My name is Stephanie Zonis, and welcome to Organic Matter for January, 2006.
We’re Only Here for the (Organic) Beer
Beer is an ancient beverage. Records documenting the existence of beer date back well over five thousand years, and it’s likely been around for rather longer than that. Beer that’s been certified as organic, however, is a much more recent phenomenon. Considering the wide availability of conventionally-produced beers in most areas of the world, and the fact that both conventional and organic beers are produced from the same few ingredients, why would anyone bother to search for organic beer?
Some claim that organic beer tastes better. That’s difficult to judge on any kind of objective basis, although individuals certainly can make their own comparisons between organic and conventional brews. There are brewers who insist that organic ingredients result in a better beer, according to a June, 2005 article in The Organic Report, as the organic malts and hops are free of chemical residues that might otherwise hinder the process of fermentation. Some say, too, that organic hops provide the resulting beer with a better and stronger aroma.
Aside from any possible superior taste or aroma, the chief reasons for taking the time to find organic beers are the same as those for searching out any other organic food:
Beer is a grain-based product, of course. Organically-produced grain is free of toxic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers; no GMO’s (genetically-modified organisms) can be used in organic farming.
There is substantial evidence that organic agriculture limits soil erosion and reduces ground-water pollution; both of these, in turn, help in lessening farming’s impact on wildlife and the environment.
And organic farming is valuable for helping to preserve what’s rapidly becoming a lost way of life: the small family farm. Countless small, family-owned farms have been driven out of existence by big agribusiness, especially in the U.S. Organic farms are typically smaller than conventional farming operations, but their yields and products can be sufficient to keep a family farm going.
There’s another significant aspect to organic beers, as well. Most commercial brewers of organic beers (including brewpubs) are smaller, local businesses, often family-owned or-run. Drinking their beers can support your community! Incidentally, when I say organic “beers,” it should be pointed out that that term includes the beer family—that is to say, lagers, ales, porters, and stouts, as well as beers. You may have fewer choices among organic beers than you do among conventional brews now, but the organics are slowly catching up in both number and variety. When searching for an organic brew, the internet is a great place to start, especially given sites such as www.beeractivist.com/drinkbeer.htm, which lists a handful or two of places producing organic and/or zero-waste and/or solar-powered beers, both in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.
I have a number of friends who are home brewers, and they produce an interesting (and occasionally very unusual) range of beers. If you fall into this category, or would like to, why not try producing an organic beer? Organic ingredients for home brewing are available, although you might have to look a bit harder than you would for conventional ingredients. A couple of things to note:
There is debate about the uniformity and quality of available organic malts. Some claim that they lack uniformity, require longer bottle conditioning, and produce a beer with a far shorter shelf-life than conventional malt (frankly, though, for a home brewer, I can’t see the latter as being much of a problem). Others maintain that organic malts result in fewer problems with “hazing” (a type of cloudiness caused by proteins not settling out of a beer) in the finished product, and that they result in a quicker, more vigorous fermentation, even under conditions that are sub-perfect. (Photo of organic malted grains courtesy of Seven Bridges Cooperative.)
Technically, it isn’t possible to make a beer that is 100% organic, because organic yeast strains (and organic fruit extracts, if you use those) are not yet available. However, any brewers’ yeast in a beer is used in very small quantities, and the reality is that yeast isn’t present in a finished beer. Yeast has the important job of fermenting the sugars in the wort (a water of hops and sugars from milled grain), but once that process is completed, the yeast is spent. When the beer is racked (moved into the conditioning box for aging), the spent yeast is left behind.
What about the persistent tale that organic beers lead to fewer or less severe hangovers because of the lack of chemicals in them? Alas for you over-indulgers, this is merely a myth. There isn’t any kind of serious, hard evidence that would enable you to point the finger of blame at conventional brewers in this matter.
So the next time you sit down for a refreshing “cold one” at the end of a long day or when you’re out with some friends, try thinking organic for a change. Just remember to imbibe in moderation!
Organic Find of the Month: Seven Bridges Cooperative Microbrewery
So you’ve decided to give organic homebrew a try. Great! Now, you need to find someone who can provide you with organic ingredients and beer-making supplies. Enter Seven Bridges, of Santa Cruz, California, the only certified organic home brew retailer in the entire United States. (“Certified organic” means that their ingredients are fully documentable as organic.)
If these folks don’t have it, it’s probably not necessary for brewing. Organic hops, organic malted grains, brewpots, fermentation equipment, even (and this is my favorite) an online brewing tutorial. Whether you need a two-liter swing top growler with a handle, organic dried mugwort, or racking canes, you’ll find it all here. They even have recipes posted online (90 Shilling Scottish Ale, anyone?). This is a worker-owned business that appears to be far more realistic than some of the other organic beer/brewing sites I’ve come across.
But there’s more. Seven Bridges understands that not everyone lives by beer alone, so they have a line of organic, Fair Trade, green coffee beans…and equipment with which you can become your own coffee roaster. If you’re truly serious about your coffee, you’ve probably considered roasting your own beans at one time or another. You’ll find here an assortment of roasters (with instructions), mills, and coffee presses, not to mention green (coffee) beans ranging from a Tanzanian Peaberry to an Ethiopian Washed Sidamo. Unless you grow beans on your own estate, coffee can’t get any fresher than this!
Roast your own: shade-grown, certified organic,
and Fair Trade, Guacamayo Arenal is cultivated
in the Arenal Conservation Area, next to the
Monteverde Cloud Forest and the active volcano
Whether you’re looking for that morning cup of java or something to drink with the burritos you’re having for dinner, Seven Bridges offers a lot of options and the added benefit of a good conscience. Click here to check ‘em out.
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