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Choosing an Organic Beer

In this day and age, an organic movement is in place toward all things, well, organic. Almost everything is available as an organic choice: coffee, fruits and vegetables, juice, and wine. Organic beer seems only the natural progression of things.

The rise of organic beer

The modern organic beer movement traces its roots to Brauerei Pinkus-Müller in Münster, Germany, where the first all-organic beer was brewed in 1979. It came as the result of Pinkus-Müller’s disappointment in the declining quality of conventional malt. He found organic malt to be a superior substitute, and his brewery switched to all-organic brewing a little more than a decade later.

Germany now boasts about 30 organic breweries, and Pinkus-Müller’s organic beer eventually influenced brewmasters abroad. In 1997, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established the National Organic Program, which opened the door for Morgan Wolaver to found the first all-organic brewing company, Wolaver’s Organic Ales, in Santa Cruz, California.

Sorting through organic beer certifications

The USDA standards for organic beer are the same as those for organic foods: Ingredients must be grown without toxic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers in soil free from chemicals for at least three years, and genetically modified ingredients (or GMOs) are a no-no.

A GMO is a genetically modified organism. GMOs are common in food production, and they include genetically modified corn, which may appear in the brewing industry. The certified-organic label is a guarantee that the product doesn’t contain GMOs.

Organic certification for beer is broken down to two primary levels:

  • 100 percent organic: This certification is the highest level and requires that the beer be brewed entirely from organically produced ingredients and nothing else.

  • Organic: The next level, organic, comprises the largest number of beers. Organic beers must be brewed from 95 percent organically produced ingredients. The remaining 5 percent of ingredients must not be available in organic form in the quality and quantity needed.

Keep in mind that this organic certification process is kind of a work in progress; USDA regulations are likely to continue changing.

Why go organic?

So why drink organic beer? You won’t find any real financial incentive for drinking organic beer because it’s usually every bit as pricey as craft beers. The real incentive to drink organic is rooted in the deep satisfaction of knowing that you’re not placing an added burden on the environment. A commitment to sustainable agriculture and the environment is what drinking organic beer is really all about:

  • Drinking organic beer can contribute to your overall health and well-being.

  • Drinking organically brewed beer contributes to a better environment.

  • Drinking organic beer supports the organic farming industry, which contributes to the amount of land that’s farmed in a chemical-free and sustainable way.

Beware of the urban myth that organic beers are less likely to produce hangovers due to their lack of chemicals — not true!

A list of organic beers

If you’re interested in trying some organic brews, here’s a list of beers to start with:

A Sampling of Organic Beers
Beer Brewery Country
Foret DuPont Belgium
Jade Bénifontaine France
Pinkus Organic Münster Alt Pinkus-Müller Germany
Golden Promise Caldonian U.K.
Organic Best Ale Samuel Smith U.K.
Chocolate Stout Bison U.S.
Cru D’Or North Coast U.S.
Elliott Bay (10 varieties) Elliott Bay U.S.
Fish Tale Amber Ale Fish U.S.
Green Lakes Deschutes U.S.
Laurelwood Free Range Red Ale Hopworks U.S.
Mothership Wit New Belgium U.S.
Mud Puddle PNW Red Ale Oakshire U.S.
Naughty Nellie’s Golden Ale Pike U.S.
Oceanic Organic Saison Kailua Kona U.S.
Organic Barley Wine Lakefront U.S.
Organic ESB Lakefront U.S.
Organic Zwickel Bier Pale Ale Redrock U.S.
Squatters Organic Amber Ale Utah Brewers Cooperative U.S.
Stone Mill Anheuser-Busch U.S.
Wild Hop Anheuser-Busch U.S.
Woody Organic IPA Roots Organic U.S.
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