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The brewery and all beers in the Wolaver’s line are certified organic by the Vermont Organic Farmers group. “Certified organic” also means that there are no genetically engineered organisms used in the making of the Wolaver’s beers. The use of genetically altered organisms is a major point of contention in the agricultural realm, as the long term effects on humans and animals (and plant life, which can be wiped out by the spread of heartier, genetically engineered crops) are not completely understood as the course of science quickly outpaces the time necessary for evaluating such things. It’s a complicated issue that can be intensely debated, but here’s something you just can’t argue: Wolaver’s Pale Ale is an exceptional beer. This pale ale has a unique breaddy, doughy aroma with a touch of pine mingled with honey. Note also a slight candy-like sweetness on the nose. The flavor is richly malty with a wonderful balance coming from the moderately intense bitter hop finish. Expect honeyish notes to contribute to the sweet malt backbone. Note the manner in which bitter hops slide across the tongue leaving a completely different impression on the palate than what hits in the first moments. Now we’ve been in some of them there newfangled organic food shops and picked up what we thought would be an easy thing to reproduce in the organic realm—like pasta or chocolate—and guess what… not even close to the “real” thing… But this beer—you’d never know it was organic until someone pointed it out to you! Congrats to Otter Creek for helping give organic a good name! Unlike many beers—every label claim is fulfilled in this beer—there’s no overstatement when they say that this is “a superb hand-crafted ale” that is “perfectly balanced”. Well done!
The Otter Creek Brewing Company is located in the quaint Vermont town of Middlebury. They shipped their first keg of beer back in 1991 and in a mere four years outgrew their original site and moved into a state-of-the-art brewery. The Otter Creek Brewing Company was conceived of by founder & brewmaster Lawrence Miller in 1989. Larry had become an enthusiastic homebrewer while attending Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and ultimately traveled to Europe after graduation to learn more about the science of brewing. What better place to research the old world brewing techniques of Germany and Belgium than in those very countries? He completed his research in Europe in early 1989 and settled in Middlebury, Vermont where he devoted himself full-time to the planning of a new brewery.
Middlebury was chosen as the brewery site as much for its quality of life as for its excellent water, obtained from the natural, clear Vermont water that runs down Otter Creek (hence their name). In 1998 they began a partnership with the Panorama Brewing Company, producing Wolaver’s Certified Organic Ales, in a move that made them the largest producer of certified organic beers in the nation.
The Panorama Brewing Company was founded by Morgan and Robert Wolaver in 1997 and was inspired by the Wolaver family’s farming history. Their rich farming heritage spans three generations—right back to the early 1900s when Robert and Morgan’s grandfather, Oliver “Wolly” Wolaver, began farming the family’s land in Tennessee. For nearly 100 years the Wolaver family has cultivated a harmony with nature and embraced qualities such as hard work, pride and respect for the earth. And today’s generation of Wolavers has taken their concern for the planet to the next level by creating the Wolaver’s line of organic brews. Dedicated to small-batch brewing and committed to supporting sustainable agriculture, they remain determined to promote the values and traditions embodied by their grandfather. Morgan and Robert sought to develop a craft beer that would draw attention to organic farming practices and help increase demand for organic products. So they created an amazing line of beers, which has raised awareness and in the process sustains the practice of organic farming itself—the company donates 10 percent of their annual profits to community organizations that promote sustainable agriculture.
So what does organic farming and brewing mean exactly? Well, the vision that guides the process is not complicated: sustainability. The folks at Otter Creek Brewing Company Brew in a way that is sustainable, meaning they can keep on brewing and drinking great beer as long as they want to without disrupting the natural resources of the land. Organic farmers grow their crops without the use of synthetic chemicals and pesticides, which means that the earth is not being sterilized and water remains unpolluted. The Otter Creek Brewing Company supports organic farming and sustainable agriculture through their purchase of organic materials including malts and hops. Hey, even their business cards are printed on 100% recycled paper! And how’s this for the sustainable brewing and farming equation: the spent grains used in the early stages of brewing (where the barley is heated in water to extract the sugars needed for fermentation) are not wasted. After the sugars have been extracted, the typical brewery will filter the spent grains out and discard them. When these guys are through with them, a farmer takes them and they are fed to cattle. The cattle in turn help to fertilize the fields, and bingo… the loop is closed.
In May of 2002, the Wolaver family purchased the Otter Creek Brewing Company. Otter Creek remains a family owned Vermont company and produces all Otter Creek and Wolaver’s brands for distribution throughout the country.
The Wolaver’s line is excellent overall. We had the pleasure of trying out the beers reviewed here, as well as their India Pale Ale, Brown Ale and Belgian-style Wit Bier. All were fantastic and knowing the whole while that by drinking these brews we were supporting organic farming and a healthier environment for us all, well, it made us even more inclined to drink our share… and then some… uh, oh… we may have run in to a slight “sustainability” issue… better call the brewery for some more samples!
For more information about the brewery and scheduled tours, call (800) 473-0727 or check out their web site at www.wolavers.com.
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