Have another cold one in support of the birds.

Bird-friendly coffee has long been available for many years.  The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center advertisers their coffee as the only 100% organic and shade-grown coffee but there are many other sources for bird-friendly coffee.

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has published an excellent article on the advantages of shade-grown coffee, including this excerpt:

“In study after study, habitat on shade-grown coffee farms outshone sun-grown coffee farms with increased numbers and species of birds as well as and improved bird habitat, soil protection/erosion control, carbon sequestration, natural pest control and improved pollination. While sun-grown systems can have higher yields, the shaded farms easily outperform them in sustainability measurements with the trees providing an array of ecological services that offer both direct and indirect “income/payback” to farmers and the environment.”

But what about another popular drink – beer?
Just to be clear, we are not talking about feeding beer to birds, but about the ingredients in beer, much like the coffee beans used to make coffee.

Paul Baicich in the latest issue of his Great Birding Projects newsletter suggests that bird-friendly beer might be around the corner. Here’s his insight into the possibility.

Is bird-friendly beer possible? Something you might not have considered…

It’s not as outlandish as you might think. A “bird-friendly beer” really depends on how you look at beer ingredients and if they have content that actually helps birds.

Well, we are in luck. And whether you are a beer fan or not, this may be of interest.

Ingredients in beer may vary culturally in such countries as the Netherlands, Japan, Mexico, Great Britain, and Belgium, but in the U.S. most brands of beer have used barley as the main ingredient in brewing. It’s the “adjunct” ingredients that may now draw our attention. “Adjunct” refers to any beer ingredient other than malted barley used to contribute sugar for fermentation (including sugar itself) in making beers.

Mass market beers, and even craft beers, use these adjunct ingredients.  They can include wheat, rye, oats, corn, and rice. Of these, one element surely stands out: rice.

Since American rice in the United States is the most bird-compatible, mass-produced, popular crop in the country, it deserves special consideration. Although the total acreage of rice grown in the United States (c. 2.8 million acres) may be less than that used by some other crops – corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and sorghum, for example – rice is actually critical for our wetland birds.

Today, American rice farms, many of them family farms, serve as “surrogate wetlands” to supplement natural wetlands that have decreased over time. Rice production creates a modest but essential replacement ecosystem, helping to ameliorate losses of native wetland habitat. It’s important for waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, rails, and many other species.

Separating rice at processing mills results in “head rice” (whole-grain) and different grades of broken kernels, or “brewer’s rice.” In the past, most broken rice in the U.S. went to the beer industry. Today, most of the rice going into beer is whole-grain, while the dog-food industry uses the much of the broken rice.

Used properly in production, rice lightens the color and body of beer. It has been used much like corn has in beer, but it helps produce a drier product. Rice is very much about clean and dry drinkability. This may not be to your own particular taste, but pale lager still dominates the U.S. beer market, and grains that make beer lighter seem to be essential for most makers of pale lager.

Currently, Budweiser uses rice in its production. Indeed, the Budweiser bottle labels announce the rice content: “Brewed by our original process from the choicest hops, rice, and best barley malt.”  Among the larger brewers, Coors also uses rice, reportedly, less so.  But with some of the biggest beer brands in the country – consider Budweiser, Miller and Coors – now owned by foreign investors, the future of beer here is still in flux. At the same time, local craft beers continue to grow, with some of them using rice in the brewing process.

So far, no major brand has pitched itself as a bird-friendly beer, but perhaps it’s only time before that happens. And, yes, experts say that one could probably make beer from 100 percent rice, but it probably would be very bland!

Consider rice and wetland birds the next time you order up a brew or go shopping for a six-pack.

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