What Is Organic Beer?: A Comprehensive Guide

What does it mean to be organic?

Organic is a labeling term that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. The organic standards describe the specific requirements. These must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent before products can be labeled USDA organic.

Can beer be organic?

Most beers are made from four ingredients: water, malted grains (barley), hops, and yeast. Water and barley make up more than 95 percent of most beer recipes, so an organic beer can be brewed without organic hops or yeast.

That said, since hops play such a prominent role in beer’s flavor, most organic breweries use organic hops. Organically produced yeasts are still rare. But since yeast amounts to a minuscule percentage of a batch of beer, few organic breweries are sticklers about using it.

Organic beer is produced using certified organic malts and hops (as well as any other added ingredients such as fruit, sugars, and spices). These are generally scarcer and more expensive than produced grains and hops, and certain varieties are not available.

If you want to take a look at organic beers, click here

The cost of organic brewing

Breweries pay 175 to 200 percent more for organic barley compared to conventional barley. Also to buying certified organic ingredients, the brewery also has to get its production certified. That process takes four to five months and involves many employees dealing with lots of paperwork. It required significant resources. Although moving forward, keeping the certification will only need an annual inspection.

But the losses small breweries are facing due to COVID-19, it’s unlikely they’ll be willing or able to take on extra costs when they’re struggling to survive.

What requirements do organic products have to meet? 

  • Organic products must be produced using agricultural production practices. That fosters resource cycling, promotes ecological balance, improves soil and water quality. That also minimizes the use of synthetic materials and conserves biodiversity. Products must be:

Crop Standards

The organic crop production standards need that:

  • Land must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop.
  • Soil fertility and crop nutrients will be managed through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations, and cover crops, supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials.
  • Crop pests, weeds, and diseases will be controlled through management practices. That includes physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are not enough, a biological, botanical, or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used.
  • Operations must use organic seeds and other planting stock when available.
  • The use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge is prohibited.

What do the four different organic labels mean? 

100 Percent Organic

  • Used to label any product that contains 100 percent organic ingredients. (Excluding salt and water, which are considered natural)
  • Most raw, unprocessed or minimally processed farm crops can be labeled “100 percent organic”
  • May include USDA organic seal and/or 100 percent organic claim
  • Identify organic ingredients (e.g., organic dill) or via asterisk or other marks


  • Any product that contains a least 95 percent organic ingredients (excluding salt and water)
  • Up to 5 percent of ingredients may be nonorganic agricultural products and/or nonagricultural products on the National List.
  • May include USDA organic seal and/or organic claim
  • Identify organic ingredients (e.g., organic dill) or via asterisk or other marks

Made with Organic ______

  • Product contains at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding salt and water), with some detailed constraints about ingredients that comprise the nonorganic part
  • May state “made with organic (insert up to three ingredients or ingredient categories)”; must not include USDA organic seal anywhere, represent finished product as organic, or state “made with organic ingredients”
  • Identify organic ingredients (e.g., organic dill) or via asterisk or other marks

Specific Organic Ingredient Listings

  • Specific organic ingredients may be listed in the ingredient statement of products containing less than 70 percent organic contents. For example, “Ingredients: water, barley, beans, organic tomatoes, salt.”
  • Must not include USDA organic seal anywhere or the word “organic”
  • May only list certified organic ingredients as organic in the ingredient list. The percentage of organic ingredients; remaining ingredients not required to follow the USDA organic regulations

Can a product be labeled “organic” without being certified? 

  • If you make a product and want to claim that it or its ingredients are organic, your final product needs to be certified.
  • If you are not certified, you must not make any organic claim on the principal display panel or use the USDA organic seal anywhere on the package.
  • You may only, on the information panel, identify the certified organic ingredients as organic and the percentage of organic ingredients.
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