By Catherine Colbert

Photo: Veruska 1960 |

Backyard barbecues and Shakespeare in the Park picnics are the perfect opportunities to whet one’s whistle. But before you pack your cooler or portable wine or tea party, consider ways you can enjoy your favorite beverages – during the holidays and yearlong – while also caring for the environment.

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Sample These Organic Beverages

A growing number of companies and suppliers are tapping into the beverages market with an eye toward serving up green options. Consumers, and the environment, stand to benefit greatly from their increased focus. By purchasing organic and eco-friendly products, we’re casting our votes for the environment and ensuring that those who are devoted to organic and sustainable farming are able to maintain their commitment and thrive.

With the recent resurgence of Biodynamic farming, wine drinkers can uncork some unique wines made from holistically grown wine grapes. Biodynamics, a step beyond organic farming toward a more personal interpretation, was introduced in 1924 by Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner through his lectures and book, Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture.

While grape-growing and winemaking can seem downright scientific, think of Biodynamics as an agricultural method that not only considers the grapevines and their soil, but their surrounding flora and fauna – all working together interdependently. This trend is taking root among farmers who want to gain even more control over the crops they’re cultivating and Biodynamic products are achieving accolades.

The consumer is king when it comes to preserving the environment. The choices you make – even on the most seemingly insignificant purchases – steer and inspire companies, farmers, and everyone in between to create and sell evocative products. Armed with the following handful of guidelines, you can confidently choose and experiment with the best options for your next tea party, tailgate, or wine-accompanied tête à tête.

Buy Local

Donna Schwenk, along with her daughter Katie, owns online retailer The Organic Affair in Stuart, Florida, along the state’s Treasure Coast. The entrepreneurs only sell their favorite, respected products, including organic teas from Numi and Blackberry Pond Tea Company and formulations for making iced tea.

“Being from a small, Southern town, I’ve been drinking tea forever,” says Schwenk. “Buying locally and supporting and sustaining a local market are excellent green investments – especially in today’s economy. Local organic growers need local support. The savings in fuel and shipping costs alone would be staggering if we invested in our local farmers.”

Wine also can be a local affair. In the U.S., California wines are popular, but wine lovers from Pennsylvania to Texas to Colorado can partake of vino grown in their state. Check for hundreds of listings of local wine tastings and festivals.

Microbreweries have been chanting the “buy local” mantra for decades. Their ranks have expanded, too, which can be attributed to consumers’ appetite and thirst for diverse beer styles that are local. The Brewers Association keeps tabs on United States craft brewers and each year estimates beer volume sold by brewpubs, microbreweries, and regional craft breweries.

The association’s 2007 estimates indicate that the United States boasted about 1,450 breweries, including some 1,400 small, independent, and traditional craft brewers (defined, in part, by having an annual beer production of fewer than 2 million barrels). Nearly 70% of craft breweries are brewpubs that sell most or all of their beer on-site, cites the association.

Buying beer made locally reduces the amount of fossil fuels typically required to ship the beer and keeps sales profits in your hometown.

Buy Organic and Biodynamic

Organic beers have grown in popularity in recent years and they’re leading the pack among niche beer drinkers looking for bolder, more distinctive flavors in hops, barley, and other ingredients. And while it’s typically the boutique brewmasters that attract attention for their funky and fresh craft brews, behemoth brewers are tapping the market for its revenue potential and in hopes of capturing an additional niche of beer-drinking customers.

Brewers across the board, including $16 billion Anheuser-Busch, are successfully crafting popular organic beers. Anheuser-Busch, the #1 U.S. beer maker, introduced in late 2006 its Stone Mill Pale Ale, made with 100% organic hops.

At #2 in the US with nearly $5 billion in sales, Miller Brewing Company launched its own organic brew, Henry Weinhard’s Organic Amber Ale.

Tea producer The Hain Celestial Group, a $900 million specialty foods company, has built a sturdy foundation with a products portfolio that includes items the likes of Saphara, an organic fair-trade certified tea. Saphara chases after a sophisticated tea drinker with its elegant White Tea with Schizandra.

The depth of a product’s organic certification can elude some consumers, so read the labels and decide for yourself which level of “organic” suits you. The National Organic Program (NOP), which is part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), sets guidelines for processing and labeling organic products and manages a list of allowed and prohibited substances.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) also has a hand in labeling organic fermented beverages. Currently, there are four categories for organic wines: 100% Organic, Organic, Made With Organic Ingredients, and Some Organic Ingredients.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau maintains information about the latest in organic beer labeling and the National Organic Program, along with the USDA, governs the labeling of organic teas.

