Beer sales have slowed down in the United States over the past several years. It’s hard to believe when there's so much great beer being produced, but it’s true. Over the past five years, sales have declined. That decline slowed a bit between 2012 and 2013, when sales stayed relatively stagnant, according to Market Watch.

Although overall sales are down, the sales of craft beer have been steadily on the rise. In 2013, they rose 17 percent. I imagine when the 2014 numbers are out, they'll be just as positive. Over the past decade, the number of American craft breweries has risen 93 percent, and there are more opening all the time. It seems Americans haven’t lost their love of beer, they’ve just shifted that love to the varied styles that craft beers offer.

Craft breweries may have difficulty obtaining the barley they need to make the beer that Americans desire. There was a barley shortage caused by heavy rains in Idaho and Montana right before harvest season. It damaged much of the crop, and much of the barley that would have gone for beer will now end up as cattle feed.

Barley is the ingredient in beer that gives it the malt flavor. When barley is sprouted, it produces sugars that mix with the yeast and create alcohol. When sprouted barley is dried, the intensity of the flavor is controlled by how high the temperature is raised during the drying process. Barley is an important ingredient for many craft varieties of beer.

Craft brewers are usually particular about the ingredients they use. Many of them use, if not as local as possible, at least American-grown ingredients. A shortage of American-grown barley could affect the beers that get made and the prices of those beers. 

If you’re one of the people who may be drinking less beer, but choosing craft when you do drink beer, understand that your beer may cost a little more in the near future. Brewers can pass on the cost to their consumers or choose not to, but if the price of your favorite craft beer does go up, it’s good to know why that may be. 

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Barley shortage could cause rise in beer prices
Strong storms right before harvesting damaged much of the U.S. barley crop, and brewers may have to pay a higher premium for American barley.