is cooled and yeast is added to begin fermentation.

The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing CO2 and ethyl alcohol.

When the main fermentation is complete, the beer is bottled with a little bit of added sugar to provide the carbonation.