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Going Natural

Going Natural

Organic beers and wines step into the spotlight

Care for some organic beer or wine to pair with your organic dishes? You’re in luck. Brewers and winemakers are hard at work producing delicious and versatile beverages that complement the flavors on plates without taking a heavy toll on the environment.

“Beer is food as well,” explains Greenstar Organic Brewery’s Mike Cameron. The microbrewery occupies the Lakeview location of Uncommon Ground, a farm-to-table restaurant he owns along with his wife, Helen, in Chicago.

“When we opened, we decided to challenge ourselves and our brewmaster to certify the brewery organic and source 100 percent of the ingredients as organic,” he explains. “No herbicides, no pesticides and no chemicals.”

That challenge was made easier by Greenstar’s location in the Midwest. Farms producing organic grains were plentiful, and organic hops farmers had recently collaborated to form cooperatives with plenty of varieties to choose from. Even the yeast is organic, with a new strain made exclusively for the brewery by a nearby lab.

Five years later, Greenstar produces enough certified organic suds to keep 12 draft lines going at each of Uncommon Ground’s two restaurants with enough left over for growler fills to go. Beer styles range from pale ales, IPAs and stouts to unique offerings like black currant Kolsch, which uses fresh organic black currants grown on the restaurant’s rooftop farm. Greenstar even brews an organic CBD-infused double IPA called Skyrocket Nirvana in collaboration with the cannabis dispensary next door once a year for 4/20 celebrations. (“That one sells out immediately,” says Cameron, with a laugh.)

For those who prefer wine when they dine, the list of organic options is rising by the season, joined by an even larger cohort of “natural” wines that are more loosely defined.

“There are extremes when it comes to natural wine, some are simply lower intervention, perhaps unfined and unfiltered and organic, while others are literally fermenting juice, left mainly to its own devices with natural yeasts and fermentation,” says Rachael Lowe, beverage director at Chicago’s Michelin-starred Spiaggia.

Asked for a recommendation, she offered Valentina Passalacqua ‘Terra Minuta’ Fiano/Greco, a certified organic wine from Puglia, Italy.

“This wine is made by a woman who is very forward thinking for the region, makes wine in extremely low-intervention ways, and does not fine or filter, leaving a lot of character,” she explains. “It is extremely aromatic, with notes of peach, white flower, lemon and mango.”

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