By Guest Contributor Lani Furbank
â€œSave Water, Drink Beerâ€Â may be a silly phrase thatâ€™s plastered onÂ t-shirts and beer mugs, but depending on whichÂ beer youâ€™re drinking, thereâ€™s actually some truth to it.
ThisÂ Earth Day,Â City Tap HouseÂ will be serving up five beers from eco-friendly breweries in Vermont, and I had the chance to taste them ahead of the event.Â Â I sat down with Dave Donaldson, the beverage director at City Tap House, and Patrick Wandres, a representative from Long Trail Brewing Company to learn more about the beers and the breweries.
Patrick explained thatÂ Long Trail Brewing Company,Â Otter Creek Brewing CompanyÂ andÂ Wolaverâ€™s Fine Organic AlesÂ (all located in Vermont) go to great lengths to ensure that they are reducing their environmental impact in the production of their beers. Itâ€™s not like anyone needs anÂ excuse to drink more beer, but hey, if itâ€™s helping the planetâ€¦
Wolaverâ€™s Fine Organic Ales are ahead of the pack when it comes to planet-happy beer. They are the first Vermont brewery to be certified under theÂ non-GMO project,Â North Americaâ€™s only third party verification and labeling for non-GMOÂ products. Theyâ€™re so proud of this distinction that they removed the logo from their bottlecaps and replaced it with the non-GMO stamp of approval!
Wolaverâ€™s uses only organic ingredients, and they try to source locally whenever possible. Most notably, their fall seasonal pumpkin ale features local Vermont pumpkins, and their summer & spring seasonal Wildflower Wheat (one of the beers we tasted!) uses Vermont honey.
Long Trail and Otter Creek also useÂ an impressive numberÂ of brewing techniques that are low-impact. For instance, Long Trail uses well water at the brewery, and since their source is limited, they make every effort to use less water. This includes condensing steam back to hot water to allow it to be reused in the brewing process. The use of well waterÂ is also part of their strong Vermont identity. (As Patrick described it, a bunch of hippies brewinâ€™ beer!)
Long Trail and Otter Creek offer their spentÂ hops and yeast to local farmers as a source of alternative fertilizer, and their spent grains are used toÂ feed cows at local dairies.Â They also use methane renewables from Green Mountain Power Company â€“ as Patrick put it, they provide fuel to produce methane and they receive methane for fuel! A different kind of methane cycle, if you will.
Both Long Trail and Otter Creek use recycled paper for their labeling and packaging, as well as recycled glass bottles. They are also moving toward canning, which is more eco-friendly because aluminum is much easier to repurpose as future cans. But not to worry, beer-enthusiasts. Dave Donaldson says that if the right type of aluminum is used, it doesnâ€™t affect the flavor of the beer. In fact, it keeps it even fresher than bottles because it prevents light from affecting the product. Cans are also in line with the brandsâ€™ hiker mentality (â€œTake a Hikeâ€ is Long Trailâ€™s slogan), as theyÂ are much lighter and more convenient to transport.
So, I heard the breweries talk the talk, but could they hop the hop? (Pun most definitely intended.) We got to tasting to find out.
Wolaverâ€™s summer and spring seasonal brew was first in the flight. The Wildflower Wheat is an unfiltered wheat aleÂ made with locally sourced Vermont honey and organic chamomile flowers. Patrick called it the â€œdeck beer,â€ best paired with a few friends and some sunshine. I could definitely taste the sweetness on the nose, but it was still very light and not overpoweringly syrupy. I wouldnâ€™t mind enjoying a few of these on a deck on a sunny afternoon.
Wolaverâ€™s Wildflower Wheat (ABV 4.25%)
Next, a brew that forgot it was supposed to be an IPA: Otter Creekâ€™s summer seasonal, Fresh Slice. This is a white IPA, emphasis on the white. Iâ€™m really not a fan of IPAs, but the hoppy flavor in this beer was subtle enough that I actually really enjoyed it! A very citrusy aroma, but a flavor profile thatâ€™s a mixtureÂ of wheat, yeast and banana (weird, I know!). The hops are almost a crisp, tart afterthought.
Otter Creekâ€™s Fresh Slice (ABV: 5.5%)
Of course, we had to try a true IPA. The Backseat Berner is Otter Creekâ€™s first year-round IPA, andÂ with an alcohol content of 7%, itâ€™s not messing around. This American style brew features a blendÂ of west coast hops: Citra, Simcoe and Cascade, and you can totally tell. It has a lovely piney smell and taste, and of course, is very hoppy. The flavor is interesting, but as a non-IPA-lover, Patrick could tell from my expression that this one wasnâ€™t my personal favorite. For all the IPA-lovers out there (and goodness knows there are a lot of you!), this would definitely suit your fancy.
*Adorable side note about the name: Per Otter Creekâ€™s website, the Backseat BernerÂ is named after Brewmaster Mike Gerhartâ€™s 150 pound Bernese mountain dog, Oslo. Like Oslo, this beer is designed to be your everyday companion for lifeâ€™s adventures.
Otter Creekâ€™s Backseat Berner (ABV: 7%)
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Lani Furbank is a freelance writer and photographer who covers the intersection of food, farming and the environment. She is based in the DC area and loves cooking, hiking and crafting. Read about her adventures atÂ www.LanisCupOfTea.com.