ORGANIC BEER: WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU?
By Carol Milano
Few of us head for the nearest health food store to pick up a six-pack, but today's expanding selection of organic beers would actually fit right in.
What makes a beer "organic"? It has to contain ingredients -- like grapes, barley, hops or apples -- which were grown without any toxic fertilizers, drying agents, chemical seed treatments or "cides" (insecticides, fungicides or herbicides.) Enthusiasts believe organic beer is healthier for your body, preserves the environment, and even tastes better than traditional brews.
Who Makes Organic Beer
All over North America, more and more brewers are going organic. Wolaver's Organic Ales, America's first certified organic beers, were originally made in Santa Cruz, California. In 1999, Panorama Brewing Company formed a partnership with Otter Creek Brewing of Middlebury, Vermont to make their three styles of Wolaver's hand-crafted organic beers available throughout the Northeast. Dedicated to local craft brewing and absolute freshness, Wolaver's offers a classic Pale Ale; a smooth and toasty Brown Ale with hints of cherry and black currant; and a well-hopped India Pale Ale with a flowery, spicy aroma.
Canada's first certified organic lager, NatureLand, is brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water from Pacific Western Brewery's own artesian well, in Prince George, British Columbia. Introduced in 1997, crisp-tasting NatureLand is made of malted barley from Saskatchewan and Bavarian hops.
Dogfish Head Brewing Company in Rehoboth, Delaware, makes seven different ales, including Chicory Stout, a rich dark beer with such unusual ingredients as roasted chicory, organic Mexican coffee, and licorice root. Brewed with two types of whole-leaf hops, its grains include wheat and oatmeal. The seven-year-old brewery calls its hand-made recipes "blissfully inefficient."
In Chico, California, Butte Creek Brewing Company crafts an amber Organic Ale and a smooth, full-bodied Organic Porter. Its 22-ounce full-flavored traditional India Pale Ale is a "big bottle of big beer with big hops," fans say. Farther north in California, Ukiah Brewing Company makes 12 organic beers, including golden ales, lagers and stouts.
Why Drink Organic Beer?
The chemicals used to grow the ingredients for traditional brewing can actually pollute the surrounding water, air and farmland. Many pesticides are harmful to humans, too. Drinking organic beer means avoiding all of these damaging substances.
So far, organic beers are made by local micro-breweries, which are naturally eco-friendly. They tend to use large, refillable containers called "growlers." Customers stop by to fill theirs, which reduces unnecessary packaging (and they get a discount, too.) Buying locally reduces the need for long-distance transport. Craft beers are generally stored in glass bottles or cardboard packages that are recyclable in many areas.
Most importantly, organic beers taste great. For example, Butte Creek Organic Porter won a bronze medal at the 2002 California Brewers Festival; Dogfish Chicory Stout took two gold medals at the Chicago Real Ale Festival in 1998.
Organic Brewers' Views
Some organic brewers have a long connection to the land or to environmental concerns. The Wolavers, for example, had practiced chemical-free farming in Tennessee for nearly a century. To Joe Glorfield, founder/president of Panorama Brewing Company, "Using organic ingredients guarantees that our product is entirely free of chemicals. As a family, we share a strong commitment to the benefits of organic farming and sustainability."
Others also realize it's a smart business decision. Back in 1992, Pacific Western Brewing Company started researching the way to brew a certified organic product. "The organic designation has proven popular among consumers who demand the best. This is brewing to the toughest standards imaginable," declares Kazuko Komatsu, the brewery's president.
For Tom Atmore and Bill Beeghley, partners at Butte Creek, their Organic Ale and Porter "is our way of supporting a rapidly-growing awareness of earth-friendly agriculture. Searching out the finest in certified, organically-grown hops and barley, we are very pleased with the quality of the available ingredients, and the end result."
To find out which locally-made organic beers are available in your area, visit www.BeerTown.org. You can even try brewing your own organic beer, with ingredients and supplies from Seven Bridges Cooperative (800-768-4409; www.breworganic.org.) Whether you buy it or brew it, the right organic recipe can literally lift your spirits:
"Besides roasted chicory and organic Mexican coffee, each bottle of Chicory Stout has a bit of 'nature's Prozac' (St. John's Wort), which alternative health fans use to ease mild depression," confides Sam Calagione, founder/president of Dogfish Head Brewery.
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