Beer made its debut at least 7,000 years ago in what is now Iran. It is believed to be the one of oldest fermented beverage known to man with the possible exception of mead. Back in those days beer was likely made from grain or bread left in a clay jar with water. Wild yeast inoculated the mash and fermentation began spontaneously. The grains used to make the brew were grown in a nearby field and the water came from a spring or river. Everything that went into the concoction was pure and natural.
Fast-forward 7,000 years and the idea of purity in beer is beginning to take root again. With a recent rule published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP), brewers who wish to label their beers as organic must use only certified organic hops. Until the ruling made in early June, brewers that made “organic” beers were able to use an exemption if certain hops were not available as organic. The ruling goes into effect January 1st, 2013. The NOP ruling looks to act as a catalyst for growth of more organic hops that in the past was a dicey proposition.
In an article on the Environmental News Network website, Friday, June 16, Patrick Smith of Loftus Ranch in Yakima, Washington explained: “As our collective knowledge of organic hop production grows, I expect to see yields 75-80+ percent of conventional.” Brews certified as organic are made with ingredients – including hops – that are completely free of harmful pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers.
It seems that Smith’s expectations are shared by others as well. The organic beer market has seen a recent uptick in business. Between 2003 and 2009, U.S. organic beer sales grew from $9 million to $41 million. It seems that as consumers look for more healthy foods; they naturally look for healthier beverages, too.
But, the benefit of organic beer does not stop with a healthier brew, organic growing practices result in less pollution to our water supplies, soil, and air. One conservative estimate as to the number of fish that die from farm run-off pollution is between six and 14 million per year. Organic farms use far less energy than conventional farms, too – up to 50% less. Organic farming lends itself well to family farming with most farms using less than 100 acres. This helps to break up the monopoly of the mega-commercial farms and helps stem the out-flowing tide of over 650,000 family farms lost in the last decade.
Julie Watkins, founder of the Girls Gone Green movement in Jacksonville, Florida, says of the USDA decision and growth of organic beer brewing, “This is an important step for an industry that is growing in leaps and bounds. The proof is now in the beer, so to speak, that beer drinkers are demanding sustainable farming practices by supporting this market. I am truly excited to see what kind of creative doors this will open up to producers of organic beer which is ultimately a win for beer consumers.”
Currently there are a handful of brewers that produce only organic brews, but others are looking into the possibility of going greener all the time. Among the organic brews available in Jacksonville are: Eel River Brewing Company and Peak Organic Brewing. Eel River invites its drinkers to enjoy their brews with their motto “Be natural, drink naked.” The Scotia, California brewery was founded in 1995 and became the first American certified organic brewer in 1999.
Even the larger craft brewers like Rogue, Sierra Nevada, and Dogfish Head are looking into producing more beers using organic ingredients. Sierra Nevada occasionally produces small batches of their brews using only organic hops and Dogfish Head’s Chicory Stout is produced using organically grown coffee beans.
As the craft beer industry continues to grow, it is a given that organic brewing will grow with it. In an industry that has long been known for its attention to detail, philanthropy, and relentless drive for excellence, how could one expect anything less?