Organic beer is getting to be big business. In the past few years, the large national brewers Anheuser-Busch, Miller and New Belgium have all introduced organic products, joining a growing number of microbreweries offering organic beer. The next time you stock up on eco-friendly ales, here are a few things to look for.
Certified Organic: When you buy organic beer, you're supporting a farm system that uses fewer pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, which in turn enhances soil fertility, increases species diversity, conserves water and produces fewer greenhouse gases.
"Certified Organic" beers are made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients following all the standards set by the USDA, which include standards for the chemicals used to clean breweries.
Organic Hops: The USDA's National Organic Program allows nonorganic hops in organic beer, if the brewer can't get access to sufficient quantities. And because hops are important ingredients that add aroma and bitterness to beer, this has generated some debate about the "organicness" of organic beers that use nonorganic hops. If you want a 100-percent organic beer, buy from breweries that use organic hops.
Distribution: As with any food product, local, organic brews reduce fossil-fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions related to shipping, and they support local businesses. Fortunately, microbreweries with organic products have become popular over the last few decades, since beer may be brewed in small vats even in confined urban spaces.
· Buying locally produced beer that hasn't been shipped long distances is a worthy alternative, even if the brewery doesn't sell organic beer.
· When throwing a party for large numbers of people, look for breweries that sell beer in kegs or growlers to reduce wasting glass bottles or aluminum cans.
· Brew your own organic beer. Some Starter kits start as low as $90. Visit 1 thing Sacramento for a list of places to get a brewing kit (www.breworganic.com, 800-768-4409).