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The session: organic beer

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s Session is hosted by the Beer Activist blog, and features organic beer. Chris O’Brien asks everyone to publish a post related to organic beer and even allows us to decide what counts as organic — handy, as we’ve never really understood the rules in the UK!

We have to say that we’ve been somewhat sceptical about organic beer to date. We’re reasonably open to the idea of organic food, especially as it often (although not always!) means small-scale, local production with a bit more care for the quality of the product. But we don’t always buy organic, because there are other factors that are more important to us, like food miles. This is particularly relevant for beer, because there is an extremely limited supply of organic hops in the UK, and we know that at least one brewer imports their hops from New Zealand.

organic2.jpgAnd unlike with some products, like meat and cheese, where there is generally a discernably difference in quality, we can’t say we’ve ever noticed that organic hops or malt make for a more flavoursome beer. It’s not that organic beer is bad, it’s just that it’s rarely as special as you think it ought to be. The Beer Nut summarised it really well, when he said:

“…brewers seem content with their Soil Association certificate as a selling point rather than putting the graft into the flavour”

Oddly, although we agree with the sentiment,we’ve just tried the beer that prompted his comment — Organic ale, from St Peters — and thought it very tasty. It has a light golden colour with a solid body and good head retention. Aroma mostly malty. By contrast, the taste was rather on the bitter side, but in a crisp refreshing way. Slight citrusy notes and all in all, a very pleasant mixture. A very summery recipe, and definitely one we’d drink again, if we could get a bottle as fresh as this one.

organic3.jpgDuchy Originals Organic Ale is brewed by Wychwood for the Prince of Wales’ farm at Highgrove. We’ve had it before and not been impressed. We thought we’d give it another go tonight — and we’re still not impressed. It’s drinkable but dull. You get the impression it’s aimed at people who like buying organic things in classy packaging, and who might be put off by strong flavours. Quite a lot like the organic lagers we’ve had in Germany, in that respect.

Which brings us to the “dippy hippy” school of brewing. We’ve had a couple of organic offerings in this category from small, not-very-slick microbreweries, which have been nondescript at best and outright horrible at worst. In line with our policy of not slagging off microbreweries, we’re not going to list them here, especially as the problem may be due to the storage and transportation of said beers.


organic1.jpgA rather more interesting option was “biohanfbier” from an Austrian company called “Biohanf Sued”, who seem to specialise in hemp products. The beer is a new addition to the range and features “Bio” barley and “bio” hemp extract. It’s not clear to me (at least not with my beginner German) whether it has hops in at all. Despite this sounding like the absolute ultimate dippy-hippy beer, it actually pours, looks and tastes like a “proper” lager. We wouldn’t say it was the most exciting beer we’d ever tasted, but it was tasty and refreshing and went down pretty quickly.

So, we haven’t had our perceptions of organic beer changed by this exercise, but it’s nice to know that it’s not all rubbish.


5 replies on “The session: organic beer”

[…] Boak and Bailey. “Intra-Sessional” commentary has begun. These two British beer bloggers comment an earlier post from the Beer Nut while sampling St. Peter’s Organic Ale, then move on for a revisit of the Duchy Original Organic Ale (made by Wychwood for the Prince of Wales) and conclude with an organic lager brewed with hemp extract called Biohanfbier. . . . we don’t always buy organic, because there are other factors that are more important to us, like food miles. . . we haven’t had our perceptions of organic beer changed by this exercise, but it’s nice to know that it’s not all rubbish. Read more. […]

Totally concur with you on the Duchy Original.

I feel a little bit guilty for having a go at St Peter’s over the Organic Ale now that I’ve had, and thoroughly enjoyed, their Organic Best Bitter. I commend it to you if you’ve not tried it.

I think St Peters needs to be fresh, otherwise it’s pretty dull. We’re now re-appraising our initial (lukewarm) thoughts about their entire range, non-organic as well.

I think most of the organic beers brewed in the UK use hops from here. On the whole I’m not a big fan of our hops .

You pretty much summed up how I feel about organic beer. I was going to do a post which pretty much said what you said but ran out of time organising last nights Home-brewed Summer Ale Fest. There were no organic beers on.

Interesting stuff. I’m actually close to an organic (well, most of it, anyway) brewpub-the Marble Arch in Manchester. Now their beers are very good-better than most of the draught orgainc fayre that I’ve had. The changes to quality over the years have been down to the various brewers, not the fact that the ingredients are organic.

So I have to agree that organic beer seems more about marketing than actually being better than “ordinary” beer. The limitations on hop choice, for one, mean that the best “ordinary” beer will always beat its organic counterpart.

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