In the age of climate change, trouble is brewing

Posted: May 23, 2014

EVAN FRITZ, the head brewer at Manayunk Brewing Co., was smiling but looking kind of shell-shocked one afternoon this week. Around him lay twisted pipe, a disassembled boiler, stacks of muddy beer cans, a pile of electronic point-of-sale equipment.

All ruined.

"I keep joking that this storm didn't even have a name," he said. "What are we going to put on the plaque?"

That would be the marker to show how high the waters from the May 1 flood rose. Irene in 2011 and Floyd in 1999 - the high-water marks from those devastating hurricanes are remembered with small signs behind the bar.

This one, the storm with no name, came with no real warning. It dumped 5 inches of rain in one afternoon.

Co-owner Mike Rose said he was certain the seawall he'd built after Irene - the one that stands a good 13 feet above the Schuylkill canal - would hold. They closed the sturdy floodgates but didn't pull up the carpet or move the cash registers to the second floor.

He said the water crested at just over 16 feet, higher than either Irene or Superstorm Sandy.

The brewpub, whose mainstay is a raspberry ale called Schuylkill Punch, got pounded with an uppercut.

"I never saw anything like it," Rose said.

The mud, the cleanup, the broken equipment, the lost wages for more than 120 workers while the restaurant hustles to reopen - this is what brewing beer looks like in the age of climate change.

As President Obama said earlier this month, we're not talking about "some distant problem of the future. . . . Whether it means increased flooding, greater vulnerability to drought, more severe wildfires - all these things are having an impact on Americans as we speak."

Indeed, as Manayunk gurgled in the east, Stone Brewing Co. just outside of San Diego gasped for air.

The makers of Arrogant Bastard were forced from their facility last week as the so-called Cocos Fire blazed a path to their doorstep. A stop-action video of the approaching flames, shot from the brewery's rooftop, went viral. The brewery, and at least two others nearby that were evacuated, luckily escaped damage.

The episode prompted California Gov. Jerry Brown to declare that his state is on the "front lines" of climate change.

Flooding and fires - these are sudden, catastrophic signs of our changing climate. Other, more systemic climate challenges now threaten brewers. For example:

* In Northern California, the drought is endangering water supplies at several breweries, including Lagunitas. County water authorities have told the brewery it may have to switch from fresh river water to mineral-laden groundwater.

Lagunitas head brewer Jeremy Marshall told NPR, "It would be like brewing with Alka-Seltzer."

* In England, where warmer weather has been threatening the healthy growth of hops, farmers and scientists have been forced to develop new, hardier and more costly breeds. In Germany, severe weather patterns that spark freak hailstorms have destroyed entire hop harvests.

* In New Zealand and Australia, agriculture authorities worry that warmer weather has reduced barley output. Meanwhile, barley prices have skyrocketed worldwide as many farmers switch to other, more profitable biofuel crops - an indirect impact of climate change.

At Manayunk Brewing, it took almost three weeks to restore full electrical power to the facility. When Fritz finally got the pumps online, he said, "you could just hear the motors were not happy."

The boiler, which supplies hot water, was washed out and must be rebuilt.

The bright tanks, where finished beer is conditioned and stored before kegging, lifted from their mooring and fell into a twisted heap.

Rubber gaskets ripped in the surging waters. Pipes fell and twisted beyond repair. Electronic valves were fried.

The bar floated away.

"Everywhere I turn," Fritz said, "there's mud and dirt."

Rose brought in plumbers and other contractors to make repairs, plus several restaurant workers to help clean up.

He hopes to get the place open in time for Philly Beer Week and the Philly Cycling Classic next week.

Still, you can't help but wonder in the age of climate change: How many floods can this brewpub endure? Down by the river, it's only a matter of time till Manayunk gets slugged with another Schuylkill Punch.


"Joe Sixpack" is written by Don Russell. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at www.joesixpack.net. Email: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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