19 October 2009

I want a beer, not a lifestyle choice

I've remarked before that there are breweries out there who appear to see an organic tag as a useful means of hocking more product to a demographic that cares about such things. I'm sure the market research has been done and that there are people pre-disposed to buying products because they're organic, and that they buy beer, and that therefore a readymade niche exists for organic beer. However, it appears that beer marketeers working along these lines rarely pay much attention to what the actual beer is like, what it's made from, where it's made, and by whom: the things that matter to me, a beer drinker who puts the drinking experience ahead of the farming methods.

I don't think I've seen a stronger example of this approach than with Daas. The company in charge of marketing these beers have a blog which collects stories about all sorts of ethically sourced luxury goods. There's a busy Twitter feed giving nuggets like "we believe beers brewed free from chemical's & fertilizer's taste just FAB!" and "All beers made using hops & barley without pesticides/chemical fertilizers r more healthy, delicious & appetizing.Despite what the FSA say!!". But about the beer: bugger all. Go looking for a brewery address on the website and you get a mail forwarding service above a west London boutique. "Brasseries Daas", I was told on asking, is in Tournai*, and it may well be, but the dearth of information about it, and the heavily anglo-centric marketing, have more than a whiff of contract brewing about them. The whos and the wheres are not something the drinker ought to be concerned with -- here, have some burlesque models instead, aren't they pretty?

*Update, August 2012: this transpires to be either a lie, or no longer true. Daas is brewed under licence at Brasserie Brunehaut, south of Tournai.

Nevertheless, the Daas people were kind enough to send me a bottle each of two of the beers so I could look the product over in person (it's not sold here, and I've never seen it on sale in Belgium). Still no mention of a brewery, and no address more precise than "Belgium", plus the enigmatic legend "Abbaye Export, Odsardus[?] d'Tournai". Can anyone shed any light on what this means?

Daas Witte pours pale and cloudy with the appropriate fluffy white head. Less appropriate were the big gobbets of brown yeasty goo that came out as well, but I don't let such things faze me, and just fished them out. I was pleasantly surprised to find they didn't leave this beer sharp or unpleasantly yeasty. Instead it's quite light and dry with just a faint trace of orange on the end. The ingredients listing claims it contains organic spices, but declines to name them -- there's very little sign of them on the palate. All in all, not terribly exciting, even as witbiers go, but as a don't-think-just-drink refresher it's perfect.

Perhaps less appropriately, the dryness theme continues with Daas Blond. It has a slight haze to it and a rather unpleasant carbonic nose which I wasn't expecting. There's a light sparkle which makes it almost as easy drinking as the wit, despite the hefty 6.5% ABV. If anything, it's rather watery. Flavourwise you don't get much beyond the dryness, just a hint of peaches as a saving grace on the end. Again it's refreshing in its own way, but that's not something I'd be looking for in a strong Belgian blonde. I think I'd take the added sugar of chemical-laden unethical Leffe Blonde over this.

In fact, anyone who wanted more environmentally-friendly beer would. Beer is not a green product, and never will be. The amount of water that gets wasted in the beer-making process alone should outweigh any efforts at greenwashing it. And while there may not be any scary chemicals used in the farming end of the operation, there certainly will be in the brewery's sanitising regime. That's just how beer is made. If the ecological impact of your beer makes a big difference to you, you're much better getting it from an industrial brewery whose economies of scale and relentlessly squeezed margins will mean far fewer resources will be wasted in the making of the product.

But for this drinker at least, it's the taste of beer that counts -- not the market segment it's trying to occupy.

15 comments:

  1. I don't think I've ever had an organic beer that I've liked, so seeing 'organic' on the label will make me less likely to buy it.
    As regards water usage some of the big, modern breweries have got it down to impressively low levels. If I remember rightly some are now down to a ratio <2:1 of water use to beer produced.

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  2. There are some very good ones out there, like the Schneider Edel-Weisse I reviewed last week, and the Pinkus Mueller beers, for that matter.

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  3. You've increased my skepticism about these beers by drawing my attention to their use of greengrocers apostrophe's.

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  4. Passive-aggressive grammar Nazi? Moi?

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  5. I'm always suspicious of products that assume you will buy it just because it says things like organic or natural on it.
    If you want a proper environmentally friendly brewery check out Sierra Nevada, I came across them while researching the use of fuel cells.

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  6. I've got a Sierra Nevada post coming up soon, funnily enough. I think there may be a wee bit of a food miles issue for us, though.

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  7. For Ed: Bison in California makes some excellent organic beer. Mothership Wit from New Belgium is organic and tasty.

    Water usage depends on how you measure it. New Belgium is more transparent than most, reducing their usage to 3.8 gallons per 1 gallon of beer in 2008. Info is here:

    http://www.newbelgium.com/blog/post/2008-water-data

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  8. I really enjoyed your second to last paragraph; quite true. Besides water waste and chemical cleanser, a majority of brewers use yeast nutrient...I hope our organic friends didn't!

    I have yet to taste an "organic" beer that begs me to purchase it again, though I've not sampled Daas.

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  9. How about buying just local if you really want to reduce the carbon footprint your pint has?

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  10. I think Nate's hit the nail on the head: "I have yet to taste an "organic" beer that begs me to purchase it again". There are some good ones, but none that are worth going our of your way for.

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  11. It's as if people expect organic to be better tasting in some way. It's just a beer, and like every beer, it can taste great, ok or crap. There are probably so few real organic beers that the usual breakdown of most beers being mediocre also applies to this small subset. I'll judge by taste first...

    As it happens, I quite like the Pinkus Müller stuff, which happens to be organic, but by the same token have had some really awful (Viva Bavaria) organic beers. But no more awful than "regular" beer unless you're expecting it to be better. In other words, more misses than hits, just like with any beer. I've also been surprised by a beer from the same maker of the vile Viva Bavaria which was actually very nice.

    But yeah, if it's a lifestyle choice you're after, then you have less choice, so have to choose wisely :)

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  12. Further to what Barry says, I think breweries will often compromise on ingredient quality just to get the organic tag. Beer made from chemically treated hops, in my experience, just tastes better.

    But there are plenty of really good, buy-again organic beers out there. Pinkus Special and Schneider Edel-Weiss are just two I've encountered recently, and Green Man's Organic Best Better, though it's three years since I tasted it, still sticks in my head as a fantastic beer, and one I'd happily buy again.

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  13. Butte Creek have a savage Organic pale ale, their porter and pils are also supposed to be tasty. I will find out and let you know :)

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  14. I agree. People forget that although improvments are being made, Brewing is massively resource-intensive. Slamming 'Organic' onto a label should not be a 'buying point', just aa bonus. It's all about taste, and as you point out, it's gotta taste good too - I echo the shout for Pinkus special.

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  15. Anonymous9:50 pm

    What about the common, tasty and cheap Saison Dupont Biologique ?
    How come nobody cited it ? Is taht because it's not reallt organic or just because... ?

    Interesting post.
    ep99

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