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Organic beer now locally available

May 3, 2007

Whole Earth Grocery, 126 S. Main St., in downtown River Falls now offers a unique selection of organic and hand-crafted beer after it was approved for a liquor license by the River Falls City Council last month. The move allows the store to complement its organic wine selection with gluten- and wheat-free organic beers along with a variety of specialty crafted beers.

“It completes the circle by having beer and wine,” co-manager Erynn Delahousaye said.

In mid-December the downtown co-op began selling organic wine, which was such a success that it decided to go even further and offer a unique beer selection to its shoppers.

“A lot of our customers are consumers of unique things and organic beer is a great complement to that,” Delahousaye said.

The move has been a big hit thus far among its customers.

“We sold out both times,” employee Lindsay Van-Beek said. “I foresee it being a very big hit amongst our clientele.”

Of the dozen or so beers currently in the cooler at Whole Earth Grocery, Germany’s Pinkus-Muller is the only one that is U.S. Department of

Agriculture (USDA) certified organic,  Delahousaye said. The rest of the selection is of unique specialty beers and crafted beers from around the world.

Popular European names like Sam Smith of England, Traquair of Scotland, Celebrator of Germany,  American beers like Anchor of San Francisco and

New Brand of Wisconsin form a rotation that Whole Earth Grocery employee Jon Lutz said he wants to keep fresh and appealing.

“I want to rotate our selection in and out and keep [it] diverse,” said Lutz, who does the beverage ordering for the co-op.

Delahousaye said the co-op is still in the introductory stage of the experiment and that it hopes to continue to widen its selection of organic, gluten-, and wheat-free beer for its many customers with allergies.

One goal of the co-op is to supply the city with a rare selection of beer that is difficult to find in this region of the country, Delahousaye said.

“It’s unlikely that you will see these labels anywhere else in River Falls,” Delahousaye said. “It gives the city a different taste of what’s out there.”

Organic beer is made the same way as any beer, but under USDA standards at least 95 percent of its ingredients have to be grown without the use of
chemicals and pesticides. The brewing process must be USDA certified to be considered organic.

Organic beer is produced by farmers and brewmasters who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water, according to the National Organic Program’s Web site (NOP).

USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food, according to NOP. It’s in the environmentally friendly way that it’s grown and careful production that is leading to its growing popularity.

“It tends to be more of a micro-brew that emphasizes quality and the traditional methods of beer production,” crop and soil science professor

Michael Crotser said. “Many follow German Purity Law that strictly enforces what ingredients can be put in beer.”

Organic beer sales increased 40 percent in 2005, tying it with organic coffee as the fastest-growing organic beverage, according to the Organic
Trade Association Web site.

The Anheuser-Busch empire has even dipped its hands into this potentially lucrative organic beer market. It has opened a handful of small breweries nationwide in an attempt to get their share of the growing segment.

Crafted beer, on the other hand, is the fastest growing segment in the whole U.S. alcohol beverage industry. Craft beer industry sales have grown 31.5 percent over the last three years, according to the Brewers Association.

Nearly 1,400 craft brewers currently operate in the United States. Craft breweries are small, independent and traditional, which goes along with the co-op’s goal of supporting the local economy and small farmer.

One potential craft beer label that could soon be seen in the Whole Earth Grocery cooler is Rush River Brewery, brewed locally.

“As soon as they have bottles available I will try to order them,” Lutz said.

Delahousaye said that some connections need to be made, but said that they would like to be able to support a local business like Rush River Brewery.

Like anything else, quality doesn’t come free of charge. The prices are a bit higher than common, big name beers.

“Not everyone enjoys a mass produced beer like Bud Light, but the specialty beer does cost significantly more,” Crotser said.

The co-op carries single bottles, ranging from $3.29-$5.89, and six packs, which cost as much as $9.99.