This Sunday marks the 42nd installment of Earth Day. Tree planting ceremonies, rallies and fairs promoting conservation will take place throughout the Bay Area. Craft beer drinkers can get into the act by heading over to the Organic Beer Revolution in Oakland on Saturday, where an impressive group of organic brewers will be taking over all the taps at Beer Revolution.
One of those brewers is Bison Brewing’s Dan Del Grande, who’s the leading proponent of organic beer in the Bay Area. His Twitter feed is a constant source of sustainability facts, organic beer revelations, and healthy lifestyle tips.
Organic beer has been experiencing impressive growth, but still faces a few challenges. Del Grande provided some insight by answering a few questions over email.
What’s preventing more breweries from switching over to organic ingredients? Is it cost, lack of education or the stigma of taste inferiority?
The biggest impediment for brewer’s switching to organic is securing a hop supply. You need several years of planning to attain significant amounts of hops. The next biggest impediment is realizing how much it costs to brew organically, since we can’t pass on the full cost to consumers to maintain the margins of typical craft beers. Organic brewers are in it for the passion, not the profit.
If a large number of breweries were willing to make the switch to organic, are there even enough producers of organic malt and hops?
No. It will take time to accommodate growth of organic beers. It takes a farmer 3 years of “transitional” agriculture where they spend all the money making barley and hops organically before they can label it as “organic”; this time lag is to let any chemicals in the earth dissipate. I expect farmers are planning on new “organic” organic growth gradually at something like 15-20% per year.
When some people hear the word organic, they equate it with higher prices. Is that true with beer and if so, how does the cost of organic ingredients affect how you brew if at all?
As I said, most organic beers are made with less margin in order to hit a price point of no more than $9.99 to 10.99/6-pack. The cost of our two row malt is 52 cents per pound and I think non-organic contract is something like 32 cents per pound. Organic hops run from $12 to $19 per pound, whereas non-organic hops are at $4 to $8 per pound on contract. That’s why I don’t make a double IPA.
Incidentally, I can’t understand why people won’t pay $2 for a bottle of world class craft (non-organic) beer that takes two weeks to brew, keep cold, package in glass and colorful 6-pack cartons, while they’ll pay $3 for a hot 12 ounce cup of coffee served in a paper cup that took two minutes to brew. OK, rant over.
A few weeks ago you sent out the following tweet: “Brewing ingredients are like crayons. Organic brewers have less crayons in our box, but we can still draw the same pictures.” Less crayons makes it sounds like you’re limited in some way. Could you elaborate on this a bit more?
I like to use the analogy that an organic brewer has 24 crayons in our box, the same 24 colors as non-organic brewer, so we can draw the exact same picture (and it will taste the exact same given the equivalent talent of the brewer). What non-organic brewers have is an additional 40 colors for highlights, like some specialty malts and hop varieties not (yet) available organically. If you don’t like an organic beer, go blame the brewer, not the ingredients.
Where do you see the organic beer movement in 5 years?
If beer trends like the organic food market, I expect organic beer to be 4% of the US Beer Market within 10 years, with dozens of brewers and a full compliment of 64 Crayola colors. In five years, 1.5% of the US Beer Market.
Dan Del Grande / Photo © Brian Stechschulte