NOSB Unanimously Votes That Organic Beer Should Include 100% Organic Hops

I just heard that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) earlier today voted unanimously “to require organic beer to include 100% organic hops beginning January 1, 2013.” If you haven’t been following this, under current USDA guidelines, a beer can be labeled “organic” if 95% of its ingredients are organic. Since less than 5% of beer consists of hops, that means almost any beer using organic malt may be called an organic beer. If a brewery uses 100% organic ingredients, they may label that beer “100% organic,” but all but the most savvy consumers are unaware of the difference. And it’s hard to argue that the current standard doesn’t cause confusion. I think most people who see a product labeled “organic” are going to assume that it’s all organic, not just mostly organic. There are actually four ways that beer can be labeled “organic” which includes the two I just mentioned plus “Made with Organic Ingredients” and “Some Organic Ingredients.” You can see the different standards at a post I did several Years ago, What Makes Beer Organic? The last two seem to convey the intended information, and so does saying “100%.” It’s that simple “organic” designation being only 95% that has people concerned — rightly so, I should add — and led the American Organic Hop Grower Association (AOHGA) to petition the USDA to “remove hops from the National List of non-organic ingredients allowed in organic food (section 205.606).” You can view the petition, and an addendum, at the AOGHA website.

Here’s some of the background, from an AOGHA press release:

Hops were first added to the National List by the NOSB in June 2007, when organic hops were primarily produced in Europe and New Zealand. Since then, the U.S. organic hop industry has made significant advances. Progressive, large-scale family farms in the Pacific Northwest and small, local growers across the country are now growing organic hops, even though the hop producers believe the market for them has remained weak due to the current NOSB policy which allows brewers to use less expensive, non-organic hops in their beer labeled organic.

In an attempt to remove hops from the National List, the American Organic Hop Grower Association (AOHGA) submitted a petition to the USDA in December 2009, supported by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Anheuser-Busch, Lakefront Brewery, Seven Bridges Cooperative, and Hopunion LLC.

When the USDA denied the petition, BT Loftus Ranches VP Patrick Smith wrote an impassioned essay, National Organic Standards Board to US Organic Hop Industry: “Drop Dead”, that nicely laid out the organic hop farmers’ case. In the middle of October, “thanks to his efforts, and the attendant “response from consumers, organic hop growers, and organic brewers, the NOSB Handling Committee has revised their previous recommendation and is now recommending that hops come off the National List on January 1, 2013.” Good news, to be sure, but it still required the full board of NOSB board vote on the petition again and accept the changed recommendation at a meeting in Madison today, as reported by Patrick Smith in an Organic Hops Update.


The AOHGA website is now updated with the following: “On October 28, 2010, the National Organic Standards Board unanimously voted in favor of the removal of hops from section 205.606 of the National List of Approved and Prohibited Substances, effective January 1, 2013.”

Vermont Consolidation: Long Trail Buying Otter Creek/Wolaver’s

In case you missed it, yesterday my friend and colleague Andy Crouch dropped the bombshell that Long Trail Brewing of Bridgewater Corners, Vermont was in the early stages of purchasing Otter Creek / Wolaver’s Brewing, also located in Vermont. Not that I doubted him, but I was able to confirm the news through a well-placed anonymous source. Apparently it’s too soon for an official announcement and the story leaked (not by Andy, I should stress) so I was unable to get any additional details. I tried to reach owner Morgan Wolaver, but so far I haven’t heard back from him. I’ll update the story when I can. For now, you can read the full story at Andy’s Beer Scribe.

Squatter’s Brews Utah’s 1st Organic Beer

Jennifer Talley, the head brewer at Squatter’s Pub Brewery, which is operated by Salt Lake Brewing, has brewed the state’s first certified organic beer, an amber ale. Squatter’s is already known for their ecological leanings, having been named a Utah recycler of the year in 2004. So creating an organic beer does seem like the next logical step for them to make. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Talley used “organic pale and caramel malted barley and aromatic hops,” using “barley is grown from organic seeds, using natural methods of pest control such as lady bugs and composting rather than chemical fertilizers.”

The taste, says brewmaster Jenny Talley, is a caramel-like maltiness with a hint of sweetness. Organic certification requires high levels of cleanliness and sanitation that already were in place, said Talley. But it also requires strict segregation of ingredients “from grain to glass.”

In addition to the Squatters Pub in downtown Salt Lake City, the new organic amber ale is also available at Park City and at the Salt Lake City International Airport. It will also begin appearing on grocery store shelves throughout Utah beginning this summer.

I’ve very much enjoyed Talley’s other beers and am glad to see yet another organic beer from a well-established brewery.

Jenny Talley, brewmaster at Squatters, shows off her Squatters Organic Amber Ale, the Utah’s only certified organic beer.
(Photo by Paul Fraughton, The Salt Lake Tribune)

NOTE: For some reason, the Squatters website requires a username and password, meaning no one can actually visit their website, or it give the following error message, “Insufficient system resources exist to complete the requested service,” with the same result. Hopefully, this is a temporary error and will be fixed shortly.

Eric Rose’s Hollister Brewery Open

For eight years, Eric Rose was the head brewer at Santa Barbara Brewing. And life was good. But Eric, like many brewers, dreamed of opening his own place one day. That day was Sunday, when his Hollister Brewing opened its doors to the public for the first time.

Situated in a modern strip mall setting in Goleta, a high-tech suburb of Santa Barbara, the new building, brewery and restaurant was built from scratch. I was in Santa Barbara over St. Patrick’s Day weekend (the missus had business that took her there for a long weekend) and hooked up with Eric for my regular column in Ale Street News, the Left Coaster. I’ve always liked Eric’s beers and feel like he often doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, despite winning awards for his Belgian-style beers and hoppy west coast IPAs.

