No longer is real ale ordered only by middle-aged men with unkempt beards and worn-out, patterned sweaters. You’re just as likely to see young men–and women–with trendy hairdos and skateboard sneakers ordering bottles of porter or knocking back India Pale Ale.
Since the ‘70s, the growth of microbreweries and the real ale movement has matured from a small group of enthusiasts into a successful industry, converting people from mass-produced, insipid “gnat’s pee” to a drink full of flavour with fantastic varieties of style.
Everything a Beer Should Be?
Beer’s good–but how can it be better? Yes, I know…we want free-range organic chickens, fresh vegetables from local farms–without pesticides, organophosphates, and grown in soil that isn’t the former site of a military biological weapons testing program. We demanded the choice to buy organic and, lo and behold, organic produce was on the shelves.
But where was the organic beer? Real ale and quality lager are made without the addition of chemicals (although few organic varieties exist.) Sadly, I cannot say the same about all the mass-produced brands of beer (usually lager) that often contain added preservatives.
What we can look for when choosing a beer is that it is made by a small-size brewery rather than a “beer factory,” and that it is made with care, and hopefully, organic ingredients.
Is the (organic) Beer Here?
Organic beer is brewed in exactly the same way as all other beers, but the ingredients used are grown organically and no preservatives are added to the finished product.
You may wonder why you can’t find many organic beers on the shelves or at your local pubs and bars. This is because a brewery has to rely on a continuity of flavour from year to year. The difficulty with growing organic crops without the use of pesticides and fertilizers is in maintaining the same standards, regardless of weather and conditions.
There are many more organic beers being brewed in Britain, Germany, France, and the United States than in Canada, so you may have to hunt for an imported beer. I have come across some Canadian organic breweries, including the excellent Crann? Ales in BC and the Mill Street Brewery in Toronto, which brews an organic German-style lager.
Organic beer is gradually becoming more available, but we can hasten the addition of more labels if we simply ask for them–just as we asked for more organic food choices. Then we can savour the flavour while we quench our thirst–guilt-free.
A Better Organic Beer
The production of organic beer relies on the principles of organic agriculture, which seeks to promote and enhance biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. In order to be certified as organic beer, all the ingredients used in making the beer must also be certified organic.
In order to maintain certification, organic breweries are inspected to ensure that they are following certified organic regulations, which cover a range from specific cleaners and sanitizers to pest control and fining (clarifying process) agents.
Separating the Wheat (and hops) from the Chaff
The brewing process is a fairly simple one for most beers, and all quality beer is made from four or five ingredients:
Some beer makers add wheat for a refreshing flavour, while others occasionally add fruit.
The barley is allowed to germinate in the water and then is heated in a kiln to stop the germination process. It is crushed into grist and soaked in hot water. This liquid is boiled with hops for flavour and then allowed to ferment with the addition of yeast. Many beers are put into casks for conditioning before selling.