Drought Threatens Craft Beer Boom

Water restrictions could hurt production, price and expansion

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Byron Moles talks about his new, popular tap room and soon to be restaurant near Nipomo that he runs under his flagship Santa Maria Bewery brand.

"The great thing about craft brewing right now is its growing 15 percent year over year for the last five years and running", Moles says, "anything under 60,000 barrels a year is a small brewery and most craft breweries fit into that category whether they are micro-breweries, brew pubs or home brewers."

"A little more care and time goes into each batch of beer", Moles says about the booming business, "its more of a craft than just a mass production of getting out a beer that you can put label on it and ship it all over the U.S."

Moles says he's awaiting permits to for his brewery and a tasting room at a new location in Santa Maria.

"That's the next step once we get the Fairway Drive location open, we will be putting in a bottling line", Moles says, "just prior to that we will be kegging and having a salesman already in place to put beer on tap in restaurants up and down the coast here."

But just as Moles' expansion plans take hold, California's drought is taking a firmer grip on the future of his business that requires as much as seven gallons of water to make a gallon of beer.

"Timing is everything, sometimes I''ve been known for picking the best times, but yeah its definitely weighing heavy on our minds and hearts", Moles says, "but we are pushing forward, we have a contract brewer that is doing some great work for us down in Orange County, it hasn't affected the price on the contract brewing end yet but it just depends on how long this drought lasts, if we can get through this year, and hopefully that's it, we start to get some rain and water tables go up I think we'll weather the storm and we won't see an increase in prices."

The California Craft Brewers Association says more than 400 craft brewers sell nearly $5 billion worth of beer annually or about 20 percent of total beer sales in California.

With the drought squeezing water supplies across the state, brewers say it could hurt production and send prices higher.

At the fast-growing Figueroa Mountain Brewery in Buellton, the craft brewery says its green, water conservation business practices have helped avoid the pain of the drought, so far.

But the owners say that will change if the City of Buellton imposes more stringent water restrictions, as is happening in other communities, and that will impact production and price for consumers.

In the meantime, craft beer entrepreneurs like Byron Moles are plodding ahead looking at new technology that will reduce the amount of water needed to make his popular beers.

"We're looking at putting in a brand new brew house that is manufactured down in Moorpark by a company called IDD and they actually use about 20 percent less water", Moles says, "so if we get our hands on that brewhouse in the next few months I think that will help us through this drought period."

"Hopefully you know this year will be a great year for rain", Moles says, "I know farmers want it, brewers want it and the wineries want it."

To read more about the Santa Maria Brewing Company go to:


comments powered by Disqus

Top Local Stories