Over a plate of eggs from a free-range, hormone-free, vegetarian-fed, organic chicken, I pondered the carbon footprint of my beer consumption.
I recycle bottles and cans, sure; but is that enough to offset all the water, energy and other resources that go into making liquid gold?
So I started looking into organic beers -- and I was underwhelmed. Unlike the wine industry, which in recent years has exploded with bio-dynamic and organic wines produced in sustainable ways, there are still only a relative few number of beers out there that have gone green.
Whatever the reason -- not enough certified-organic hops and barley farms, or a lack of demand for organic beers -- the ones that are on the market, for the most part, aren't extraordinary. They're certainly not better than their conventional counterparts.
"Honestly, brewing with organic ingredients does not improve, nor does it deteriorate, the quality of our beers," says Brenden Dobel, brewmaster at California's all-organic Thirsty Bear Brewing Co., in a recent interview with SF Weekly.
"The satisfaction lies more in knowing that large portions of agricultural land somewhere in North America are pesticide-free and the surrounding water is purer due to our purchasing power."
For the green-conscious crowd, I argue that it's far more important to drink beers from environment-friendly breweries than to seek out organic beers that may leave you unsatisfied. Here are a handful of breweries that are doing it right:
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
The California craft-beer pioneer also is a leader in environmental practices, harnessing solar power, finding ways to use half the water of other breweries its size, creating biodiesel fuel from vegetable oil used at its brewpub, and recycling spent grain for farmers to feed their livestock.
Here's the coolest part: Sierra Nevada now grows its own hops and barley, organically, right outside the brewery's front door. It uses them to produce an Estate Ale that is the rare exception to the not-better-than-conventional-beer rule.
Last year's version was one of my favorite beers of 2009 -- robust and earthy with layers of intriguing flavors. This year's -- called Sierra Nevada Estate Homegrown Ale -- is set to pop up in St. Louis in the next few weeks. I'd venture to say it's a safe bet for a great buy. Try one and know Mother Earth is smiling.
New Belgium Brewing Co.
You know that a brewery with a bicycle on its logo has to be aware of its footprint. And Colorado's New Belgium is. In 1999, it became the first wind-powered brewery, and the employee-owned maker of Fat Tire, 1554 and the experimental Lips of Faith series constantly pushes itself and its customers to reduce their impact on the environment. Each year, the brewery donates 1 percent of its profits to Earth-conscious causes.
The world's largest brewery announced an effort this year to become the "most water-efficient" brewer, hoping to drastically cut its water usage and carbon dioxide emissions by 2012. A-B also is striving to reach a 99 percent recycling rate by that date, up from its 98 percent rate last year. The Budweiser maker produces a certified-organic beer, Stone Mill Organic Pale Ale. I don't count Stone Mill among the premier U.S.-made pale ales, but I do give A-B credit for doing its part to preserve the environment.
Kona Brewing Co.
Last week, this Hawaii brewery released its first beer made completely from solar-generated power, Suncharged Pale Ale. Kona uses condensation gathered from its air conditioners to water its plants, and it has contract-brewing agreements in Oregon and New Hampshire so it doesn't have to waste beer miles shipping its products from the Big Island to the mainland.
Kona isn't yet distributed in Missouri, but here's hoping it is soon. Its Pipeline Porter is a fine example of the style with its dark-roasted malts that create a flavor of coffee with a touch of cream.
Beer to try:
Louisiana's Abita Brewing Co. is donating 75 cents from the sale of every bottle of SOS ("Save Our Shore") to Gulf Coast cleanup in the wake of the BP oil disaster. An unfiltered pilsner brewed with wheat, this brew delivers a clean, bright flavor.
About $4.50 per 22-ounce bottle
Where to find:
Check out abita.com
Visit the Post-Dispatch at http://www.stltoday.com/.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.