I recently read this article from Triple Pundit about a new organic law coming in 2013 that will require organic beers to have organic hops. Now, if I remember correctly, currently all that is required for a beer to be considered organic is that 95% of the product has to be organic. Hops, which definitely don’t constitute over 5% of any beer (except for maybe Mikkeler’s 1000 IBU beer) have not been a part of the organic factor.
I wonder how this new law will change things for breweries? I’m thinking of Laurelwood Brewing who has a few organic beers and Hopworks who makes all their beers organic. I’m curious if they’ve been using organic hops this whole time. I imagine not, from what I’ve heard it is extremely difficult to grow hops without pesticides because the bugs love them as much as we do. During the Rocky Mountain Microbrewing Symposium we heard from Frank Stonaker of the CSU Hopyard Project and Summit Plant Labs that he was looking into starting to grow organic hops soon. According to CSU Specialty Crops Program a survey in 2009 was conducted of 33 Colorado breweries, thirty of them wanted to grow their own hops and over half the group was interested in organic hops. In 2004 the Specialty Crops Program test planted several varieties of organic hops which they harvested in 2007 and published some results on their site. Also according to the site, in 2008 there were only 100 acres of organic hops in Colorado.
Will we see the price of organic beers go up? Will breweries stop making organic beers or will this push the industry? Will we as homebrewers have more access to organic hops? Try asking for organic hops now at your local homebrew store, they’d probably laugh. Here’s an anecdote, I called up the Brew Hut near Denver to ask if they had a specific kind of malt in an organic version, they said no, and then proceeded to tell me that it doesn’t make much of a difference anyway, that the chemicals used on non-organic barley doesn’t make that much of a difference…Well, I know that’s not true. And I’m going to look that up the types of pesticides involved just as soon as I get home, and I’ll report back, but I just wanted to get this post off today while I’m inspired.
Well I decided to wait a few days to publish this post, so that I could ask a few breweries about this new organic situation. Generally, my questions went something like this, “I just read in this article that in 2013 they are changing the organic laws for beers and hops will now have to be organic as well. I’m curious how it will affect your brewery? Do you already use organic hops or is this something you are transitioning into? How’s it going? Do you know how much these organic hops will cost?” And these were the responses I’ve received so far.
From Christian Ettinger of Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland, OR (all their beer is organic):
The laws are indeed changing. At Hopworks we currently use about 30% organic hops with an aggressive plan to meet the deadline. It means that we are working with farmers and brokers to meet our hop supply needs with minimal reformulation. Given the fact that it takes three years (36 months) to transition conventional land to organic production and the ruling was passed in Oct 2010 to be enacted in January 2013 (27 months), it may be a mathematically impossible deadline. Prices are for organic hops are in the mid teens. Cheers!
From Chad Kennedy of Laurelwood Brewing in Portland, OR
It is true. No big deal for us except for Green Elephant and Deranger (these are really hopped up beers). We’ll just brew them the same and not call them organic. The flavor is more important [to us] than whether or not they’re organic. The hops I’ve contracted for are only slightly more expensive. Problems will arise though if there is a bad crop. Not all of our beer is organic. We do use organic 2-row for everything though. The Free Range Red and Porter are our 2 standard organic beers. We [also] just added a pale. These beers will use organic hops. GE and Deranger are the only two other beers we make on a regular basis that will be affected.
From Bryan Simpson, Media Relations Director at New Belgium:
Thanks for the note…We have always used organic hops in our Mothership Wit. One of the challenges in sourcing this initially was that there are so few organic hop producers in the US producing to scale that we had to buy hops from New Zealand (where organics are more readily produced due to a lack pests). We worried about the carbon of shipping that far but in a bittersweet twist, it turns out that conventionally grown hops in the US currently create a bigger carbon footprint (due to pesticide manufacture and other large scale farming practices) than importing organics. So it was still a win from the carbon perspective and the chemical perspective.
This is actually mind-blowing to me that the carbon footprint of shipping organic hops from New Zealand is less than using regular hops from here in the States. I imagine that if New Belgium was a much smaller brewery this wouldn’t be the case, being that they are so large they would likely need more organic hops than are potentially readily available.
For now, these have been my responses. I’m still waiting to hear back from Bison Brewing in California and Asher Brewing in Colorado. I’ll make another post when I’ve heard back from those two, and after looking into the pesticides and damaging effects of non-organic malt when I get back home from Kansas City and can dig into a book I have on the subject.
*** Update ***
I created the post on the chemicals used in the production non-organic grains.