Liquid Thinking

Climate Change Vintages are Here

21st June 2023

Sustainable production and eco-friendly packaging often steal the headlines when it comes to drinks and climate change. But for consumers, they’ve been a smokescreen to the fact that the climate is already changing the way drinks taste. Now, brands are starting to make a selling point of these changes, being overt about their impact on the liquid. So, is climate change the new vintage? 

Droughts, wildfires, storms, late harvests, early harvests, floods; you name it… the weather is getting increasingly wild, increasingly more often. It’s an acceleration of shifting weather patterns that has seen even regions that are unused to such dramatic events, be greatly impacted by them. And for those that were already prone to natural disasters and extreme weather, the perils are now occurring more often, or at totally unexpected times. 

Over the past few weeks, it was rare and aggressive wildfires ripping through Halifax, Canada that helped turn the sky red over New York City. While in the Rocky Mountains, two days before the official start of summer, over 20cm fell on ski hills that would normally be gearing up to welcome mountain bikers. In the UK, this week it was revealed that our seas have received some of the most intense marine heat increases seen across the world, with a jump of 3 to 4⁰C above the average for this time of year. In short, that the weather is out of sync is becoming more and more evident. 

Drinks makers sounding the alarm

Drinks makers are already ringing the alarm bells about these dramatically changing conditions. Diageo has warned that water scarcity is threatening drinks production and is the most severe climate change-related threat to drinks makers. According to the company, it had 43 production sites in water-stressed regions across the world last year and has now set targets to replenish more water than it uses in these water-challenged regions by 2026. With water making up 90% of a beer, and 60% of a spirit, it’s a challenge all drinks makers will be faced with. 

However, some producers are already making climate change key to their liquids. California has long suffered from droughts. So perhaps it’s no surprise a Californian brewer has just teamed up with a water-recycling company to create a water-scarce beer. Well, that’s the sexy way of putting it. The less sexy way is to say Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company has worked with Epic Cleantec to create Epic OneWater Brew, a beer made from greywater collected from the showers, laundry and bathroom sinks in a San Francisco apartment building. Sadly, announced in May, it’s not for sale. It’s been produced to illustrate the possibilities, yet it is a fully drinkable, all-singing, all-dancing beer. However, it proves to other brewers exactly what’s possible. 

Making climate change key to new liquids

They’re not the first to rethink the quantities of water that beer demands in production. Two years ago, the Wild Beer Company created a beer that used no water at all in its recipe. In a collaboration with Brewgooder (a Scottish social enterprise on a mission to bring clean water to developing countries) the beer substituted water with whey, a by-product from a neighbouring dairy. The resulting beer, No Water, was aptly a milk stout. 

Wine is having to find a new path

But one of the most impacted industries from climate change is wine production. It’s not just droughts affecting its production. Many of the most notable regions from Spain to Australia, California to Chile, are prone to and have been severely affected by wildfires too. 

Smoke taint has become a huge issue for wine growers. Grapes exposed to smoke from nearby wine growers, absorb airborne compounds from burning wood, which then bind the sugars and molecules in the grape. Only once fermented do the grapes reveal an acidity, breaking down the sugars, and altering the taste profile. In fact, it’s said to give notes of chemicals, ashtrays, plastic and wet cigars. Yummy. 

There are numerous projects now afoot to see if the taste can be removed, or even the wine repurposed. Australia’s Simon Tolley Wines has entered into a research project to see if these grapes can instead be repurposed to make spirits, namely smoke-flavoured brandy or gin. The work forms part of a bigger University of Adelaide project studying the effects of climate change on brandy production. 

Climate change is the new vintage

However, things have gone a step further still. Are we facing an era that, in much the same way that vintages have long marked the changing weather conditions over years and years when it comes to wine, we will start seeing climate change used as a barometer too? LVMH thinks they might. 

It’s striking that some of the most interesting climate change innovation has come from Ruinart, the oldest Champagne brand. Its latest launch is a conversation, it says, between “the challenges of an evolving climate, while maintaining the excellence of the Maison’s champagnes”. It is, it says, recrafting and readapting its winemaking process to meet the changing climate. 

To that end, it has launched its new Blanc Singulier cuvée, intended to reflect the major changes that are impacting its vineyards, which are notably higher average temperatures and increasingly early harvests. To let them tell it: “Cellar Master Frédéric Panaïotis and his teams have identified the emergence of new aromatic profiles linked to this new climate paradigm. These differences have in particular led to new balances between the aromatic profiles – fruity, floral, vegetal, spice – coupled with an intense expression and particularly powerful texture. Now Ruinart is revealing these new characteristics, adapting its savoir-faire while retaining the Maison’s distinctive signature, culminating in the creation of a cuvée named Blanc Singulier.”

Futureproof taste profiles

Perhaps the most radical take on adapting to climate change, liquid wise, the brand wants to let the “atypical climate profile of the year shape a distinctive aromatic expression”. It’s a bold but logical step forward. 

But it’s not just brands. Bartenders too are now creating menus that are a moment in time when it comes to ingredients. The Artesian bar’s Futureproof menu looks at ingredients of the future, adding unlikely produce to classic serves, from soil in a dry martini, to sweet potato in a spritz. The ingredients it has identified and adapted for use, aims to showcase ingredients of the future. 

Drinks makers preoccupation with the environment is perhaps late in its urgency. But for those producers at the forefront, there’s an emerging understanding that to take consumers on a journey with them and help them better understand the true impact of and increasing challenges that climate change presents, the story needs to be told through the liquid itself. Demonstrating climate change as a liquid profile, as a moment in time, will become an increasingly powerful tool for brands, and a vital source of innovation. 


Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

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