When I was 21, I was living in New Mexico. My first legally purchased beer was Fat Tire, at the time only available west of the Mississippi. As a person raised in Massachusetts and in an era before the explosion of craft breweries, this was the height of novelty at the time.
I have fond memories of Fat Tire to this day, even now that I can purchase it at my local New York bodega. It is a good sipper for a summer day; grabbing a cold bottle can instantly dispel the light coating of sweat on the back of your neck and the twitch of the paddle can wash away a day’s worries. And in our world, erasing worries, if only for the time it takes to split a six pack with friends, is a precious and sweet relief. As a climate journalist, I’ll take whatever little simple comfort I can get.
So it pains me to say that New Belgium, the brewery behind Fat Tire, took it all for me. Their new beer is a scary and smelly-tasting nightmare by design. Called Torched Earth, it’s a taste of beer from the future … if humanity doesn’t come together. Frankly, it’s a future that, while worth living in, isn’t exactly what most of us would like.
Climate communication is often centered on what we can see: collapsing ice, walls of flame and yes, even hungry polar bears have all played a role in defining the dangerous present and the downright apocalyptic future to which l mankind must face if the interests of fossil fuels continue to define our destiny. Scorched Earth, however, invokes smell and taste (in addition to sight) to convey what might lie ahead.
Brewers took the basics of beer – grain, water, yeast – and challenged them with climate change. The beer was launched on Earth Day to raise awareness that many companies don’t have concrete climate goals, let alone roadmaps to get there, and to get people to lobby. on brands to come together if we are to avoid a terrible future. (New Belgium has a fairly detailed plan This includes reducing its emissions and making Fat Tire carbon neutral through offsets, which have a long and complicated story but it’s for another time.)
Instead of malted barley, Torched Earth is made with more drought tolerant grains like buckwheat and millet. Astringent dandelions are added for more flavor. And smoked malt is used to mimic the effect of smoked water on a forest fire.
“Unfortunately, I could have used forest water,” Cody Reif, R&D brewer at New Belgium, said in an email. “The Powder River provides water to our town and runs less than a quarter of a mile from the brewery and is being filled with black water right now from the wildfires that devastated northern Colorado in the fall. latest. This is not even the first time that our water supply has been threatened in the past 10 years. “
Armed with knowing what we were going to get into, my wife, a friend who is an amateur brewer, and I settled in for a tasting. (My friend asked me to note that he wore a beanie on a perfect spring day as proof of his credibility in craft brewing. Please take this review seriously, that’s what I’m trying to say.) The resulting beer can be politely described as funky and more ably described as a turd of donkey flavors. The three of us immediately agreed not to repeat this experience.
Among the tasting notes I wrote down for the three of us were “dirty”, “almost oily” (okay!), “Smells like bittersweet, tastes like sweet pies but there is smoke on it for sure “and” everyone is shaking their heads. The beer even looked muddy compared to a good traditional filtered beer. My beanie-clad homebrew friend summed it up this way: “On a beautiful day like this, a beer refreshes you. Not that. ”(More shakes of the head followed.)
To wash the taste of climate change out of our mouths, we followed it up with the original Fat Tire, which was crisp and clear in comparison. It brought back those happy memories of when I was 21 and sitting in the waning sunlight of the high desert and feeling the whole world opening up to me.
Torched Earth is the polar opposite of it all, a reminder that if we continue on the current path to leave a few companies lie and recklessly pollute the atmosphere in the name of profit, the window to a better life will be closed a little tighter. The simple pleasures we all live for will be harder to find. The relaxation we all dream of will be replaced by hardships.
Of course, in the future, where Torched Earth is the flagship beer of a major brewery, we’ll have much bigger issues to deal with. And it is not that New Belgium is not aware of it; Reif said the climate crisis is “obviously a very serious subject but the brainstorming exercise [of creating Torched Earth] was an interesting challenge ”from a brewer’s perspective.
“The manufacturing process has opened my eyes and I am absolutely convinced that we have not grasped all the potential risks,” he added.
But too often these bigger problems –the collapse of Antarctica, the rise of violence and famine, the sixth mass extinction“May seem impossible to grasp. But even if you can’t hold the heat death of a million species in your hands, you can grab a box of Scorched Earth. And being able to hold this coin of the bad future now is enough to make you want to put your other hand in a fist and fight for whatever we are likely to lose.