Raising the Bar: Libations for Locavores

Okay, so when it comes to food, you've got major cojones. Let’s take it one step further- what do you know about your drinks? As food labels like organic and fair trade enter the mainstream, the beverage industry - both alcoholic and non -, is catching on, too. From certified organic beers to biodynamic wines --- the latest we've seen is fair trade quinoa vodka--- it seems like every time we turn around there is new socially conscious product tempting us. I'll be following this post up in a week or two with another one focused on non-alcoholic drinks, but for now, join us for a cold one.

First to belly up, beers : Certified organic beers first came on the market in 2002 when the USDA adopted organic standards for beer. USDA organic certification states that at least 95 percent of the ingredients in a product must be grown organically, and forbids the use of genetically engineered ingredients. Now, technically five percent of a certified organic product is allowed to be non-organic, and since hops technically fall within this margin, they can be non-organic. The claim back in June 2007 was that organic hops were not as readily available in the United States. As such, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) added organic hops to the national list of exempted items. This September, the NOSB denied a petition from the American Organic Hop Grower Association to remove hops from this list. Comments are being taken on this recommendation until October 12th and there will be a hearing on this issue during the NOSB board meeting October 25-28 to make the final decision. Care to weigh in? You can do so here.

In general, it’s a good idea to support local microbreweries over multinationals like Anheuser-Busch (which was sold to international corporation InBev a few years back, thus rendering the beloved Budweiser about as patriotic as St. Pauli Girl) or Coors, the beer behemoth that has long funded anti-environmental, anti-woman and anti-gay groups, though its advertising tells a different story.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether something is really a microbrew, as Ecocentric writer Chris Hunt pointed out in his piece about fake craft brands back in July. Organic beer has become quite ubiquitous, and perhaps the most widely distributed certified organic beer is Peak Organic, out of Portland Maine. Daily Green recently made a list of their favorites -- check them out:

Eel River
Butte Creek
Green Valley Brewing Co
Lakefront Brewery- organic options, they even have a gluten-free brew!
Samuel Smith’s
Roots Organic Brewing Company

Homebrews : In addition to organic beers available for purchase, there is a growing trend toward uberlocal, as in, at-your house-local. Homebrew kits are readily available to brew your own beer, allowing you to tailor it to your specific taste and know exactly where the ingredients came from. There are many different options, and kits are available online, like the ones at Brooklyn Brew Shop. You can also buy the individual components necessary to brew beer, such as organic hops. Santa Cruz-based Seven Bridges Cooperative has what seems to be the most extensive selection of organic products available for purchase online.

Next up, the Wine Course: Organic wine is made from 100 percent organically grown ingredients and can contain only naturally occurring sulfites. “Organic” wine must adhere to basically the same standards as beer, and must contain 95% organically grown ingredients. Not only is organic wine becoming more and more popular, but winemaker Yellow + Blue boxed wine (certified organic wine in sustainable Tetrapaks) are considering their waste reduction. The wine trade has a large carbon footprint when the packaging, pesticides and shipping are added up. Additionally, just last week Grist just ran an article about wine in bulk, headed stateside next year from France. Interesting fact for East Coast wine enthusiasts to keep in mind: Our friend Kerry Trueman, who wrote a chapter on food and drink for Rodale’s Whole Green Catalog, notes that European wines carry a lighter carbon footprint for you than West Coast wines.

Much attention has been given to biodynamic wines, produced through a process that is beyond organic. It aims to bring in the balance of nature into farming, taking into account celestial movements and patterns and is a more holistic approach to growing grapes. Check out the list of the 529 biodynamic vineyards across the globe and check out this interview to see what farmers have to say about biodynamic farming.

And to nightcap, spirits : On the super local front, at least for us, the Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn is the first since before prohibition to open up in the five boroughs. The first company to produce a line of fair trade spirits, FAIR, makers of the aforementioned quinoa vodka another notable liquor company. By the way, did you know that October is Fair Trade Month? We hear that to celebrate, Worthwhile Wine, importer of sustainable, Fair Trade South African wines will donate 10 percent of its sales for every bottle (and waive shipping fees) of Fair Trade wine purchased during October to TransFair USA.

From packaging to methods to ingredients, it’s exciting to see the growing trend of more sustainable beverages. Making the decision to fill our glass with socially and environmentally responsible wines, beers and spirits is getting easier everyday. We'll drink to that!