Monday, September 6, 2010

The Lazy Twentysomething's Guide to Sustainability: Organic Beer

Organic - Not just for food anymore!

Apparently, Americans drink about 82L beer per capita every year. This places us 13th in the 2004 world rankings behind, well, most of western Europe. The Czech Republic and Ireland are first and second, with 157L and 131L, respectively. We may be woefully behind the rest of the developed world in beer consumption, but that hardly means that we should ignore how the ingredients are grown.

Beer is mostly water and malted grain (usually barley or wheat), with a little yeast for fermentation and hops for flavor. It takes about 336 square feet of barley to produce enough barley for one American’’s entire year of beer. The number of acres under barley cultivation worldwide is dwarfed by maize, wheat, and rice, but the rate of fertilizer per hectare is pretty high (pdf). The rationale for drinking organic beer over conventional is basically the same as with eating organic rather than conventional anything. Namely, a lower pesticide and synthetic fertilizer load in the environment and a lower pesticide load in you. Since “100% local” seems to be an impossibility for brewers outside of Germany, we’ll have to settle for USDA certified organic as our green alternative to conventional beer.

In an act of staggering generosity, members of the PRI Outreach and Development teams have tested a selection of organic beer in order to provide our readers with a little guidance should they wish to purchase some. We were able to find 3 brands of organic beer at the Finger Lakes Beverage Center*: Pinkus, Peak Organic, and Wolaver’s. A more thorough search would probably turn up an even greater variety. From Pinkus, we tried the Pils and the Munster Alt; from Peak Organic,we tried the IPA, the Pale Ale, the Amber Ale, and the Nut Brown; from Wolaver’s, we tried the IPA, the Pale Ale, the White Ale, the Brown Ale, and the Oatmeal Stout.

Here is a summary of the rankings and tasting notes, but the main point is that you don’t have to sacrifice taste to sustainability!

Peak Organic Amber Ale
  • Darker
  • Syrup-y
  • Smells better than it tastes
  • Unbalanced
  • Awful start, but a good finish

Avg. = 5.375

Peak Organic IPA
  • Righteous
  • Smells like tomato plants
  • Honey and citrus scents
  • Darker than I thought it’d be
  • Deeper than a hoppy finish
  • I like the way it starts but it’s bitter at the finish

Avg. = 6.25

Wolaver’s IPA
  • Cleaner than last IPA
  • Don’t like his one as much – not as much character
  • Floral and not too bitter

Avg. = 6.625

Peak Organic Nut Brown
  • A little flat
  • Smells better than the last one
  • A little earthy
  • Not a fan, generally, of nut brown ale
  • Vanilla on the start
  • Enjoys the complexity
  • Brown-sugary sweet

Avg. = 7

Pinker's Original Unfiltered
  • Yummy smell
  • Smooth and not a big finish
  • Summer beer
  • Not too flavorful
  • Citrus-y
  • “…a decent Bud Light”

Avg. = 7.125

Wolaver’s White Ale
  • Smells like bacon; like breakfast at CNC, like lighter fluid
  • Citrus-y – more lemon than orange
  • Needs citrus to be effective
  • Sweet, and not smoky or salty
  • Like the highest note on a piano
  • Too complicated for a beer that you’d put citrus in

Avg. = 7.1875

Peak Organic Pale Ale
  • Smells like soy sauce or the woods
  • Coffee taste
  • Acidic
  • Herbal, earthen flavor

Avg. = 7.3125

Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout
  • “Oh, hello.”
  • Smoky
  • Delightful
  • Tastes like dinner
  • Not coffee, but espresso
  • More earthy than other stouts
  • “Starts sweet, then smoke, then coffee”
  • It’s like chocolate that’s spent time by a campfire

Avg. = 7.3125

Wolaver’s Pale Ale
  • Solid
  • Definitely preferred
  • Easy to drink
  • Nice finish – not bitter
  • Warm finish like a soup
  • Bread-y

Avg. = 7.75

Wolaver’s Brown Ale
  • Smells like a good beer
  • Completely solid
  • More than just nutty – Mr. Peanut Party Mix
  • “tastes like beer to me”

Avg. = 7.83

Pinker’s Alt Beer Munster Ale
  • Molasses and whiskey
  • Bread-y – pumpernickel
  • Mellowed out
  • “I like this. I like this a lot.”
  • Finishes with depth, and starts like OJ / juice
  • Smells like grape juice
  • You can drink this year-round, and all day
  • Little too sweet overall

Avg. = 8.25

Have you tried any organic beer that we missed? How did you like it?

*Thanks to the Beverage Center staff for pointing us in the right direction.

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