A British Columbia scientist is hoping to use a few cold ones to get the public thinking about really big cold ones — glaciers.

Brian Menounos, a glaciologist with the University of Northern British Columbia, has teamed up with Kokanee beer for a project that will result in a better understanding of what's happening to western glaciers as well as to brew a special batch of suds.

Kokanee is helping fund research into snowfall and melting rates on the Zillmer Glacier in British Columbia's Cariboo Mountains.

In return, the Labatt's brand gets about five litres of water melted from snow that fell in 1962 — the year Kokanee was founded — to help brew a special, limited run of beer.

"I do see a good opportunity to help get the word out," said Menounos.

"If there's an opportunity to disseminate what we do to the general public and have them become more interested and more concerned about the environment, then I think that's a good thing."

Western Canadian glaciers shrinking

Depth in a glacier can be dated like rings on a tree, using thin layers of dust deposited on the snow every summer. Menounos and his colleagues have been studying the fate of glaciers in the Rocky Mountains for years.

"Which areas are melting fastest, what's the quantity of melt, what's the loss of ice from these glaciers? That helps land managers, allocation of water, things of that sort."

The fate of the glaciers affects tourism, aquatic ecosystems, agriculture, forestry, and water quality in many downstream Canadian cities.

Last spring, Menounos was a co-author on a paper that concluded Western Canada's glaciers are likely to shrink by about 70 per cent from 2005 levels by the end of the century.

The ice level in the Zillmer Glacier drops an average of 60 to 70 centimetres a year, Menounos said.

When an ad agency for Labatt's called him up to ask if they could get a bit of meltwater from 1962, he saw an opportunity.

"I'm not really in the ad business, but I did see there was an opportunity to have a partnership with a company if they truly supported research."

Kokanee brews limited-edition beer

Kokanee contributed $10,000 (most of Menounos's research is funded by the Columbia Basin Trust). The five litres of meltwater will be used to make Deja Brew, said Kokanee brewmaster Brad Ziefflie.

"It's a bit of throwback beer to give people a bit of heritage, to take people back to the era when Kokanee was first produced in the Kootenays."

It won't taste any different, but will be sold in cans that reflect the brand's original package.

"Because we were able to grab some of the remaining ice from Dr. Menounos, we were able to, in spirit, look at recreating one of the first-ever batches of Kokanee," said Candy Lee, Kokanee brand manager.

Such partnerships can be useful, said David Robinson of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

"There's lots of researchers working with the private sector and there's nothing wrong with that."

The key is transparency, accountability and academic freedom, said Robinson. And the research should be driven by scientific, not commercial, priorities.