Last week I caught a story on the PBS NewsHour about the current drought affecting much of California. As the piece by Spencer Michels details, ranchers, vintners, farmers, and others whose livelihoods rely on a sufficiently wet landscape are facing tough times. In a small Sonoma County town, a craft brewer is going so far as to help the municipality dig new wells:
SPENCER MICHELS: One of Cloverdale’s most thriving businesses depends on a lot of water. Bear Republic Brewing Company, a regional brewery that makes Racer 5 IPA, is trying to conserve water. For every gallon of beer, they use 3.5 gallons of water, much lower than the industry standard.
Co-founder and brewmaster Richard Norgrove says he isn’t sure if Cloverdale’s wells will provide the brewery with enough water this year.
RICHARD NORGROVE, Bear Republic Brewing Co.: We may have to truck it in. We could move our production out of state. We could move our business to a community that’s not affected by water use problems. But those aren’t really part of what the family plan is. We’re local and want to stay here.
SPENCER MICHELS: Instead, to insure an adequate water supply, Bear Republic has entered into a private-public partnership with Cloverdale to bring more wells into production.
RICHARD NORGROVE: We have lent them close to a half-a-million dollars to accelerate their well drilling, which is really helping the infrastructure for the community. If we don’t manage our watershed, we may not even be able to grow this business, because there’s not going to be enough water for everybody.
SPENCER MICHELS: And the town is equally enthusiastic with the arrangement.
For more on the Cloverdale in particular and the California drought in general, check out the full video and transcript at the PBS NewsHour website. For further details on how Bear Republic and Cloverdale are confronting the problem of scarce water, check out this recent article by Kevin Fagan for the San Francisco Chronicle.
This weather earlier this year was tough on some Wisconsin crops. As Robin Shepard detailed in his Beer Here column last week for Isthmus (which I was delighted to stumble across since it alerted me to the availability of Serendipity, a new beer from New Glarus Brewing Company),
Rapid temperature swings and the prolonged drought made for tough growing conditions in Door County this past spring and summer, resulting in a poor cherry harvest around the region. This left New Glarus short of the locally grown Montmorency Cherries that are an essential part of its Wisconsin Belgian Red, a year-round release for the brewery and one of its most widely celebrated creations.
Given this shortage, brewmaster Dan Carey improvised by combining what cherries he could acquire with apples and cranberries to create a beer he calls Serendipity, a “Happy Accident Fruit Ale.”
But not only was this a bleak year for Door County cherries, it was also a poor year for Wisconsin apples, so Carey turned to Gala apples from Washington state for his new recipe. Meanwhile, the cranberries are a blend of Wisconsin-grown and western U.S. harvests.
So, how’s Serendipity taste? In a word, fantastic. Shepard gives it the highest rating (four bottle openers, out of four), and I agree. For Shepard’s spot-on tasting notes, check out his full review, and for more high praise, check out Andy’s take at BeerFM.
I picked up several bottles at Woodman’s where the beer is competitively priced (as usual) at $8.99 for a 750 mL bottle. I only wish it were sold in 12 oz. 4-packs like Wisconsin Cran-bic was and other specialty brews from New Glarus are. Oh well, I guess I can drink an entire big bottle by myself if I have to! That said, I do plan to take a bottle or two to Thanksgiving dinner to share; as Shepard suggests, “Serendipity is a beer you could put out on the Thanksgiving holiday table. It will make for a very inviting drink to toast making the most of a harvest and set up the big meal ahead.”
It’s tomato time! As Lindsay Christians wrote in an article for yesterday’s 77 Square,
Tomatoes may be the only plants in the garden that actually enjoyed the weather we’ve had this summer.
After a long, hot drought followed by inconsistent heavy rain, small farmers and chefs report a bumper crop of the juicy fruit. Some say they’re not only more plentiful, but also better tasting than last year.
“They’ve been sweeter and more intensely flavored, but smaller,” said Patricia Mulvey, who co-owns Local Thyme in Madison….
“We’re not seeing a lot of gigantic heirloom tomatoes — that’s probably because the lack of water and intense heat made them more intensely flavored and tight-packed,” said Mulvey, who also grows tomatoes in her backyard.
Current drought conditions are wreaking havoc on farms. As Elizabeth Kolbert writes in The New Yorker,
It is now corn-sex season across the Midwest, and everything is not going well. High commodity prices spurred farmers to sow more acres this year, and unseasonable warmth in March prompted many to plant corn early. Just a few months ago, the United States Department of Agriculture was projecting a record corn crop of 14.79 billion bushels. But then, in June and July, came broilingly high temperatures, combined with a persistent drought across much of the midsection of the country.
“You couldn’t choreograph worse weather conditions for pollination,” Fred Below, a crop biologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Bloomberg News recently. “It’s like farming in Hell.”
Rob Schultz reported the local version of this story last Friday for the Wisconsin State Journal:
As the drought in southern Wisconsin was re-classified as severe Thursday, much of the area’s corn crop could be lost if significant rain doesn’t fall here in the next seven days. And it looks like neither Mother Nature nor Uncle Sam are going to help.
“It’s pretty dire,” said Landmark Services Cooperative agronomist Joe Speich, who estimated 2 to 3 inches of rain was needed in the next week to salvage southern Wisconsin’s corn. Just 0.31 inches of rain has fallen since June 1, and the National Weather Service forecasts no drought-busting rains in the next week, although there is a 50 percent chance for showers and thunderstorms Friday and Saturday.
Speich said the lack of moisture has shut down the field corn’s pollination process in the critical 10 days after it tassels. “If it doesn’t pollinate, there’s no ear,” Speich added. “That’s the reason it can become a total loss. You’ve got that 10-day window and that’s it.” Farmers without crop insurance are learning they have little chance of receiving any financial help because federal provisions for drought relief expired last year.
Like the suffering corn fields, livestock pastures are bone-dry and may force local livestock farmers to think about selling off their herds, as Bill Novak reported yesterday for The Capital Times. For more on the impact in southern Wisconsin, check out Karen Kerzog’s recent piece for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Also, see the longer-term outlook posted today by Alex Sosnowski at AccuWeather, suggesting that the little bit of rain we just had may not be enough to make a big difference.
What’s the source of this drought? Kolbert’s article pins the blame on global climate change, something she’s been writing about for quite some time. Her 2006 book, Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, is available in paperback or e-book. (Check out this review at Grist.) For a more recent and shorter piece, take a look at her list of the Top Ten Signs We Are Living in a Warming World: 2011 Edition.