Organic Beer: Sustainable from Grain to Glass

Beer is made from malt, hops, yeast, and water… have you ever considered where these ingredients come from? 

Most grain and hop farms use pesticides and toxic fertilizers. These can have a negative environmental impact. Because of this, organic farming practices have blown up in the last decade. Many brewers work to reduce their ecological footprint. One impactful way is by brewing organic beer.

Beer drinkers have more sustainable choices than ever. From IPA and pilsners to stouts and sours, the beer industry is loaded with organic beer options. But what exactly is organic beer and why should you drink it?

What Is Organic Beer? 

In its simplest form, organic beer is any beer brewed using organic ingredients. The malt, hops, yeast, flavorings, and adjuncts must have an organic label. 

What is Organic Beer? -- Organic Beer and Beer Standards

Other than the raw ingredients, organic beer is brewed the same way as traditional beer. Taste-wise, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an organic and a non-organic beer. So why bother brewing them in the first place?

Organic brewers want to brew without harming the environment. It is important for them to use pesticide and herbicide-free ingredients. Organic breweries support organic farmers and keep harmful chemicals out of the environment.

So are all organic brewers tree huggers and environmentalists? No. Organic beer brands can reach new customers. Brewery owners understand how to use this label in a clever way to help grow their businesses.

There are a few ways to brew and market your beer as organic. Let’s take a look at the different types of certifications available.

Levels of Organic Certification

The USDA has a system for labeling multi-ingredient products, such as beer:

100% Organic

This is a fully organic product where all ingredients are certified organic. For beer, you can be sure that the end-product is free from pesticides. The brewery has done its part to ensure the raw ingredients are completely organic. 

Organic

A product composed of 95% organic ingredients can be labeled as organic. It must be impossible to find organic options for the remaining 5%. Both organic and 100% organic products can bear the USDA organic seal.

Made with Organic

At least 70% of the product must be organic certified but the USDA organic seal can’t be used on the beer. Breweries often sell beers made with organic malt. This is because finding high-quality organic malt is easy. Most of the top maltsters in the world offer a range of organic products. 

Finding high-quality organic hops is another story.

Organic Hops

Hops are historically used as a preservative in beer. Despite this, the hop plant is a very challenging and fragile plant to grow. 

Hops are susceptible to mold, mildew, and a variety of pests. They are a sensitive crop and need experienced farmers to ensure a viable harvest. Pesticides and herbicides protect the bines against natural predators and spoiling organisms.

Finding hops grown without the use of toxic chemicals has always been a struggle for brewers. Until recently, the USDA didn’t require organic hops to label beer as organic. Organic hop farmers and organic breweries petitioned the USDA to change that. Since 2013, all organic beer must use made with organic hops.

Requiring organic beer to be made with organic hops seems logical. The change in regulation has allowed the organic hop sector to flourish. Today there are almost 50 organic hop farms in the US alone.

Early Organic Beers and Breweries

Brewing organic beer today is a lot easier than it was even 10 years ago. Here are some of the pioneers of the organic beer movement that helped pave the way.

Lakefront Brewing

The OGs of American organic beer, Lakefront has been brewing Organic E.S.B. since 1996. They were the first brewery in the US to release a certified organic beer. Lakefront never compromised on the quality of ingredients or their sustainable philosophy.  These pioneers continue to be industry leaders in environmental causes.

Eel River Brewing

Another early adopter of organic brewing, Eel River released its first 100% organic beer -- an amber ale -- in 1999. Their Northern California brewery has a flagship line-up of three 100% organic beers. They also brew a full range of other non-organic seasonal offerings.

Peak Organic Brewing Co.

On the East Coast, Maine’s Peak Organic Brewing Company offers an entirely organic line up. They focus on Northeast style crushers, from hazy IPAs to kettle sours. Sourcing local raw materials, Peak goes all in for sustainable brewing.

Don’t Forget About the Belgians

It should be no surprise that Belgian breweries are helping to lead the way with organic beer. The small country is famous for its high quality and boundary-pushing brews. Belgium is also a country with a developed and mature organic marketplace. Legendary breweries Cantillon and Brasserie Dupont brew organic beers since the early ’90s. Many other small breweries, such as Brasserie de Brunehaut, are also brewing organic.

Our Favorite Organic Beers

You can find almost every beer style made organically. Here are a few of our favorites that are sure to please any palate. 

IPA

Eel River -- Organic IPA
Peak Organic Brewing Co. -- Super Juice DIPA

Lager

Peak Organic Brewing Co. -- Fresh Cut Pilsner
Hopworks Urban Brewery -- HUB Lager

Stout

Samuel Smith -- Organic Chocolate Stout

Saison and Mixed Fermentation

Cantillon -- Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio
Brasserie Dupont -- Dupont Foret Organic Saison

Summing Up

Organic beer continues to gain market share in craft beer, as well as the macro sector. Breweries of all sizes are starting to incorporate organic ingredients into their beers. This trend shows no sign of slowing down. Grain and hop farmers will be further encouraged to grow organic crops to meet the high demand.

Reducing toxic chemicals in our environment and waterways can only be positive. We hope more farmers choose to grow organic crops and drinkers choose organic beer!

FAQ

Is organic beer healthy?

There isn’t conclusive scientific evidence showing the health benefits of organic beer. You can be sure you aren’t ingesting harmful pesticides from non-organic ingredients.

Where can you buy organic beer?

We’re starting to see organic options popping up into all retail outlets. Anywhere from chain grocery stores to local restaurants. You’ll almost always be able to find organic beer in health food stores and organic food markets. This may depend on your region’s liquor sale laws so be sure to ask.

Is organic beer better for the environment?

Organic beer uses raw ingredients that limit harmful chemicals from entering the environment. There’s no question this is a positive practice. To go the extra mile, find breweries who focus on ecological causes from top to bottom.  Wastewater treatment, local ingredient sourcing, and sustainable logistics operations all impact the environment.

Is organic beer expensive?

Organic ingredients are usually more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. That said, the ingredients in beer make up only some of the total cost. You can expect to pay a bit more for organic beer, but not much over $0.25 to $0.50 per pint.

Can I brew organic beer at home?

Yes! The number of certified organic farmers producing malt and hops has recently exploded. This means that at the homebrew level, we’ve never had this much selection. You can easily find high-quality organic malt, hops, and yeast. Try any homebrew recipe with certified organic ingredients…you may love the results!

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