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What Defines Organic and Sustainable Beer: The people’s interpretation

Maggie Young

beer hops growing outside

The beer scene has been through the recycling process since its beginning. In recent years, there has been a noticeable rise in all-natural, local, GMO-free, and carbon neutral options from microbreweries and big national institutions alike. Any earth benefiting practices have become the new trend of the business. Some industry members wonder if alterations to brewing, growing, and transporting their product have benefits for the brewing process itself, or if these changes are only for better business.

Breweries all over have fallen into two categories: Organic beer or Sustainable practices. While both seem to be promoting the same message, there are significant differences in how brewers conduct themselves based on the challenges that are created by these self-imposed labels.

Organic Brewing

Organic brewing isn’t necessarily like Whole Foods or all-natural grocery stores. Organic focuses on the chemical, scientific, and resource side of products. One online site, USA Beer Ratings, raves about all the benefits of organic brewing processes. Their article writes, “A number of related trends – the rise of farmer’s markets in urban locations, the “buy local” trend, the “farm-to-table” trend, and growing consumer sophistication about food additives like GMOs."1 Organic utility focuses on every chemical going into the soil and plants, the emissions it takes to transport, and how badly the product has spoiled before sale. Many consumers value local ingredients because the entire process is better for the planet and the buyer.

But is that argument a fallacy?

In actuality, if your community is involved with being local and vying for the values of organic craft beer, hops, foods, and products, it shows in the results. USA Beer Ratings confronts the stereotype of naturalists by claiming organic craft beer is helping to build up local business. Making a stronger foundation for others in their town or city is all in the community spirit.2 While it can feel very preachy and pretentious, there is a nobility in being mindful of what your consumption choices influence around you. This brings us to sustainable brewing.

wheat field

Sustainable Brewing

Beer industry sustainability can look like many things. Some breweries follow the bare minimum of government regulation for their carbon and shipping emissions. Others go all out to pursue carbon neutrality and a minuscule ecological footprint. But what do these extreme beer industries and environmental sustainability pursuits look like? Writer Kate Dingwall explores these establishments and comes with a plethora of examples. Crazy Dingo Brewing in Florida has found a way to use seawater via coconut husk carbon filters to make their beer, Atlántica.3 This remarkable brewing advancement was instigated by the increasing severity of the water shortage crisis.

New Belgium is another brewery that has centered its entire facility and brewing process around being carbon neutral. As Dingwall narrates, "New Belgium’s Fat Tire made headlines last year when it became the first major brewery to achieve carbon-neutral certification. In the process, the brewery created an open-source blueprint for others to follow in their path in the process."4 These achievements are stellar in their ingenuity, but, some companies can’t afford these expensive facilities nor have time and energy to devote to making new water sources or ensuring all their hops are GMO-free.

Which brings us to the impasse: Are these methods a practical umbrella business practice? No, they are not.

fragmentation of malt in the brewing process

The Limitations of Environmental Brewing Practices

Unfortunately, craft beer sustainability is setting an incredibly high bar for new and upcoming brewers.

Organic beer vs. regular beer is the debate everyone has when deciding to make a new line of beer or when wanting to buy from a new sustainable wheat farmer. Not only because purchasing local or organic can be more affordable, but because it’s an ad campaign. When isn’t a craft brewery flaunting their new local beer line? It’s something nobody leaves out; if that business is environmentally friendly in some way, don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

However, as shown earlier in the article, there is a difference between sustainability and organic, and that's apparent to the penny pinchers. Being organic is cheaper depending on the local market, but sustainability is codependent on new technology, which is always expensive. Brewers can be sustainable, but being organic has to be that first step. It’s a one-way street. Not to mention the big gambles in deciding to go sustainable.

a fermentation tank in front of a sunset

Back to the Business of it All

Attempts to go carbon neutral can be risky for small companies. If something unexpected happens, like a pandemic, it can lead to a loss of revenue.

With that being said, whether going organic or pursuing sustainability, supporting farmers and entertaining regulars can cause breweries to gain endorsement from their community. Choosing to focus on the people instead of the money is more potent than any fertilizer.

One way to support local breweries is by signing up for a beer subscription service, like our Craft Beer Club. By signing up for a beer of the month club, you get hand-selected beers each month from unique microbreweries located throughout the country. Getting the microbrewery product with the convenience of delivery straight to your doorstep sounds like a win-win to me. Cheers!

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  1. NA. (2019, Nov 3). Organic Beers: A Simple Guide. USA beer Ratings.,beer%20certified%20as%20being%20organic.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Dingwall, K. (2021, Mar 14). How Craft Brewers Are Embracing Sustainability. Forbes.

  4. Ibid.

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