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Beervana's Organic Revolution

By Kathleen Bauer
The Oregonian

Two Portland brewmasters launch Beervana's Organic Revolutiona and are look upon as the founders or the organic beer craze in Portland OR.

Craig Nicholls leans forward in his chair, clasps his hands together in an almost reverent gesture and says that when he came to Portland in the mid-'90s and saw how many people recycled and were trying to live a healthier lifestyle, he thought, "This is really the right way to live. Then I had kids, and I said I want my kids to grow up in a healthy world."

These are the kinds of statements that you hear from the only two all-organic brewmasters in the state of Oregon, the other being Christian Ettinger of the recently opened Hopworks Urban Brewery, or HUB. Though outwardly they couldn't be more different, these two men have almost single-handedly created a revolution in Beervana, a nickname for Portland's burgeoning microwbrewing industry.

Nicholls was at Alameda Brewhouse when he first started playing around with organic malt and found that the barley it was made from produced more fermentable sugars than conventional malt. When he made his organic Heather Ale in 1996 from that malt and some heather he'd grown in his yard, he thought he'd invented something new. That is, until he did some research and found out that heather had been used in making fermented drink for about, oh, 4,000 years or so.

When he opened Roots Brewing Co. with partner Jason McAdam in 2005, it was the first all-organic brewery in Oregon. "I do it because I feel like I can give back to the community," he says. "I feel like I can showcase things that are important."

In 2000 he organized a symposium at the Lucky Lab and invited all the local brewers. But news of the upcoming gathering spread and soon he was getting e-mails and phone calls from all around the country. Robert Wolaver, who began making certified organic ales in Vermont in 1997, asked to come and speak, as did Bret Cooperrider from Ukiah Brewing Co. in California.

In all, nearly 50 brewers and industry people came to hear from Oregon Tilth about organic certification and to talk about chemicals, GMOs (genetically modified ingredients) and organics. Nearly all agreed that they should each make one organic beer, and almost all of them have in the years since, though only a few keep one on tap full time. And that first symposium spawned the first North American Organic Beer Festival, now in its fourth year (see accompanying story).

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