To receive Biodynamic certification, wines, spirits, and other drinks are typically certified in the United States by Demeter International, the largest certification body established in 1928. To be Demeter-certified Biodynamic means that the agricultural producer has been certified organic, then works to meet certain criteria that involve more rigorous standards to become Demeter-certified. Currently, there are 90 farms within the United States that are members of Demeter International.

Brew Your Own

As president of Seven Bridges Cooperative, Amelia Slayton has become an expert in organic home brewing. From the group’s Santa Cruz, California, headquarters it sells homebrewing supplies for beginners, as well as savvy beer and mead handcrafters. It’s one of the few organizations to stock packaged ingredients that are certified organic. The craft of homebrewing has gained momentum in recent years, thanks to the green movement. Dialing up the quality of home brew by using organic ingredients is the next facet to brewing at home to capture a new audience – and new idiosyncrasies – with the USDA seal of approval.

“Organic homebrewing supports organic farmers,” says Slayton, “and in a small way helps fuel demand for more organic malt and hops. Organic hops, in particular, have been largely neglected by large commercial breweries because the USDA’s National Organic Program allows non-organic hops in beers that carry the USDA organic seal. Until the past year, when hop shortages drove up the price of conventional hops so that they are now about the same price as organic hops, many large commercial breweries have benefited from the selling value of having the organic seal on their beer without spending the extra time and money to use organic hops.”

Consider the Container

Slayton points out that with homebrewing comes control over the container, as well. “Homebrewing has a much lower environmental impact for some obvious reasons,” says Slayton. “There is a lower carbon footprint because the beer is made at home and not transported. Beer is 90% to 95% water, so when made at home, only the ingredients are transported. Also bottles are reused by homebrewers.”

Buying a keg of beer from a local brewery would be another way to use a container in an eco-friendly way. Microbrewers use large containers called growlers that are reusable, too. For the most part, beer or wine glass bottles are recyclable, as are aluminum beer cans. Some companies are experimenting with PET plastic bottles for wine, an area of hot debate, because while the plastic bottles are lighter to ship and are recyclable, they’re a petroleum product and may not keep the wine fresh for as long as glass.

While many teas come in disposable pouches, several organic brands are sold in recyclable one-pound bags, notes Schwenk. Many teas also are packaged in post-consumer cardboard boxes.

Consider Sustainability

The New Zealand Winegrowers Association has set a lofty goal of becoming 100% sustainable by 2012. (The country has Zero Waste initiatives, as well.) So why the aggressive push? “Sustainability, or kitiakitanga as practiced by the Maori, is ingrained in the culture,” says David Strada, the association’s U.S. marketing manager. Maori, meaning “original people,” are the settlers who inhabited New Zealand before Europeans arrived in the early 1800s. “New Zealanders have great respect for their environment and take their responsibility to preserve it very seriously,” says Strada. “In addition to being important to New Zealand and its people, it is also good for business over the long run. The commitment helps to preserve and renew New Zealand’s resources, as well as (lower) its carbon footprint.”

Organic wines, grown anywhere, take sustainability into account. The problem for wine enthusiasts is the tradition of choosing from a global menu of delectable French, Chilean and Italian wines, when you don’t live in France, Chile or Italy. This raises an eco-dilemma for consumers aware of the debates over how far a product can reasonably travel and still retain its environmental credentials.

Products that are otherwise similar, but developed and distributed differently carry varying levels of environmental impact. There isn’t an easy answer here for the conscientious consumer. Products don’t carry a travel journal and a company’s supply chain management isn’t always so transparent. There are some general tips to take into account, however, when choosing products made outside your local area, beyond the borders of the United States, and even as far as New Zealand.

“The environmental impact of buying foods from distant lands can be counterintuitive,” says Strada, who notes that imported items can make sense. Consumers should consider that the carbon footprint of shipping from New Zealand is greatly lessened by the country’s environmental practices of using less fertilizer than most other regions and relying on power that is 70 percent hydro-generated, he said.

For more on these matters, check out a growing list of books on the topic, such as Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean and Fair, by slow food movement founder Carlo Petrini and Alice Waters.

There is promise in the future of tea, beer, and wine. Dedicated farmers and suppliers are looking for ways to improve their operations so that they are proactively caring for our environment. The thoughtful purchases we make to support them, ensures that they can continue to hone their craft. Knowing how and where these products are made, as well as the quality of their ingredients, will tell you if your purchase is a savvy one for the environment and for its sustainability.

Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media