What goes better with music than booze? Not much, we say — and you say too, if your drink consumption at the Phoenix’s ninth annual Best Music Poll award show is any indication. And since we drink so much of it, shouldn't we expect it to be produced sustainably?
As with everything we consume these days, the raw ingredients of beer, wine, and liquor can carry chemicals from pesticides and fertilizers. The greener, healthier option is to brew alcoholic beverages made with natural ingredients — organic barley or grapes, for example. And it’s no surprise, given the proliferation of environmentally friendly business practices, that organic drinks are steadily gaining popularity. (Organic-beer sales jumped from $9 million in 2003 to $19 million in 2005; the market since then has only grown.) In fact, the options are so expansive that beer needs its own column.
One local brewing company, Peak Organic, is a trendsetter in this area — Peak founder Jon Cadoux has been experimenting with organic ingredients for almost a decade; he’s been bottling Peak Organic for about two years. His reasons for going green are simple: “It tastes a heck of a lot better,” he says.
Last week, Cadoux and fellow laid-back beer guy Geoff Masland (Peak's co-founder) were nice enough to give me a tour of their facilities, which they share with several other brewers in the Shipyard Brewing Company building in the East End.
The most important consideration of organic brewers, they told me, is to keep the organic raw materials separate from their non-organic counterparts. The third-party organic inspector is “fanatical about it,” Cadoux says, pointing to a mountain of organic Canadian barley that’s kept in its own area of the building. Next, we step into the freezing holding room for the New Zealand hops; the room smells very, well, hoppy — pungently, bitterly sweet, in a woodsy way. At this point, Masland expresses his desire to source Peak’s hops more locally in the future — it’s been a challenge to find large-scale organic producers in this region.
That’s why Peak’s spring seasonal offering, the Maple Oat Ale, is special — it’s sourced not just organically, but also locally, with Maine oats (from GrandyOats) and Vermont maple syrup (from Butternut Mountain Farms). When the beer was released in late March, it became an instant favorite. But beer-drinkers aren’t buying it because it’s organic, or made with local ingredients. They like because of the way it tastes. “No one’s going to buy it if it tastes mediocre,” Cadoux says. And it doesn’t — the Maple Oat Ale is clean, sweet, and robust.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Masland adds. “If you can create something that’s delicious, and not have to use chemicals,” like the big guys do, it can get some more attention for a niche beer in a market filled with small microbrews.
The cheap, non-beer-connoisseur part of me prefers to drink PBR (at FatBaxters, now owned by the Rosemont Bakery, a six-pack of Peak’s Maple Oat Ale is $9.11 including tax and deposit; a sixer of PBR costs $6.08). But I’m willing to give my old ways the heave-ho, at least for the summer, when cold beer is at its best. For a change of pace, I’ll try sipping on a slightly more expensive richer-tasting, organic six-pack, rather than guzzling my way through watery lagers that are brewed by way of the same industrial-agriculture complex that I try to avoid when it comes to my food choices.
And I can pick from a variety of brews: other organic options include Wolaver's ales (from Vermont), Samuel Smith’s Organic Lager, and St. Peter’s Organic Ale.