Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

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Why Isn’t There More Organic Alcohol?

Publication: Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Author: Bridget Shirvell

While consumer appetites for organic food, clothing and other products have grown exponentially since 2005, less than 1% of commercial spirits, beer and wine is certified organic, according to Nielsen data. Why? Because grains, the foundations of many beers and spirits, are rarely produced this way. In fact, the USDA reports that certified organic grain is a small fraction of the overall amount produced in the U.S.

But throughout the last two decades, a grassroots group of farmers, bakers and brewers has worked to expand organic grain production. Their efforts could benefit the beer and spirits markets as well as the environment.

Vital to farm ecosystems, grains help maintain healthy soils and sequester carbon dioxide into the ground, which promotes plant growth. In 2013, the clothing retailer Patagonia partnered with The Land Institute, an organization that works to develop alternative agriculture. The two started training farmers in Kansas, Montana, Illinois and New York to grow Kernza® perennial grain. Being a perennial grain means that it continues to regrow and absorb carbon from the air after each harvest.

To help finance the operation, Patagonia partnered with Hopworks Urban Breweryin Portland, Oregon to create the first commercially available beers made with organically grown Kernza. The results were Long Root Pale Ale, an American Pale Ale, and Long Root Wit, a Belgian-style witbier brewed with orange and coriander.

“It’s rewarding to see a crop you put effort into wind up on the retail market,” says Erik Engellant of Square Butte Farms, which grows Kernza for Patagonia.

Organic grains have also made their way into vodka.

Kristen Risk, cofounder of Frankly Organic Vodka in Texas, never considered producing anything other than organic spirits. But she struggled to find USDA-certified organic corn.

“We had a thirst to craft a vodka that was free from genetically modified seeds and synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides,” says Risk. “Frankly, we believe fruits, roots and botanicals taste more robust in their natural form.”

Risk says she conducted extensive research on the spirits industry before she created Frankly Organic Vodka. She bet that consumers would be willing to pay for an organic spirit that was transparent about its ingredients.

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