Organic food and beverage have become very popular with eco-conscious and health-conscious consumers alike. Organic beer has been around for decades, but many homebrewers and beer aficionados are still unfamiliar with what separates it from other beers. You may be wondering: do organic ingredients and processes really make better beer? And why aren’t organic beers more common?
Organic beers are beers that contain organic-certified ingredients and follow organic-approved processes. The term is regulated by agencies like the USDA, and once a beer is certified organic, its label will typically indicate so. The organic logo doesn’t necessarily indicate the beer will taste better or be healthier than any other style of beer.
Read on to find out more about what makes an organic beer, and which organic beers are the absolute best.
What is organic beer?
Organic beer is beer that has been certified organic by a governing body such as the USDA. The USDA and other certifying agencies have a strict set of standards that brewers must meet to earn and maintain their organic certification.
Requirements to be certified organic include:
- Proving the use of organic ingredients
Depending on the particular certification being claimed, breweries need to show documentation of the percentage of organic ingredients used in every batch of the beer they’re certifying. Organic ingredients will also be certified, confirming the lack of pesticides or other uncertified components.
- Use of organic-certified equipment
Even the tools and equipment used to brew organic beer need to be confirmed. To do this, brewers can either use specific equipment only for their organic beers, or they must clean the equipment between batches with an approved cleaning or purging system. This is to flush the system with organic material when switching from conventional production to organic production.
- Annual inspection
Breweries are typically inspected annually at a minimum to verify they are meeting all organic requirements. They also can be subjected to surprise inspections. These are different from health department inspections, and are purely to verify the items above, as well as other requirements for their unique organic certification. If a brewery were to fail this inspection, they would need to remove the organic logo from any affected beers, and reapply for the certification in the future.
Are most beers organic?
Because of the additional cost of certification and the higher average cost of organic ingredients, the vast majority of beers on the market are not organic. This is true for both craft beer and mass-produced beer.
Some key challenges to producing organic beers are:
- Cost – Organic certification is a costly annual expense for a brewer, and often means the price of the beer will be more expensive. In addition to certification cost, an additional equipment investment may be necessary.
- Production concerns – Because organic beer and its ingredients need to be kept very separate from conventional beers, production inefficiencies can arise.
- Lack of consumer interest – Depending on the primary regions a brewery distributes in, there may not be high consumer demand for organic beer. This can make the cost and hassle of certifying a beer organic not worth the effort.
Read on for more on organic breweries and the best organic beers in the world.
Organic beer vs regular beer
The only difference between organic beer and conventional beer is that the organic beer has been certified to contain organic ingredients. However, organic ingredients don’t automatically guarantee quality.
Just because a beer is certified organic, doesn’t mean it’s automatically a great beer. On the flip side, not all conventional beer is subpar compared to organic beer. There are excellent organic beers and amazing conventional beers too!
Additionally, some brewers may use certain organic ingredients in their brew, but not pay for the annual organic certification that allows them to print the label on their logo.
Organic beer ingredients
All organic beer is made with organic ingredients, but there are different types of organic certifications beer can claim. Depending on the percentage of organic ingredients in a given beer, its certification will be termed differently.
According to the USDA, there are three ways for a brewery to certify that its beer is made with organic ingredients:
- 100% organic
This certification is limited only to beers that are made with 100% organic-certified ingredients. The only ingredients not required to be certified organic are water and salt.
Most organic beers carry this certification, which requires that the beer be made with 95% organic ingredients. The remaining 5% of ingredients must not be available readily in an organic form.
- Made with organic ingredients
This allows brewers to note the specific percentage of organic ingredients in their beer, noting it typically on the ingredients panel part of the packaging.
Is organic beer healthier?
We’ve been conditioned to believe that organic food is inherently healthier than the alternative, and, by extension, healthier than non-organic foods. This isn’t always true however since a regular salad is still likely to be healthier than an organic cheese puff.
Organic beers aren’t made with as many processed ingredients, so theoretically, they may be processed more easily by your digestive system.
