Organic Beer: Bring It On!

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve enjoyed organic wines, but do any companies make organic beer?

—Margaret Chadwick, Weston, CT

Given the increasing popularity of organic wine, it was perhaps inevitable that organic beer would follow. Eighty million Americans regularly drink beer, which breaks down to about 23 gallons of the beverage per person every year.

Organic beer is made from organically grown hops, malts, barleys and natural yeast, with no chemical additives or processes. Some other beers are not organic, but are brewed along environmental principles, which can mean everything from 100 percent wind power to hydroponic gardens fed by recycled wastewater. Although no specific sales figures are yet available for organic beer, the category it’s in, non-dairy beverages (including soft drinks, wine and beer), was the organic industry’s sales leader in the year ending in June 2001, with 60 percent growth and more than $200 million in sales. Although it is more expensive to produce, many organic beers are competitively priced at $5.99 or $6.99 a six-pack.

As the British Telegraph newspaper notes, “Organic beer has to pass the taste test. The finest, greenest credentials count for little if the stuff in the glass is awful.” Indeed, many breweries now offer high-quality, tasty products. “I think the future of organic beer is bright,” says Crayne Horton, vice president of Fish Brewing Company in Olympia, Washington, which sells Fish Tale Organic Amber in the Northwest. The largest hurdle for organic beer remains achieving national name recognition and distribution, which is the goal of ambitious brewers like California-based Wolaver’s, whose organic ales and ciders are now available in 33 states.