The modern organic beer movement started in Germany in 1979, when Pinkus-Müller Brauerei produced the first all-organic beer in recent times, in response to the declining quality of industrial malt. Today the worldwide organic beer market is on the rise, even though it is not mainstream yet, it counts hundreds of breweries and is estimated to grow by close to 7% every year on average by 2025 – according the World Research Future. In this post we’ll look at WHAT TO LOOK FOR when sourcing organic beer ingredients, WHAT BENEFITS are associated to those, TIPS ON FINDING them – without listing producers and suppliers (this will be the subject of a separate post), lastly we’ll speak about USING SPENT INGREDIENTS, as they are great to contribute to your kitchen or garden.
What are organic beer ingredients?
Organic brewing means that you are using only the 4 pure natural basic ingredients needed to make beer, according to the traditional German beer “law of purity” known as “Reinheitsgebot” … a Bavarian law dating back to 1516:
Water, Malt, Hop, and Yeast.
Excluding the use of any additives found in commercial beers such as artificial coloring (blue #1, red#40, yellow #5, caramel ammonia, insect based dyes), high fructose corn syrup, GMO sugar, MSG, many types of sulfites, animal based clarifiers, foam control chemicals (glyceryl monostearate), carrageenan, propylene glycol … just to name a few of allowed but clearly harmful chemicals. As shocking as it may sound, in the USA, the FDA does not require any ingredient labeling for beer!
WATER – its environmental quality cannot be certified. It depends on your local supply. I encourage you to know how clean your local water is. The EWG (Environment Working Group) in America has published records on water testing in your area, you may find them here. Always use filtered water with a good system. Reverse osmosis being the best water treatment available at home, carbon filtration is a solid second option. It is most breweries preferred filtration system.
MALT – This is the main ingredient used in brewing. The plants should be certified NON-GMO, free of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and non-irradiated. The most common organic certification in America is approved by the USDA (US Department of Agriculture). The nationwide organic agency Oregon Tilth goes further by educating and organizing the market place while offering certification.
HOP – So far, organic hop has rarely been used at the corporate brewery level since “ORGANIC BEER” may be produced with only 95% organic ingredients as opposed to “100% ORGANIC BEER”. Today, hop producers have organized with an Association called American Organic Hop Grower Association (AOHGA) to promote organic farms and breweries. Associate members include Sierra Nevada, Wolaver, Peak …
YEAST – Organic yeast is free of synthetic chemicals, GMO sugars, petroleum-based chemicals, and other unnatural ingredients. Yeasts are cells that belong to the fungi family which includes mold. They can be found everywhere in nature, but they are especially present on fruits and other plants. There are many species of yeasts. The most commonly known is called Saccharomyces Cervisiae and is the widely used the beer industry under many different yeast strains. Besides their chemical function of producing alcohol and CO2 by “eating” sugars, yeasts may also produce in the end product secondary (by-products of the fermentation) aromas and flavors, classified as ESTERS or PHENOLS. Esters are generally desirable and fruit-related, whereas phenols are generally undesirable off flavors and aromas with medicinal or smokey character. Industrial beers rely may rely on artificial yeasts to produce a certain flavor profile, recognizable by its aggressive character.
The benefits of using all organic ingredients
SELECTING CERTIFIED ORGANIC INGREDIENTS above all, gives you a guarantee of QUALITY, and INFORMATION about the products you will ultimately consume. The producer is committed and passionate about his job. To be certified means to follow precise and strict regulations. Because organic producers are often independent farmers, they are more directly accessible. The organic community wants to be by definition responsible and transparent in the long term.
GENUINE TASTE. Assessing taste is a complex and subjective task. However, because organic crops are grown using composts and manure, they have different nutrient than conventional crops relying on synthetic fertilizers, therefore affecting the concentration and complexity of sugars and compounds, affecting the flavors. Working with fresh, local ingredients will definitely allow you to have access to ingredients that are intense, pure and have character. These ingredients should inspire you and give you a sense of appreciation for concepts of season and place.
BETTER FOR YOUR HEALTH. Yes, good beer is nutritious: it is a source of protein and vitamin B, with anti-oxidants comparable to those found in wine, and contains minerals essential to a healthy diet – riboflavin, niacin, zinc, potassium, calcium and phosphorus. Beer also has amazing health benefits such as anti-cancer properties, reducing the risk of cardio-vascular diseases, increasing bone density, helping prevention of dementia and coronary diseases, aiding the digestive system, delaying aging, treating diabetes, kidney stones, hypertension, reducing stress and being a diuretic. Should I say more? Beer is good for you.
BETTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. Farming organically improves soil fertility, increases biodiversity, reduces the impact of harmful chemicals, reduces the carbon footprint with fewer ingredients being imported or transported over long distances.
HELPING LOCAL GROWERS. Organic producers are not exposed to harmful chemicals. The idea of working in a sustainable way also promotes fair trade practices.
Finding organic ingredients easily
Sourcing organic beer ingredients is getting easier! Thanks to the growing movement of environmentally conscious producers and consumers worldwide.
The purpose of this post is not to provide you with links to source ingredients. This will be the object of a future article. Stay tuned!
Spent ingredients management
As an environment conscious community we aim to reduce waste.
One of the benefits of sourcing organic ingredients is that you will be able to use them beyond the brewing process. A few ideas include:
MAKING BREAD with the used mash. It still contains lots of fibers and nutrients, such as proteins, and even some minerals. You will need to dry the grain in your oven at low temperature (170°) for several hours. Grind it obtain flour and bake according to your recipe, and … serve it with the beer you produced with it.
VINEGAR may be made from a batch gone bad. Add 16 oz of raw apple cider vinegar with the mother to 48 oz of beer in a glass jar in a dark place at room temperature. Vinegar needs air, so make sure you have enough air in your container and simply cover it with a towel. It takes about 4 to 6 weeks.
COMPOSTING. Spent grain contains lots of Nitrogen and should be mixed with carbon-rich materials like wood chips, grass clippings, leaves to avoid a smelly decomposition. Also make sure you turn your compost over to bring oxygen.
MAKING DOGS’ TREATS. You can find different recipes online with spent barley. Important: Just do not feed your dog hop, or grain that has been in contact with hop, as it is highly toxic to its system.
Well worth the effort – where to go from there?
I believe quality beer is produced with ingredients that are best when sourced locally and farmed organically. The market for organic ingredients is still a minority, but is emerging steadily and significantly as people are becoming more HEALTH CONSCIOUS and recognize the benefits of SUPPORTING A LOCAL SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY. I believe sourcing organic ingredients will allow to produce beer with INTEGRITY, CHARACTER AND TASTE.
Of one the goals of this website is to help you to source your own ingredients, so please contact me, and I will be more than happy to direct you to vendors you can trust.
Cheers. To our health!