I’m a wine drinker through and through. But I must admit that come August with the summer heat far from abating, an ice cold white beer is a welcome evening beverage. (My apologies to my summer sidekick, Glass Of Rose.) Before popping that bottle cap, take a few minutes to make sure that what you’re going to be drinking is the best brew for the environment and your health. Ok, ok, I know some people will say there’s no such thing as a healthy beer, but it will be better for you without pesticide residue.
As always, buying organic and local is the number one choice, not only to avoid unwanted additives (check out Food Democracy’s post on this), but also to reduce the carbon footprint of your happy hour. Unfortunately, buying completely organic and local beer is a challenge, as I explain in The Conscious Kitchen:
Even if you could find beer’s ingredients – water, yeast, malt, and hops – in your area (and that’s a huge if), if doesn’t mean they’re processed locally. In fact, according to Max Oswald, director of sales and marketing at the Otter Creak Brewing Company in Middlebury, Vermont, the grain used for the malt in their Wolaver’s organic beer must be shipped to the Midwest to be processed. Why? Because that is where malt processing is done in this country. “It’s a conundrum. We do the best we can,” says Oswald.
Organic hops tend to be grown in the Pacific Northwest, Europe, and New Zealand. Vermont-based Wolaver’s uses New Zealand organic hops and works with a contract grower in Oregon. The goal is to rely solely on Oregon. This is as local as it will get. The Northeast used to produce tons of hops, but the crops were wiped out by fungus. Other organic brewers are also taking this route of contracting small organic farmers. Meanwhile, the USDA, in response to a hops shortage in 2008, has put hops on their exemption list, meaning beer made with nonorganic hops but that is otherwise organic can still be labeled USDA organic – music to Big Beer’s ears, and not exactly motivating to any farmers attempting to grow the vines the way they should be grown. (The amount of hops in any beer, it should be noted, is pretty minimal. But still.)
AT THE BREWERY
Though it is difficult for any brewer to source all-organic, all-local ingredients, there are other environmentally friendly steps they can take with their brewery. Otter Creek, according to Oswald, has redone their lighting, runs a boiler system on biodiesel, tries to reuse heat and water, and recycles their grain by giving it to farmers for feed…This is an expensive and lofty goal for the smallish brewery - in 2008 they were doing about thirty-three thousand barrels, one-third of which was organic – but it will make quite a difference. Many other breweries are also working to reduce their energy consumption. Some have green roofs, others are using solar power. Still others make sure their used equipment is made only in the United States.
Here are a few solid organic (or eco-friendly) brewers:
Peak Organic is very committed to local purveyors.
Brooklyn Brewery isn’t all organic, but is the first company in New York City to be run by entirely by wind power!
Great Lakes Brewing Company‘s trucks are all run on vegetable oil and they promote their closed loop recycling system. Everything that would be considered waste is reused at the brewery or in the surrounding community.
Otter Creek Brewery (Wolaver’s) Wolavers is 100% organic hops and malt–the nation’s first organic brewers.