It seemed like ages ago when organic products started making an appearance in the media and markets worldwide. Since then, the public view has shifted, warranting the need for producers to produce certified organic products to stay ahead of the market. The negative impact of traditional farming methods has made the public weary for their own health, and also the effect on the environment. And thus, we have the production of organic beer.
What does organic mean anyway? Food is certified organic if the food production process complies with organic farming standards from start to finish. For this certification, a product must be made from natural sources, and free of food additives and other things like pesticides and fertilizers. So, what is organic beer?
The traditional ingredients for making beer include malt, yeast, hops, and water. To produce organic beer, all of these ingredients, including everything involved in the beer-making process, must have organic certifications. Other than using organic ingredients, the rest of the beer-making process is similar to that of producing traditional beer.
One can argue that organic beer, like many other organic foods, are better than their non-organic counterparts. It is not just a matter of health but also the environment, as farming non-organic food sources have a negative environmental impact.
During the organic movement, it has come to light that most farms use non-organic processes for farming their produce. And this includes grain and hop farms, who use toxic fertilizers and pesticides to make their products more viable. Besides the fact that these harmful chemicals reach the bodies of end-users, the chemicals used also have a significant impact on the surrounding air and soil.
Conventional farming methods have been heavily criticized and faulted for leaving massive carbon footprints that could be the cause of our current global warming crisis. Chemicals used in traditional farming are related to high emission of greenhouse gases, soil erosion, air and water pollution, disruption of biodiversity, and the list goes on.
Many large brewing companies began efforts to reduce their ecological footprint, ensuring that they use ethical and organic methods to produce their products. Although not every brewery is adopting this new method, today, beer drinkers can enjoy a variety of sustainable choices from pilsners and IPA, to stouts. Some breweries adopt these new methods due to legitimate concern for the environment, while others realize that they need it to grow or sustain their businesses.
Levels of organic certification
Nonetheless, the USDA has a specific labeling system for different organic classifications of beer. The highest class of certification is 100% organic, which is given to fully organic products with certified organic ingredients and are free from pesticides.
Second, you have organic products, which typically consists of 95% organic ingredients. Then, there is also a ‘made with organic’ class, where the majority 70% of the product is made with organic ingredients, but these products do not get the USDA organic seal.
For ‘made with organic’ beers, often, the only organic ingredient used by brewers is organic malt as they can easily be sourced. Organic hops, on the other hand, are much harder to come by.
Hops are usually used by brewers as a natural preservative to make beers last longer and stay fresh after productions. Unfortunately, hop plants are not the easiest for farmers to grow as they are fragile towards mold, mildew, and other pests.
It’s why conventional farmers will use pesticides and herbicides to protect their crops from perishing. Only until recently, the USDA did not specify the use of organic hops for beers to be certified organic. But this has since changed, and there have been many organic hops farms every since.
The Rise of Organic Beer
The first two breweries to release an organic beer brand were American companies Lakefront Brewing Co. and Eel River Brewing Co. back in the late 1990s. Lakefront originates from Milwaukee and is today considered one of the pioneers for organic beer, and continues to be industry leaders in championing environmental concerns. Eel River is also an OG in the organic beer industry, releasing its first 100% organic beer in 1999.
Since then, the market for organic beer has seen tremendous growth. In 2003, US organic beer sales were at $9 million. Many years later, in 2014, the figures increased ten-fold to $92 million in 2014. 2003 was a significant time, as it only then did the USDA tighten legislation on organic beer.
In 2003, 2,000 people attended the first North American Organic Brewers Festival in Portland, Oregon. The festival highlighted organic beers from 25 breweries. A couple of years later, the festival is now known as the Organic Beer Fest and has considerably grown to receive 12,000 people in 2015, with participation from 36 organic breweries. Year after year, the number of attendees and participating breweries are increasing significantly.
The question on everyone’s mind about organic beers is the same – does it taste the same as regular beers? Taste is subjective to every individual. However, seeing as the only thing different is the production of the ingredients in making beer, one can argue that there should be no discrepancies in taste.
Additionally, if you think about the long terms effects for the environment as more breweries adopt organic farming and production methods, organic beer seems like a logical choice moving forward. So, will you switch to organic beer soon?