Keep in mind that all alcoholic beers come with the potential side effects of excessive alcohol consumption, so don’t trick yourself into thinking you can finish off a case of organic beer guilt-free!
What is the healthiest organic beer?
Beer isn’t necessarily a healthy drink, but just like with conventional beers, there are organic light beers that are lower in calories and carbohydrates than some of their counterparts.
Even mainstream breweries are getting in on this trend. Michelob Ultra Pure Gold is a low-calorie, low-carb, organic light lager. It’s also the first nationally available USDA-certified organic beer, so as long as you’re in the United States, you should be able to find it.
Does organic beer make a difference?
Generally, there isn’t such a thing as an “organic taste.” Since organic products are simply made with ingredients that have been certified as such, they’re still made with hops, malts, and other typical ingredients that you’d find in any conventional beer.
Because of the lack of processed ingredients, organic beers can sometimes taste “cleaner” than certain conventional counterparts. For example, an organic pumpkin beer would need to be made with real organic pumpkin, whereas a conventional pumpkin beer may have some artificial pumpkin flavor ingredients.
This doesn’t mean that no conventional beers taste clean, or are made with natural ingredients, but it does mean that the ingredients in organic-certified beers have been confirmed as such by a governing body.
Is organic beer better for your liver?
Unfortunately, there’s no beer that’s entirely “good” for your liver, as the alcohol in beer is always going to put your liver to work, but it’s possible that organic beers won’t make it work as hard.
Some studies have shown that because organic beers and other organic products contain less processed ingredients, consuming them can actually be a bit easier on your liver.
This doesn’t mean that pounding a bunch of organic beer will suddenly make you healthier, but if you have concerns about your liver function, talk to your doctor about how organic beer may be a good alternative for you.
Which beers are organic?
Even though organic beers aren’t particularly common, you can find them around the world. Some breweries only brew certified-organic beers, while others offer a limited menu of organic beers along with conventional ones
Here are some of the most exceptional organic beers in the world:
- Cantillon Gueuze
- Black Isle Goldeneye
- Peak IPA
- New Belgium The Purist Clean Lager
- Eel River California Blonde
ABV: 5.5%, IBUs: 30
Widely regarded as one of the finest beers in the world, Cantillon Gueuze is hard to come by in the United States. Many a beer aficionado has made the trek to Brussels, Belgium to visit their legendary brewery. All Cantillon beers are certified organic and have been brewed using the same process and equipment for more than a century.
ABV: 7.1%, IBUs: 76
Portland, Oregon’s Peak Organic Brewing Company brews only certified organic beers, and Peak IPA is their flagship. Brewed with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Nugget hops, it’s an IPA without a traditional bittering hop. This results in a citrusy, floral, and hop-forward sip without the bitter aftertaste that some IPA haters hate.
Black Isle Brewing Blonde
ABV: 4.5%, IBUs: 25
Black Isle Brewing doesn’t just brew delicious organic beers, they also turned 125 acres of their space into a working organic farm. On this historic farmland, you’ll find sheep, hens, and even a jersey cow. Their beers are some of Scotland’s finest and Blonde is their flagship. Grab it in a can for the unfiltered version!
New Belgium The Purist Clean Lager
ABV: 3.8%, IBUs: 0
Hitting the scene in 2020 was New Belgium’s The Purist Clean Lager. This fresh take on a classic Lager is made with “organic, traceable ingredients” which leads to a delightfully simple, thirst-quenching lager. The trend of lower-ABV beers you can drink all day is here to stay, and New Belgium’s commitment to making one with only the cleanest ingredients means you can think differently about taking down a six-pack on a hot day.
Eel River Organic Earth Thirst Double IPA
ABV: 8.2%, IBUs: 71
Eel River Brewing offers a vast menu of permanent and seasonal organic beers. Their seasonal Earth Thirst Double IPA is made with a whopping three pounds of hops per barrel. A light maltiness holds up an absolute blast of fresh hop flavor. Its malty backbone means it’s more balanced than your average DIPA, meaning polishing off a 22oz can will be no problem.
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