The all-natural pint

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This summer when enjoying a pint on the patio, in the backyard or at the beach, drink wisely by choosing from one of the growing number of available organic local beers.

This summer when enjoying a pint on the patio, in the backyard or at the beach, drink wisely by choosing from one of the growing number of available organic local beers.

Organic Beer: the healthier, chemical-free choice
Green beer isn't just for St. Patrick's Day. It's any beer composed of all-natural ingredients such as hops, barley, wheat and water (no green dye), grown without the use of harmful insecticides, herbicides, fungicides or pesticides. Hops -- one of the two primary ingredients in most beers, (the other is barley) -- is very susceptible to fungus, which means non-organic growers may use a lot of fungicides. Low demand for the natural version of this flowering plants means that most organic hops are still imported from places such as New Zealand. However, Wolaver's, a Vermont-based brewing company, says its hops are all domestically grown. The company is celebrating 10 years of brewing organic beers. Nitrosamines and arsenic compounds from pesticides, herbicides and insecticides are among the carcinogens found in most commercial beer. The brewing process can take time and some of the world's largest commercial brewing companies have been accused of adding additives to speed things up or improve the beer's head of foam. Possible beer additives include Betaglucanase, Ammonia caramel, Rhoiso-alpha acids, Sulphur dioxide, Protease, Amyloglucosidase, Propylene glycol alginate and Silicone. While most have been declared somewhat safe for consumption, many believe these additives dampen the flavour and give you hangovers. Drinking organic beer lets you avoid the threat of these carcinogens or other unwanted additives.

Flavour is not compromised
You don't have to worry about losing flavour when you go green. Organic Breweries top the list at this year's North American Beer Awards and get consistently high ratings with both Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, two well-respected online beer forums. German beers usually tops both lists but then Germany takes its beer drinking very seriously; a law dating back to 1516 decrees that beer can include only water, hops, yeast and malted barley or wheat. When both sites raved about the organic beer produced by the Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren, Flanders, Belgium, the monks were forced to limit their production to prevent black market sales.

Act Local, Drink Local
After tea, beer is the most popular drink in the world but it also leaves a rather large carbon footprint, imported by truck or plane over vast distances in heavy glass bottles only to sit in large refrigerators waiting to be bought. A greener alternative is to support your local microbrewery, where a lot of organic beer is produced. Most give tours of their facilities where you can see first-hand how your new favourite pint is produced. Real Beer even has an online micro-brewery directory so you can find organic beer wherever you are in the U.S. or Canada. Sales of organic beer grew from $9 million USD in 2003 to $19 million USD in 2005. And in September 2006 Anheuser-Busch, one of the world's largest beer producers introduced two organic choices, further proof that organic beer is a growing reality. So, next time you raise a pint, make it an organic one.

Shannon Wilmot is a freelance journalist living in Toronto.