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Thursday, March 24,2011

A drink to go with that organic meal

Raise your spirits with sustainable booze

By Chelsea Long

Boulder is a foodie town, and foodies love a nice glass of wine or a tall pint of beer to pair with their meals. But Boulder is also an organic town, too, and now breweries and distilleries are combining the two to craft organic beers, spirits and wines that go perfectly with your local, all-natural meal.

And many, like Steve Turner, co-owner of Asher Brewery, are wondering: “Why didn’t someone try this before?”

Companies like Asher Brewery, Altitude Spirits, Organic Vintners and 303 Vodka have popped up in Boulder in the past few years and are beginning to spread from their organic-friendly home to other cities and even other states.

Altitude Spirits, the makers of Vodka 14, began in Colorado in 2005, and now has a presence in New Mexico, Wyoming, California and Tennessee. Owner and founder Matthew Baris is planning on expanding even further. The company has just recently launched a full portfolio of organic spirits, which includes Highland Harvest scotch, Juniper Green gin and fair-trade Papagayo rums.

“We’re really excited about them,” Baris says. “Organic beverages, especially in distilled spirits, have been few and far between. There’ve been a few vodkas, but there’s nothing like a comprehensive organic spirit portfolio, which is what we’re putting together here.”

At Asher Brewery, Turner is also enjoying the perks of being one of the first to jump on organic brewing.

“We’re the only all-organic brewery within at least a thousand miles,” he says.

And after adding 30 accounts and 50 taps across Boulder in less than a year, it’s clear that there’s a market for the organic brews. Each of Asher Brewery’s beers is certified organic, a USDA process that includes a long list of qualifications.

The grains, hops and other ingredients have to be grown on certified organic farms, a process that takes three years, and that limits the choices the brewery has. The beer is brewed in the same way any craft beer might be, although the cleaning products they use must be on the national organic products list, and they must submit their cleaning procedures to the USDA.

“They set very high standards,” Turner says. “But that’s OK. They set the bar high, and that keeps out people who aren’t really into it or who are doing it for a gimmick.”

So why go through all the trouble?

“Quality is the most important thing in my mind,” says Baris. “Especially with vodka, but with all spirits, purity is very important. Not allowing chemical cleaners or anything like that to seep into the vodka makes it a better product. It’s clean from farm to bottle.”

Not all companies can make that claim.

“In the UK, they looked at 45 beer samples, and they all had pesticides in them. Every one,” Turner says. “We don’t have any in our beer.”

It’s healthier in other ways, too, says business partner Steve Asher.

“The shelf life is improved. The yeast is healthier. We’re not just saying, oh, we think this is better — there are scientific reasons,” Asher says.

Organic alcohols even make for a better day-after-drinking, or so they thought at one time at the brewery.

“We thought maybe that was true, but we have proved that it’s not true. And we have proved it many times,” Turner says, laughing.

At Altitude Spirits, the company maintains that even though it’s not a magical hangover-proof solution, organic still tastes better than conventional spirits.

“It absolutely tastes better,” Baris says. “What we’re going for is something enjoyable to drink. For a vodka to taste fabulous, it has to be the purest it can be, because you don’t get an aging process, or anywhere to hide impurities. Organic allows it to be the purest it can be.”

For drinkers who aren’t as concerned with taste, but who are concerned with sustainability, they’re lucky to have options like Asher Brewery and Altitude Spirits.

“A lot of people don’t look at alcohol as an agricultural product, but it really is,” Baris says. “From beer to wine to spirits, you have to grow grains or grapes or whatever it is you’re going to ferment and then eventually distill, in our case. It allows us to support sustainable agriculture, which I think is an important thing for our future, our food supply and the booze we like to drink.”

Baris is taking his spirits one step further with the inclusion of fair-trade rums. Fair trade supports the farmers and the local communities where the products we use are grown. It ensures that a certain amount of profit goes back to the community, and it also attempts to elevate that community through education and other services.

Whether it’s fair trade or organic, companies like these have latched on to what is important to the many people in Boulder County who take pride in sustainability and, of course, good taste.

“I think [organic] is a trend, rather than a fad,” Turner says. “It’s been a long time. As the benefits of organic food and beverages become known, I think it’ll continue to improve. Our business is certainly improving. I think that’s because it’s good beer that happens to be organic. The main thing for us is that it has to be great beer. We think organic ingredients just make better beer.”

Baris agrees.

“I think consumers are realizing that organic matters from both a quality perspective and also from a sustainable agriculture perspective,” he says. “If it’s something you believe in, it’s something you want to support in the drinks you drink and the bananas you buy and in everything you do.”
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