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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale

Organic beer. As I said in a story not long ago, it kind of sounds like "Amish sex." But beer was made that way for over 5,000 years, and...Amish babies are still made that way. (When I get a good line, I hate to use it only once.)

Organic beer's a phenomenon right now, booming like the rest of the organic market, although there's a bit of a problem sourcing organic hops. That became quite a bit more acute recently when the USDA backed into suddenly requiring all hops in organic beer to be organic -- they were previously allowing some non-organic hops in "organic" beers because organic hops simply weren't available in some varieties -- but that's a huge story, outside the scope of this tasting note (and it's a story I'm getting paid to write elsewhere, so I'm not doing it for free here!).

You can tell a beer is a phenomenon when contract brewing starts. Folks see the opportunity, and they can't wait to slowly raise the money to build a brewery and slowly build a market. They want to get in right away, and that's what Jon Cadoux did. He homebrewed some batches of organic beer, than cut a deal with Shipyard Brewing in Portland to brew up his Peak Brewing beers: an Amber, a Pale Ale, and the Nut Brown I'm drinking right now.

In that piece, there's a great quote from Morgan Wolaver (owner of Otter Creek/Wolaver's, where he brews the Wolaver's line of organic beers) about why people will or won't drink organic beers that applies beautifully to this one. "Is organic beer healthier for you? If you drank the beer over the next 60 years, maybe. It is better for the planet. Benefits in that way trickle all the way back to the farmer. But when you're sitting at the bar, do you really give a shit about the farmer? It has to be a quality beer." Dead on, Morgan: I don't care about who or how it's made: how's it taste?

Jon Cadoux has done okay on that angle here. As I've said many times, brown ale is one of my least favorite craft-type, traditional style. It just doesn't do much for me. But this is tasty stuff, in a laid-back (best-guess ABV is 4.6%), easy-drinking kind of way. It sidesteps the hop issue rather neatly by not going real hoppy (Magic Hat's Orlio IPA, a seasonal release, tasted pretty decent yesterday (I nipped a sip from a bottle I used to make a loaf of beer bread), but more in the pale ale range), and focuses instead on the malty, nutty, cocoa aspects: smart.

Now...would this be my first choice? To be honest, probably never. But that's more a reflection on me: I'm not a brown ale fan, and I'm not really what you'd call 'crunchy' or green. But if I got one of the e-mails I get fairly often, asking about beers for diabetics, or fatvolk, or vegans, or celiacs, and someone asked me if there were any organic beers...I'd recommend this one without hesitation...for them. Me, I'm looking for an organic pilsner. Anybody know of any?


DempseysArmy said...

Pinkus Ur Pils is a fair pilsner for being organic:

As an aside, an acquaintance of mine recently brought back some Pisgah Vortex II from Asheville, NC, an organic Imperial stout that is probably the best organic beer I've ever had:

Unknown said...

Ukiah Brewing from Mendicino CA. makes an organic pilsner and it comes in a can. I believe they are using one of the Cask auto-magical canning systems.
I've never had it.

Anonymous said...

Neumarkt Lammsbrau do a large range, including a Pilsner;

Also Riedenburger

Not sure that the "organic" moniker makes much of a difference to the taste though.

Lew Bryson said...

It's not so much the flavor that makes the difference, it's just the appeal of drinking something that tastes just as good that didn't involve spraying poisons on the ground.

Or something like that. Like I said, I'm just not that green, myself. Might get that way, eventually, but I'm trying to raise my consciousness one piece at a time.

Stan Hieronymus said...

I recommend reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals" - although beer comes with none of the meals.

It will help you appreciate that the relationship between green and organic is not linear.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure "green" and "organic" are compatible in the beer market.

If you have to rack up the airmiles to get the organic hops, and then rack up some more to get it round the world, then I reckon you negate any gain by not spraying poison on the ground.

I can see the organic argument with lots of other products, but not beer. That said, if you're putting that much care and attention into making sure it's organic, you're probably looking after the important things as well!

Stan - I've not read the piece you quote (off to look for it now!)

Lew Bryson said...

Agreed, Boak. If you're really looking to help the planet while drinking beer, you'd be better off drinking locally-brewed draft beer. But then how would people be able to buy nationally-advertised brands that had millions of dollars invested in them?

Anonymous said...

Ah, the organic, green, sustainable debate topic. I love this one! Drink local, drink sustainable, drink what you like and what you think tastes good. Don't insist that organic/green/sustainable is better.

Same argument goes on in the coffee world - "save the planet by drinking organic coffee" Bullshit, if you want to save the planet...Don't drink coffee. What is the carbon footprint of that cup of coffee? Very few people have the opportunity to drink truly local coffee.

Drink good local beer and reduce the carbon footprint. Organic does not mean sustainable! Personally, I don't think about any of that when I make my choices, but it is good that the gov't is insisting on 100% organic ingredients in order to use the organic label.

Now, if we could get fair trade beers...and be sure the yeast farmers are getting a living wage.

Lew Bryson said...


It's round and round, to be sure. I mean, if we want to save the planet...shouldn't we be living by the damned UNABOMBER Manifesto? We'll end up shipping coffee by clipper ship, I suppose, and growing barley in our backyards, under an arbor of hops and grapes. Like hops in IPA, you can take this stuff too far.

Lew Bryson said...

Come to that, I'm not so sure 100% organic is necessarily a wonderful thing. Sounds like it might be a big-biz ploy to put 100% organic in the hands of those who have the money to pay for it and put the smaller producers out of business. Or at least, it could, if you have a bent for that kind of thinking...