Going Organic: Is it Worth the Effort?

Everything changed for Eel River Brewing the day a regular came into the brewery in 1997 and asked the brewers for a “naked beer,” which sparked the brewery into becoming the country’s first certified organic brewery.

The patron explained that a naked beer is one without preservatives, chemicals and pesticides: in other words, organic.

“We just kind of ran with it because there were a lot of local people that would appreciate that,” General Operations Manager Matt Vivatson said. The brewery then started playing around with organic ingredients.

By late 1997 Eel River was sourcing organic ingredients and became USDA certified with 100% organic products.

“There’s a huge organic market there [in Humboldt County] for produce,”  Vivatson said. “It just seemed like a logical step for us to do beer like that also.”

The brewery worked with California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) to certify its products. To license products as organic, CCOF tracks everything all the way back to the time the product has been in the ground because the soil has to be certified organic.

CCOF also gauges how the ingredients are used in the facility during brewing processes, as well as the cleaning chemicals used to sanitize equipment.

Yearly and random audits keep the brewery accountable for its products.

A downfall of using organic products is the cost, but it’s worth it for Eel River, Vivatson said.

“It’s a little trickier for the farmers to do it organically,” he said. “The actual process of certifying their land organic is like a three-year process.”

To offset the expenses, Vivatson said that over so many years the brewery has become extremely efficient in its processes, even with the inconsistencies in the organic products, such as potency of hops.

“We have to really adhere to it,” Vivatson said. “It’s made us better brewers for sure.”

He admitted that margins aren’t what a standard brewery’s would be, but Eel River does stay competitive in its pricing.

Even though it’s not very big, Vivatson said there is a consumer base that appreciates Eel River’s organic beer. 

“A lot of out base drinks our beer just because they like our beer, and there’s those regular diehard fans of specific products of ours who really don’t care that it’s organic,” he said. At the same time, “it does get our product in the hands of people that might not buy beer otherwise.”

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