Beer That Helps the Sustainability of Agriculture?


Image Courtesy of The Modern Farmer

Beer: that ice-cold, refreshing hoppy taste. Or malty taste. Or creamy taste? From macro-brews to micro-brews, IPAs to Stouts, the varieties of beer are endless. However, do we ever think of the environmental impacts whenever we crack open a can of beer after a long day? Patagonia, everyone’s go-to sustainable clothing (or lifestyle?) company, is leading the way for a revolutionary beer brewed with Kernza. In collaboration with Patagonia Provisions and Hopworks Urban Brewery, the Long Root Ale is brewed with this environmentally friendly wheatgrass variety, boasting a refreshing Grapefruit hop flavor.


Scott Seirer/The Land Institute courtesy of The Washington Post

The Land Institute in Kansas helped selectively breed this variety of wheatgrass; Kernza is a perennial (which simply means it is grown year-round) with incredibly long roots that can grow up to ten feet in the ground. Since this is perennial, farmers will not have to reseed this crop with every new season. Due to the long roots of this crop, it is an incredible soil replenisher. The long roots help fight erosion and pests; less erosion means fertilizer is more prone to staying in the soil longer instead of being easily depleted. Kernza also uses less water while preserving biodiversity and retaining soil nutrients. The wheatgrass apparently soaks up carbon while requiring less tilling. Kernza also helped reduce nitrate from seeping out by 86% compared to wheat.

But this specialty crop is far from being widely available to the masses. With only a handful of food organizations being able to access this wheatgrass, it will take several years before it’s introduced to the human diet. It took six years for the seeds to double in size to make this grain a possibility for human consumption. Technically, it’s only one-quarter the size of a wheat berry ; it contains a small amount of gluten, leaving it difficult to work with and incorporate into food. However, it is extremely encouraging to watch numerous organizations and scientists attempt to develop a more sustainable way of agriculture. Kernza is definitely a grain to keep a watchful eye over in the future.




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9 responses to “Beer That Helps the Sustainability of Agriculture?

  1. seanfox1

    This seems like a fantastic development. Do you believe that it will receive backlash from the anti-GMO movement? Do you think we are going to see resistance from more traditional breweries on changing hundred-year-old recipes?


    • brittneymullane

      I’m sure there will definitely be some sort of backlash; with major green consumerism companies like Patagonia, for example, leading the market, I think it will be interesting to watch how this exactly plays out. And, again, I’m sure there will be resistance. There always is some sort of form of resistance being played out when it comes to incorporating new ideas. I do think some of the smaller microbreweries will be willing to take a chance and try out some beers made with Kernza once it’s more accessible on the market.


  2. amyquandt

    I love Hopworks Beer in Portland, Oregon. I will have to try this beer when I am in Portland for Christmas. Is sustainability a big issue in the beer industry? What are the major issues?


    • brittneymullane

      Definitely let me know if you can find and try this beer! I think it’s only available in the PNW. I think sustainability is a major issue that microbreweries are passionate about. Water and energy consumption are the main issues breweries are concerned about (as far as I know). I’m not sure if all will be receptive to this idea of using wheatgrass within their recipes; it’s definitely a possibility in the future if alternative practices like what Patagonia and Hopworks are attempting to do are achievable for all microbreweries (and possibly macro as well?)


  3. clint1829

    How do you you think Hopworks’ partnership with Patagonia will influence consumers identification with this product? Also why is it problematic that the grain only contains a small amount of gluten? Is it a matter of having too little, or not enough?


    • brittneymullane

      I think customers will be more inclined to buy this beer just based on the branding (regardless if it’s a good beer or not). Just making a huge generalization here, but I think people correlate anything that Patagonia is associated with as being cool, innovative, and sustainable. I also think Patagonia is a major status symbol, too, so I’m not sure if that factors into consumers decisions to buy this beer. As for the gluten, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily “problematic”. Since it doesn’t have as much gluten as wheat does, recipes and glutinous products will most likely not have the same taste or turnout.


  4. walkernewton

    I really like the idea of using beer as a marketing tool as its one of those things everyone enjoys. The explosion of the micro brewery scene all across America has thousands of people obsessed with researching different kinds of ingredients to make the perfect brew, and I think if we can get people that excited food ingredients we as a whole can move in a more sustainable direction. Did you find any information regarding this variety of wheatgrass being grown in other climates? What are its potential as a sustainable food in developing countries?


    • brittneymullane

      I definitely agree with your mindset. I haven’t found any other information on this variety being grown in other climates. This whole process is essentially being controlled by the Land Institute in Kansas, but the University of Minnesota is apparently tinkering around with Kernza. I think it has some potential to be useful in contributing to food distribution all over the world, but I haven’t seen any articles referencing the usage of this in developing countries.


  5. alecjordan7721

    This crop seems like it could have a high potential in terms of providing many benefits but I wonder what are some more of the downsides to it besides its size. I am also curious on why only a handful of food organizations have access to this wheatgrass. I would think that if you allowed more people and organizations to have access to it this would allow for more research and ideas around the uses for this crop.


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