by Matt Miller
Quick, name the ingredients necessary for a beer: Water. Barley. Hops.
Those are the easy ones. But there’s another you might not have considered.
And we’re not talking just evergreen-inspired brews, such as Deschutes Pinedrops IPA or Rogue’s Juniper Ale.
No, it’s much more universal than that. Beer relies on healthy forests, because America’s forests provide more than half of our nation’s water. And clean water is beer’s main ingredient (up to 95% of a brew).
Without those forests, it’s difficult to find clean water. And without clean water? No beer.
The Nature Conservancy’s Chris Topik, director of Restoring America’s Forests, knows this connection well. He’s spent much of his career thinking about forest policy and working to ensure that forests are resilient and healthy.
And he knows beer. The son of German and Austrian immigrants, he started homebrewing in the ‘80s as an inexpensive hobby he could do while his kids were young. He and a friend began brewing beers in their kitchen in Portland – just as that city was transforming itself into the place craft beer lovers would come to call “Beervana.”
That’s why today Topik is helping lead the national OktoberForest campaign, a month-long celebration that partners breweries with their neighborhood forests. Brewery patrons can help, too, by pledging to share information about forests with their friends and favorite breweries.
In many ways, brewing beer is more than a hobby. Topik recognizes it as a part of human history, a tradition that has brought people together for millennia.
“Beer is quite frankly one of the keys to the way society developed. Early on, it helped us preserve grains so rats and fungi couldn’t get it,” he says. “Beer is part of our human heritage.”
And so is clean water. “Healthy, resilient forests are vital in ensuring good, clean water,” he says. “Areas that can support a forest can support a stream.”
Forests prevent erosion and serve as filters. They are where headwater streams originate. Those little streams feed into bigger streams as they flow down a mountain, eventually leading to the basins that supply water for a variety of uses. Whether you’re drinking a mass-produced light beer or a super-rare farmhouse sour, chances are it originated in a small mountain stream.
In the West, more than half of the United States’ water supply comes from U.S. Forest Service lands alone.
Through OktoberForest, Topik believes we can help raise support for policies and funding that will help restore America’s forests, and ultimately the waters we use.
This is important because forest experts are watching concerning trends lately:
- Last year was the worst fire season on record in the United States, with more than 10 million acres burned (larger than New Jersey).
- The nine worst fire seasons have all occurred since 2000.
- Forest pests have killed more than 150 million trees since 1990.
- The U.S. Forest Service estimates half of the forested lands they manage are in need of restoration.
- Without forest restoration, the U.S. Geological Service believes ash and sediments from severe fires will double in a quarter of all Western streams.
As Topik notes, restoring forests will support businesses beyond breweries.
“Beer is a water-intensive industry, but it’s not the only one,” says Topik. “The tech industry would have difficulty functioning without water. You need pure water to manufacture silicon micro-chips.”
In Colorado, MillerCoors is partnering with The Nature Conservancy to fund large-scale forest restoration in the Upper South Platte watershed that supplies drinking water to Denver; and Anheuser-Busch is supporting a forest restoration project in the Cache La Poudre River basin near their Fort Collins Brewery.
New Belgium Brewing Company (also in Fort Collins), one of the country’s biggest craft brewers, has been calling attention to the effects of fires on their water supply in major media outlets. In Bend, Oregon – arguably one of the best beer towns in the country – craft brewers have teamed together to advocate for forest protection.
As most readers already know, there is an unprecedented interest in craft beer in the United States. There are beer blogs, beer tours, beer festivals, beer magazines. The Great American Beer Festival in Denver in October is huge, with 750 U.S. breweries, which generated $21.9 million in economic activity last year.
American brewers today are pushing the boundaries with new styles, and aficionados meet to discuss the merits of different hop varieties. It’s time to add forests to the mix.
“We need beer fans’ help with OktoberForest to restore our forests,” Topik says. “Even if you’ve never gone hiking in a National Forest, you benefit from those forests every day, with drinking water, wood products, wildlife, and air quality.
“And, of course, beer,” he added with a smile.
Visit www.OktoberForest.org to:
- Pledge to OktoberForest— tell your friends and favorite breweries about OktoberForest!
- Take the OktoberForest quiz— how much do you know about beer and forests?
- Check out the interactive brewery map— how healthy are forests around your favorite breweries?
- Read partner brewer stories— is your favorite brewery an OktoberForest partner?