A long-standing relationship between farmers and brewers might be spent.
Rather than pay to dispose of tons of wet hops, brewers often offer spent grains to farmers for use in cow feed. However, the Food and Drug Administration recently proposed regulations that would make this process more expensive by requiring stricter audits, pathogen testing, hops drying, and packaging.
"I don't know what we'd do if a truck weren't able to take it to a farm," said Ben Chambers, quality manager for Maryland-based Flying Dog Brewery, in an interview with Politico. "It would probably end up in a landfill."
Larger breweries would need to spend millions of dollars adapting hops disposal processes to meet the standards. The Brewers Association, which represents 2,000 U.S. breweries and many more home brewers, estimates that 80 percent of its members donate spent grains to farmers.
Part of the Obama administration's 2011 food safety reforms, the regulations are meant to protect cattle and consumers, but Chris Thorne, vice president of communications for the Beer Institute, insists that hops donation is already safe.
Apart from using food-grade ingredients, brewers kill lingering bacteria by boiling everything involved.
"This is a practice that's been going on for centuries without any incident or risk to human health," Thorne said.
Although cows' happy hours are under threat, beer lovers will still be able to enjoy a bottle or five if the reforms pass—at a cost. Beef, milk, and alcohol prices are all expected to rise as cattle's spirits deflate.