Rose is installing a brand-new 10bbl system and will offer twelve of his own beers — all of them organic — in a wide range of styles along with eight guests taps featuring his friends’ beers. After he’s up and running, he also expects to start doing some barrel-aged beers in small quantities.

Also from my Ale Street News column:

His new brewpub, named Hollister Brewing Co. for the street in the Santa Barbara suburb of Goleta where it’s located, will be something of a Gastropub among chain restaurants. They’ll serve reasonably priced upscale food made for all-local ingredients prepared by the former chef from Bouchon, one of the most well-respected local restaurants. The menu will feature eclectic brew food with homemade sauces, specialty pizza and six daily lunch specials to cater to the high-tech industry nearby.

As Rose tells me, “there used to be a time when you had to choose between being green and good taste.” But now that you can have both, he believes more people will make the responsible choice that gives them both great taste and the feeling that they’re doing the right thing, too. Organic beers have truly come of age.

So far in the first few days he’s getting some good reviews from locals and the local paper, the Santa Barbara Independent has written favorably about the opening.

I’m really looking forward to tasting what Eric will be brewing at his new venture. If you visit Santa Barbara, be sure to stop by his new place and give it a try.

From the Independent article:

Located at the northeast corner of the Camino Real Marketplace in Goleta, the new brewery is replacing Camino Real Café. The three looked at a number of different locations, but decided on the Camino Real Marketplace because of the activity surrounding the area. “It’s a very important part of the Goleta Valley,” Rose said. With traffic being generated by a movie theater, Home Depot, Starbucks, and Borders, the trio envisions the brewery as another option for older college students and researchers to enjoy a nicer beer, as there is nothing of the sort in Goleta. The brewery has “enough TVs to make sports fans happy,” but is low-key enough that it isn’t a sports bar, Rose said.

Hollister Brewer Eric Rose in March.

Peak Organic Peaks With 12-Packs

Jon Cadoux, founder of Portland, Maine’s Peak Organic Brewing announced the addition of 12-packs and kegs. Twelve-packs will be released for their Pale Ale as well as a variety pack containing four bottles of each of their three current styles: pale ale, amber ale and a nut brown ale.

From the press release:

“Peak Organic customers enjoy celebrating the great moments of life with family and friends,” said Cadoux, whose Peak Organic web site is filled with customer photos and stories. “We are responding to increased demand by offering 12-packs and draft. Peak on draft is especially popular in restaurants that are very focused on high quality ingredients.”

One of America’s very first organic beers, Peak Organic is made with the highest quality ingredients and is characterized by a distinctively refreshing taste. Peak is available in three flavors: Pale Ale, complex and hoppy; Nut Brown Ale, smooth with a nutty finish; and Amber Ale, lively with a subtle toasted character.

Bottled in Portland, Maine, Peak Organic is made with barley and hops that are grown without toxic and persistent pesticides and chemical fertilizers. “This process makes our beer better tasting and more enjoyable, both for consumers and for the planet,” said Cadoux.

Organic beer is well positioned for growth. Organics has become a $13 billion industry and represents the fastest growing segment of America’s food and beverage category.

Jon Cadoux, founder of Peak Organic Brewing in Portland, Maine, from an AP story on MSNBC in July.
(Photo by Pat Wellenbach / AP)

Old Contradictions

I have to give credit for this to Randy Bishop of idDream, who posted it on his blog as an update to a piece he wrote regarding Anheuser-Busch’s foray into the organic beer market with Wild Hop Lager and Stone Mill Pale Ale. He uncovered a letter I’d read before but had forgotten about regarding an article written by Fred Eckhardt for the March 1997 issue of All About Beer magazine. The article concerned the long-standing feud between Anheuser-Busch and Boston Beer Co. Fred wrote about the contradictions A-B argued about with regard to contract brewing. A-B responded to Fred’s article with a lengthy response of their own. In that response, A-B said the following:

We don’t take issue with contract brewing — we just think beer drinkers have the right to know who really brews their beer. We, along with many other traditional brewers and beer enthusiasts, object to those who mislead consumers by marketing their beers as “craft brewed,” when in fact their beers are made in large breweries.

Fast forward nine years to the release of Wild Hop Lager, which revealed its origin only to the beer cogniscenti who when they read “Fairfield, CA” on a beer label knew something most people wouldn’t realize. Ironically, the argument expressed in their letter to Fred is the same one I made in my original post about this back in March, Wild Hop Lager: A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing. Several months after its initial release the website now acknowledges that it’s a A-B product but the packaging in the stores still does not. Perhaps when they move through the existing packaging the new labels and carriers will reveal its true ownership Until then, I think they’ll be doing exactly what they accused Samuel Adams of in 1997: misleading consumers.

AP Discovers Wild Hop Lager

Yesterday’s media ran a story by AP entitled “Organic beer sales grow, Anheuser-Busch enters market.” The article itself is fine, mostly comprehensive and well-written. But what struck me was the phrase A-B “enters market” (my emphasis) because I started writing about Wild Hop Lager on March 23. To my mind, almost four months later is not exactly a scoop by the mainstream press.

One statement in the article was quite interesting regarding sales of organic beer:

While organic beer sales are still minuscule in the overall beer industry, they are rising fast. North American sales of organic beers grew from $9 million in 2003 to $19 million in 2005, according to the Organic Trade Association.

That’s slightly better than doubling sales growth in two years’ time, which is pretty impressive.