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FEATURE ARTICLE - AUG/SEPT 2002

Organic Beer and Wine

If you consume alcoholic beverages, try organic beer or wine. They’re better for your health and the planet, and they taste good, too.

Historian Gregg Smith writes that fermented beverages have been nourishing body and enlivening spirit since the very dawn of civilization, dating at least as far back as when the ancient Mesopotamians began storing away “liquid bread” for later use. If you already consume alcoholic drinks, consider buying organic beer or wine for your social engagements and celebrations. There’s a growing number of refreshing offerings from the vine, the grain, and the orchard that contribute to restoring the environment, empowering workers, and protecting your health. Not only are organic beer and wine better for your body, but you may find they taste better than their non-organic counterparts, too.

Why Go Organic?

Choosing organic beverages means that the grapes, barley, hops, apples, and other ingredients used to make your fermented refreshment are spared the application of toxic insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers. These unhealthy chemical inputs pollute our water, air, and soil. Researchers at Cornell University estimate that at least 67 million birds die each year from pesticides sprayed on US fields. The number of fish killed is conservatively estimated at six to 14 million. And, many pesticides are toxic to humans, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Not only does chemically intensive farming devastate ecosystems and harm human populations, it also contributes to the crisis in family-owned farms. The US lost an estimated 650,000 family farms in the last decade. Organic farming, on the other hand, is proving to be small-farmer friendly-most organic farms are less than 100 acres.

Chemical-free organic drinks often taste better, too. Just ask Andrew Myers, dining room manager at Washington, DC’s Restaurant Nora, America’s first certified organic restaurant. “I recommend organic wines and beers to our customers because of their excellent quality, not just because it’s the right thing to do,” says Myers.

The Logic of Buying Local

Purchasing from locally based vintners and brewers helps support small, family-owned businesses that make our communities diverse and unique. On most days, when visiting a local craft beer or wine producer, you’ll get to meet the brewmaster or head vintner and witness part of the fermentation process. Many small vineyards or brewing facilities host tastings and other events, too.

Buying local helps keep profits circulating in your community, instead of heading up the food-stream to the coffers of remote corporations.

In addition, even when they are not certified organic, small-scale brewing and wine-making is good for the environment, because:

  • In most cases, these “micros” are consumed locally, reducing the negative environmental effects caused by long-distance transportation.

  • Many microbreweries also use large, refillable containers called “growlers.” Customers pop
    into the brewpub facility and get a quick fill-up, thereby reducing unnecessary packaging-and they get a break on the price as well.

  • The glass bottles and cardboard packages conventionally used to store craft beers or local wines are easily recyclable in most areas.

Expanding Selections

Another advantage to being an eco-minded imbiber is that you’ll enjoy an ever-widening array of sophisticated and tasty beers and wines to try.

Twenty years ago, there were only a couple dozen microbreweries in the US. That number has multiplied to nearly 1,500 in 2001, according to the Institute for Brewing Studies. What this increase in “beer-o-diversity” means is that you, the consumer, have a vastly growing selection of beer styles to suit your own individual tastes. Microbreweries are constantly pioneering new varieties of beer, and they are even saving some endangered beer “species” from total extinction. For example, Anchor Brewing rescued the last remaining “steam beer” (a unique American style of beer) brewery in California several years ago.

The same goes for wine-making as well-the more small vintners in existence, the more varieties of wine you have to choose from. Best of all, whether you buy local beer or wine, you’ll have even more opportunities to support local, eco-minded, community-oriented businesses.

Brews to Choose and Wines to Find

Here’s a selection of breweries and vintners that don’t fizzle when it comes to caring for people and the planet. All have products that are nationally available in stores and taverns near you.

  • BeerTown.org While not a retailer, BeerTown.org features a “brewpub locator” to help you find your local small-scale beer producer.
  • Wolaver’s markets three organic beers, as well as an organic hard cider. Although most organic hops come from New Zealand and Germany, Wolaver’s uses organic hops grown in the US.
  • Dogfish Head Brewing Co. The Chicory Stout, crafted by the Delaware-based Dogfish Head Brewing Co., features organic coffee beans, adding to its robust and satisfying taste profile.
  • Other organic beers Other notable organic brews to ask for at stores and taverns include offerings from Butte Creek in Montana; NatureLand, by Pacific Western Breweries; and Golden Promise and EcoWarrior from England.
  • Frey Vineyards One of the best-known organic wine-makers is Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley, CA. Their list covers the gamut of styles, from a dry Chardonnay to a hearty Merlot. In 1996, this winery became the first producer of certified biodynamic wines.
  • Other organic wines Also check out fine organic wines from: Chartrand Imports, Organic Vintages, the Organic Wine Co., and Silver Thread Vineyard (see resources).

For Spirits and Teetotalers

The harder stuff is going green, too, with recent entries into the market including organic vodka and gin. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for the rare hemp beers. Although the Drug Enforcement Agency is attempting to block hemp from being included in food and beverages, so far the products remain legal and safe.

For those looking for a softer alternative, natural sodas and non-alcoholic ciders are popular at many local establishments. Microbreweries like Dominion Brewing Company in VA offer all-natural root beer. Other microbreweries, like the Sprecher Brewery in Glendale, WI, feature a line of natural sodas. Meanwhile, wineries like Australia’s Robinvale Wineries offer non-alcoholic sparkling grape drinks.

Make Your Own

If commercially available drinks over-tap your pocket-book, why not try making some at home? It’s safe, legal, drastically reduces transportation impacts, and can be much cheaper. Home beer- and wine-making gives you the freedom to concoct a beverage tailored to your personal palate, allows you to reuse glass bottles over and over again, and often requires very little in start-up costs.

A good number of small companies supply this consumer market, including a number that offer organic ingredients, like the Seven Bridges Cooperative (see resources). For more on making your own beer and wine, Storey Books publishes excellent books on the subject, including The Homebrewer’s Garden, by Joe and Dennis Fisher, and The Home Winemaker’s Companion, by Gene Spaziani and Ed Halloran (Contact (800)441- 5700, www.storeybooks.com.)


--Chris O'Brien

 

Organic Beer and Wine Resources

Below is a list of organic beer and wine retailers that offer products via mail order, as well as in natural foods stores near you.

Home brew supplies

Organic beer and wine

More green-living articles from the Green American »

Article Summary


If you consume alcohol, purchase (or make) organic beer and wine.


Get better tasting beer and wine and a sense of satisfaction.


Support small, locally based businesses that keep money in your community while benefitting the environment.

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