Eco-friendly

The second coming of organic beer
By JOSH SMITH  |  April 21, 2010

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Once upon a time, before the heyday of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, all beer was organic. And now organic is back for good.

A case can be made that organic beer should not only be better for our planet, but better tasting. After all, superior ingredients make superior beer. Besides, a brewer that goes to the trouble of finding and using quality ingredients is obviously very intent on creating good beer.

This theory, however, hasn’t always been supported by the facts in these early days of organic beers’ second coming. And last year’s closing of Magic Hat’s Orlio line proved craft beer drinkers aren’t willing to waste time and money on poor quality organic beers.

Nevertheless, in the past few years organic beers have become much more widely available. Craft brewers tend to be a progressive lot but, more importantly, that word “organic” on the label is one more selling point in the uber-competitive craft beer marketplace. So I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that some games are being played with the O-word.

In 2002, some of the industry’s larger brewers lobbied the government to consider beer organic even if non-organic hops were used. Consequently, some inorganic chemicals still make their way into organic beer — as long as 95 percent of the total ingredients are organic. Such is life, I suppose. While a handful of 100 percent organic beers are starting to pop up, today let’s explore seven brewers that make beer which meets the official organic designation and is available on the East Coast.

German brewer PINKUS-MULLER was the first to sell an organic certified beer in 1980. The UR PILS is still around today, grainier than most pilsners and very crisp. NEUMARKTER LAMMSBRAU ORGANIC PILSNER is another solid light German lager with heaps of pale pilsner malts. In the UK, the iconic SAMUEL SMITH offers several natural beers ranging from the well-balanced ORGANICALLY PRODUCED ALE to the tasty dessert beer, ORGANIC RASPBERRY FRUIT BEER.

However, it isn’t Europe but the West Coast that lays claim to the title of home for organic beer. California’s chocolaty EEL RIVER’S ORGANIC PORTER proves that organic beers can be more than light session beers. Even better is NORTH COAST’s flavorful OLD PLOWSHARE STOUT, which gives me hope that the quality of organic beers as a whole will continue to improve as more elite brewers such as North Coast join the fray.

And while many of their beers are not yet available on this coast, I must note that the Oregon beer scene has essentially gone organic; most every elite brewer now boasts an organic beer in its repertoire. Newcomer Hopworks Urban Brewery is poised to take the genre to the next level with an all-organic lineup, sustainable brewery, and some of the highest scores I’ve ever given to a single brewer. So for any of you beer distributors reading: We want Hopworks!

Sadly, Rhode Island and Massachusetts haven’t quite caught organic fever yet. I doubt that New England brewers hate Mother Earth so much as organic ingredients aren’t readily available. Otter Creek out of Vermont has impressively managed to put out a dozen organic beers with their WOLAVER’S line. The IPA and OATMEAL STOUT, in particular, get my seal of approval. Maine’s beer portfolio includes an all-organic brewer of its own: PEAK ORGANIC BREWING COMPANY. Both the NUT BROWN ALE and IPA are tried-and-true brews, but it is their ESPRESSO AMBER ALE that captures my imagination. I love the added depth the coffee lends to this typically one-dimensional style.

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