Increasing beer prices? Blasphemy!

In case you haven’t heard, we have an imminent crisis on our hands.

The news-savvy college student has likely heard that food prices are on the rise, to the point that Third World governments are being overthrown to protest the unavailability of life’s most basic commodity.

But a threat to one of the most sacred pillars of the college experience has subsequently emerged from these developments, unbeknownst to many of us who take this pillar for granted.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about the increasing price of beer.

The cause of this price hike is complex to some and tragic to all, and it can’t be placed squarely upon any one source. The Bush administration, American farmers and alternative fuels have all dirtied their hands in this atrocity.

First, the push for corn ethanol use has had a hand not only in the price of beer going up, but in the general increase in food prices as well. More acreage is being devoted to growing corn, which is then being converted to fuel. Aside from all of the inherent fallacies of the American push for corn ethanol use, the incentive for growing corn has caused many ranchers to rely on other feed grains – including barley – to feed their livestock.

This newfound demand has contributed to a 57 percent jump since last year in the price of barley, which is up to $22 for a 50-pound bag in some parts of the country.

Another contributing factor is that the ingredients that come from hops can be stored for years, which causes the price of hops to fall and can put smaller farmers out of business. This aspect of the beer industry is naturally cyclical, and prices inevitably rise again once reserves are depleted and incentive for growing hops is restored.

But a peak reached in 1996 caused a low in 2004, and acreage commitments to hops in the years following have not been enough to stave off a shortage this year that will likely last into 2009. Hops prices have skyrocketed as a result, with some varieties becoming entirely unavailable and others being sold for more than $20 a pound. Last year, the more common types of hops would typically be sold for $3 to $5 a pound.

This shortage has hit the American microbrewer the hardest, as these specialty brewers account for less than 4 percent of U.S. beer production yet use almost 10 percent of the hops, according to industry statistics.

All of this, coupled with higher costs of transportation, processing and the non-ingredient materials associated with beer production (such as aluminum, paper and timber) have created a perfect storm of heightened beer prices.

The result: Prices of beer in general have risen 3 percent compared to a year ago, the biggest increase in 2 1/2 years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Smaller microbrews, such as Firestone Walker’s Union Jack India Pale Ale, can cost as much as $9.99 for a six-pack, up 40 percent from last year.

With food prices growing at the fastest rate in 17 years, college students may soon be forced to choose between where they get their sustenance: traditional food or a more frosty, refreshingly carbonated alternative.

Where do your loyalties lie?

As college students, we should be particularly up in arms about the implications that such price increases can have on our most cherished extracurricular activity.

Gas may be $4 a gallon, eggs and milk may be up 13 percent, and we may be fighting the most tragic war of our time, but the price of beer going up?! Blasphemy!

Mr. President, we urgently need your intervention to put a stop to this tragedy and everything that could fall out from it. America may have plenty of pressing circumstances staring it in the face, but where will we be if we’re unable to get sloppy drunk in order to forget about them?

The situation is especially dire for us college students, as much of our educational experience hinges on the availability of cheaply priced, abundantly inebriating beer. Without beer, we will have a nation of college students who have nothing to tempt them away from studying and provide them with countless opportunities that wouldn’t arise if not for an impaired thought process.

Is that something that we’re prepared to handle?

Mr. President, the time to act is now.