Beer Goes Organic

Organic beers are showing strong appeal.

Domestic organic beers are just starting to find their place in the market, but Merchant du Vin Corp. has been importing the Pinkus and Samuel Smith lineups (pictured) since the 1980s and ’90s.
Domestic organic beers are just starting to find their place in the market, but Merchant du Vin Corp. has been importing the Pinkus and Samuel Smith lineups (pictured) since the 1980s and ’90s.

Portland, Maine’s Allagash Brewing Co. has incorporated organic ingredients into some of its beers for years, and earlier this year it unveiled its first-ever certified-organic brew, the limited-edition Crosspath. Allagash brewmaster Jason Perkins notes that the golden ale received such a strong response from consumers that the company will launch another certified organic beer, Fine Acre, in 2021 for year-round distribution. 

Indeed, certified-organic brews and beers using organic ingredients are becoming more common. Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Co. introduced The Purist, a reduced-calorie, USDA-approved organic lager, earlier this year. “The fact that it’s organic is something that’s really resonating with people,” says Leah Pilcer, director of public relations and communications at the brewery. She says that garnering USDA approval was an intense process, as all of the ingredients in the beer had to be certified as organic—as did the brewing process and the brewery itself. Pilcer and Perkins also both note that sourcing high-quality organic brewing ingredients can be a challenge for craft brewers because there’s little U.S. farm acreage dedicated to organic grains.

But the use of organic ingredients isn’t limited to craft brewers. Anheuser-Busch InBev expanded the Michelob Ultra franchise with Pure Gold—produced with organic grains and USDA-certified—in 2018. To support the need for more organic grains, a portion of the brand’s 6-pack sales this year is being earmarked for farmers transitioning to organic farming. Molson Coors will launch Coors Pure, a USDA-certified organic beer, in the spring.

While domestic organic brews are proliferating, the Pinkus line of brews, imported from Germany by Merchant du Vin Corp., are widely considered the first organic beers to be marketed in the U.S., starting in 1984 and joined by Samuel Smith organic beers from England in the early 1990s. Craig Hartinger, marketing director for the company, believes that increased demand for organic brews in recent years reflects the overall organic trend. “Consumers are looking for products with fewer side effects to the environment,” he says. Mary Guiver, global senior category merchant for beer and spirits at Whole Foods, agrees. “Now, more than ever, consumers want to know about the ingredients in the products they buy, and breweries are listening,” she says. “We’re seeing integrity of raw materials become a big part of the deciding factors for consumers.” Organic beer at Whole Foods is generally priced from $4 a single 12-ounce container to $20 a 12-pack, the retailer notes.

Jason Daniels, COO at Half Time Beverage, which has two locations in New York, describes organic beer consumers as health-conscious. “They’re consumers who work out and eat well all week, and when they drink, they’re mindful of the ingredients,” he says. Half Time stocks 30-40 organic beers, priced at $11-$13 a 6-pack of 12-ounce bottles or cans. Not surprisingly, organic beers are often heavily featured at stores that promote other organic products. “Organic beer continues to be a key part of our beer sets and sales continue to rise,” says Jeff Cameron, category manager for wine and beer at Natural Grocers. The company offers up to 41 different organic brews at 36 locations in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Oregon.

At PCC Community Markets, a chain of natural and organic grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest, “people are embracing well-brewed organic beers,” says wine, beer, and spirits merchandiser Jeff Cox. The 15-store chain offers 12-15 organic beer SKUs ($10-$15 a 6-pack of 12-ounce bottles or cans), and Cox says they are only now hitting their stride. “I believe organic beers will continue to gain steam,” he says. “As brewers see this success, there will be more pressure on farmers to grow the organic ingredients.” New Belgium also believes the category will make gains. “We’re expecting the market to grow pretty fast,” says Pilcer. “Younger drinkers are more cognizant about how they consume alcohol than any other generation, so organic brews allow them to drink without feeling guilty because it fits in with their health and lifestyle goals.”