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The Challenging Pursuit of Organic in The Beer Industry

As part of our larger mission and vision for our future here at Hill Farmstead, we are pursuing as many organic inputs as possible when creating our beers, all while sourcing ingredients as locally as possible, minimizing the transportation footprint, and working with companies and organizations that reflect our values. Our ultimate goal is to move entirely to organic ingredients as quickly as is feasible, which has proven a significant challenge in the current climate.

In 2021, we were able to shift our lagers and our Farmstead® ales entirely to organically grown grains, and we took delivery of a range of organic hops from Yakima Chief Hops this spring. Unfortunately, organic sources of our primary grain remain uncertain for 2022 due to global and economic challenges, so we have been limited in our options of expanding organic grain use into our pale ales and other hoppy offerings.

Within the brewing world, what does organic represent?

Organic by Definition

Is organic healthier? The answer is not so simple and often comes down to personal beliefs. Some view organic as a health issue, while others see it more as a sustainability and integrity matter. In terms of beer, it gets even trickier, as there are three Federal labeling classifications for the use of “organic” with beer.  

According to the USDA, a brewery may seek certification within the following classifications:

100% organic:

This certification is limited only to beers made with 100% organic-certified ingredients. The only ingredients not required to be certified organic are water and salt.

Organic:

Most organic beers carry this certification, requiring the beer to 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, typically on the ingredients panel part of the packaging.

While the official term “organic” needs certification, we make every effort to prioritize quality, location, and production practices in sourcing our ingredients. 

Our Ingredients:

Our organic ingredients and even our packaging practices are top-of-mind concerns. We try to weigh each decision and choice against the harm it may cause to the environment and our local community. We respect the land and the ancestors who came before us here. We try to source as locally and ethically as possible while maintaining our pursuit of the highest quality ingredients through partnerships with like-minded companies and individuals. For instance, we’ve used organic Ecuadorian cacao nibs and organic Ethiopian coffee beans. While those are certainly not local, our choices in selection are guided not only by the quality of product but the quality of process, producer, and philosophy. It is a delicate and significant balance in all choices.

Our core pale ale, Edward, is brewed with hand-selected organic Centennial, organic Chinook, and organic Simcoe hops from Yakima Chief Hops. In addition, our Farmstead® ales make use of the following organically grown ingredients: Maine grown buckwheat, Maine grown spelt, organic oats, organic barley, and Vermont grown wheat.

Why It’s Important:

As we reflect on our twelve-plus years in the industry and the impact we have had on both our community and the craft beer industry as a whole, we are guided by two questions in all our actions, and these questions remain virtually unable to be answered affirmatively in the beer industry: 1) Will this benefit ALL consciousness on Earth? 2) Will this leave little to no trace? The pursuit of organic and localized ingredients is one way that we can try to stay relatively true to our mission and core values. We believe that organic is much more than just a certification, but a way of life that has been displaced and a fundamental principle by which to strive. 

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