A Serious Beverage Among Friends: Organic Beer

Nicely done, now here is a great way to welcome the weekend. As part of the burgeoning demand for organic products, which has lately grown to become a $300 million industry, the demand for organic beer has helped bring beer back into its own as a carefully crafted beverage of choice. – Cheers!

Nicely done, now here is a great way to welcome the weekend. As part of the burgeoning demand for organic products, which has lately grown to become a $300 million industry, the demand for organic beer has helped bring beer back into its own as a carefully crafted beverage of choice. – Cheers!

Beer brewed before the advent of industrial farming was handcrafted and organic, of course, if only because farmers did not depend on chemicals to raise their crops or industrial machinery to brew their beer. The industrial revolution seems to have fostered an incredible thirst for goods, including beer, which soon became a mass-produced item. But with the reemergence of microbreweries, organic beer is experiencing a resurgence, too.

Case in point, during a recent bottle-return trip to my neighborhood spirits shop I came across two new organic beer choices from Butte Creek Brewing Company, Chico, California. I happily purchased a cold six-pack of both — an organic ale, and a porter. Both were delicious.

Butte Creek Brewing Company came into being five years ago and began producing an organic beer a couple of years after, says Tom Atmore, of Butte Creek Brewing Company. “Butte Creek got into organic beer because a good friend was running an organic winery (Larocca Winery) in the area” and inspired the brewers, remembers Atmore. At the same time, a supplier was offering organic hops and barley. The timing was perfect.

The location of the brewery was also fortuitous. “Chico, California is a very health-conscious area,” says Atmore. “People are definitely taking steps toward organic products and [yet] people are always ready to try a new beer.”

The petite northern California brewery produces 3,500 barrels of beer per year — 2,500 of which are the organic ales. It is the organic ales that are having the most success. They are now available in sixteen states. Butte Creek has plans to produce another organic beer, but Atmore won’t go into details about it.

In Olympia, Washington, Fish Brewing Company has acknowledged the demand for organics with Fish Tale Organic Amber Ale. Brewed in a building that once housed a knitting needle factory and the regional headquarters for the Civilian Conservation Corps, the zesty brew is certified organic by Oregon Tilth and the California Organic Foods Act of 1990.

Fish Brewing introduced their organic brew this past spring and already have brewed more than 1,180 barrels. Their most popular beer, the Wild Salmon Pale Ale, has filled 1,360 barrels so far this year. Fish Brewing Company also produces a Mudshark Porter and a Detonator Dopplebock, among others.

Going organic was a ‘natural’ for the activist brewing company. “We try to be a part of the community within the environment,” Miller affirms. For Fish Brewing Company that means supporting organic agriculture and other environmental causes. Fish Brewing also does a lot of cause marketing — especially for the beloved salmon. “Ideally, we would do everything organically, but to take our India Pale Ale organic would change the recipe and flavor,” says Scott Miller, factotum general for Fish Brewing Company. Perhaps in the future, they’ll find a way to go all-organic. They are certainly off to a good start. Fish Brewing Company beers can be found in general distribution in Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Oregon. Future distribution plans include moving into northern California.

Lakefront Brewing in Milwaukee is producing another organic beer, an ESB (Extra Special Bitter). Lakefront has been in the brewing business for a number of years but only began making an organic version five years ago.

“It was our desire to go green and help support the organic farmers that sold us on making an organic beer,” says vice-president Jim Klisch. Lakefront Brewing is certified by the O.C.I.A, the Organization for Crop Improvement Association.

“If organic farming is going to be successful, then the products have to be there,” Klisch says. Lakefront also is planning on brewing an organic barley wine, the Lakefront Barley Wine Style Ale, in the next few months.

“As far as I know, we are the only brewery in the world to make an organic barley wine,” Klisch boasts. Barley wine, he explains, is a very thick beer with a high alcohol content. It is normally sipped after dinner.

Klisch comments, however, that “people are still suspicious of organic products. One of the most common questions we get at the brewery is ‘Is it safe to drink?’” He laughs at that.

Klisch and his brewer use traditional recipes that brewers have followed for centuries. Even so, “it isn’t a cake walk, going organic,” Klisch reports. His brewery, hops, barley, and other materials must be from certified organic producers. His vats and instruments used in the actual brewing must be maintained organic. Even the cleaning agents need to be organic. On a yearly basis, inspectors come into the breweries to check records and machines for organic sustainability.

Still, some brave new brewers meet the challenge — and are glad they did. Chicago’s Goose Island Brewing Company found it difficult, at first, to market organic beer and the ideals that go with it. Yet John Hall, president of Goose Island Brewing, says that within the past few years, he has seen the demand for organic beer rise steadily. While Mother Goose, their first effort, is no longer the organic beer on tap, Hall and his clan still are producing organic beer certified by the Oregon Tilth. Goose Island has teamed up with the original organic brewing maverick, Panorama Brewing Company, to produce and sell Wolaver’s Organic Ales on a regional level.

Since pairing with Wolaver’s, Hall has seen more and more people ordering organic. Of the nearly 5,000 barrels of beer that Goose Island brews yearly 2,000 are organic, made from the Wolaver’s recipes.

The Beginnings of Wolaver’s

One night in the mid-1990s, Robert Wolaver and family were sitting around trying to determine what type of small organic family business should get their investment of time and money. Sent to procure some refreshments, Joe Glorfield, Wolaver’s son-in-law, discovered Golden Promise, an organic beer from Scotland. By the time the six-pack was finished, the decision had been made. After running a series of focus groups and doing some investigating, the family realized there was a niche market for organic beer.

Panorama Brewing is now the largest organic brewery in the country — without ever actually brewing a drop of the golden nectar. Glorfield, president and co-founder, admits Panorama Brewing Company partners with local microbreweries like Goose Island to brew their recipes, which include Pale Ale, Brown Ale, and India Pale Ale.

“The microbreweries have helped us enter a lot of markets. It’s a great association,” Glorfield says. John Hall agrees. By combining assets, Hall can concentrate on producing great tasting organic beer without dwindling their financial resources trying to market it. “We try to stay out of the actual brewing process and let [the brewers] do what they do best,” Glorfield explains. “We focus on sales, marketing, and some distribution.”

The partnership is also good on an environmental level, Glorfield says, because they, in California, do not have to ship Wolaver’s all across the country from one central brewery. “That is important not just for environmental reasons but because it is better for the beer,” he says.

Wolaver’s is so popular that Whole Foods Market asked them to create Lamar Street Pale Ale organic beer, branded for Whole Foods. Like the Wolaver’s line, Lamar Street is regionally brewed and distributed. The name Lamar Street is a recognition of the street in Austin where Whole Foods began in 1979. In a few months, Wolaver’s also will be coming out with an organic hard cider. They plan a heavier stout for next year.

All this means that the next time you are thirsting for a cold, refreshing brew, made only from the finest ingredients Mother Nature can supply, you might just be able to find one. If there’s not an organic beer in sight, your inquiry may convince your local brewery to go organic. And while you’re at it, make sure to ask for organic beers at your favorite party store. If they find out you want it, they’ll get it to you. And you can drink to a better world.

Author: Gretchen Van Monette

News Service: Conscious Choice

URL: http://www.consciouschoice.com/food/organicbeer1310.html

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