Organic Broadcaster

Bang Brewing, University of Minnesota team up to create Organic Brewers Alliance

By Emmery Hartwig and Marena Ekblad, University of Minnesota

Seven years ago, Jay and Sandy Boss Febbo established their award-winning organic brewery, Bang Brewing, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Set close to the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus, the brewery has a unique, grain-bin taproom with a native prairie beer garden. From the planning and development of the brewery to its opening, Sandy and Jay have consistently worked hard to make sustainability the main pillar of their operation. Their practices include the use of all-organic ingredients to brew, providing reusable and returnable packaging, having on-site recycling and compost facilities, donating spent grains to local farmers, building their brewery with eco-friendly materials, and much more.

Bang Brewing’s unique “grain-bin” taproom and native prairie beer garden (left) reflect owners Jay and Sandy Boss Febbo’s commitment to organic and sustainable practices. The couple (right) has partnered with the University of Minnesota to create the Organic Brewers Alliance database to connect organic producers and brewers.
Photos by Bang Brewing

“Our commitment to brewing with organic ingredients comes from our desire to support farmers that are managing land with sustainable and regenerative practices,” Sandy said. “Their commitment to soil health, clean water, and farmworker health provides us with the ingredients we want to craft our beers.”

Even before opening, Jay and Sandy realized through years of research, planning, and development for their brewery that making connections and sourcing organic ingredients would be a challenge. This was due to the scarcity of organic brewing products on the market, their relatively small-scale operation which made gaining an audience with brewing industry brokers difficult, and the fact that organic beer was, and still is, a niche market.

“It has been over seven years since our opening, and sourcing organic ingredients continues to be our biggest challenge—and our most rewarding success,” Sandy added. “The audience we’ve managed to secure with larger producers and brokers has given us access to a wider range of ingredients each year, though it’s the relationships we’ve established with small farmers that are the most rewarding. Even with these developments, our ingredient options are still far fewer than those of conventional brewers—and we’ve come to recognize this as a massive opportunity.”

From their firsthand experience with the difficulties of sourcing organic brewing ingredients came the idea for an organic brewers network to mitigate these challenges for current and aspiring organic brewers. Thus, the seed for Organic Brewers Alliance was planted. After a few years of ideating, Sandy and Jay found the right partners in their neighbors—the University of Minnesota (UMN)—to help their vision of an Organic Brewers Alliance become a reality.

“As alumni, it’s incredibly rewarding to be partnering with the University of Minnesota and so exciting to see the Organic Brewers Alliance becoming a reality,” Sandy said.

Jay and Sandy are working with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA), which is a unique partnership between the UMN College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, UMN Extension, and the Sustainer’s Coalition. MISA’s purpose is to bring together the diverse interests of the agricultural and University communities. Helene Murray, MISA executive director, believes the Organic Brewers Alliance is an excellent project to partner with due to its focus on expanding the availability and demand for products made using sustainable farming practices.

“While talking with Sandy about the concept of the Organic Brewers Alliance, it seemed like a perfect fit to involve students in researching,” Murray said. “With COVID-19 upon us, Emmery and Marena [UMN students and authors of this piece] could work with Sandy and Jay remotely to find resources, identify farmers, and catalog organic brewers to develop the database of information and begin work on a website to share the information they gathered.” The team, which also includes Constance Carlson of the UMN Forever Green Initiative and the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, came together quickly in the spring of this year.

The Organic Brewers Alliance is a start-up effort created to facilitate connections amongst organic brewers and organic farmers, maltsters, millers, and other producers. It aims to act as a conduit for the spread of information, products, and resources between current and future organic brewers and producers. This network will encourage the creation of stable markets for organic producers, connect brewer-to-brewer for establishing cooperative purchasing, help brewers source local or hard-to-find organic ingredients, and foster national support and demand for regenerative and sustainable agricultural practices. The market for organic beer and brewing ingredients is much smaller than conventional brewing, but the Organic Brewers Alliance aims to change this.

With the effects of climate change and unsustainable farming practices threatening our environment and food supply chain, garnering support and demand for regenerative and sustainable farming practices has never been more crucial. Sandy and Jay, through the launch of the Organic Brewers Alliance, hope to rally this support from brewers, producers, and the general public by making their small corner of the food supply chain more accessible and easier to join.

“Our goal is to establish a network of brewers that will further prove demand and support for sustainable and regenerative farming,” Sandy explained. “We see potential to collectively share our resources, connect our various producers, and to lay the groundwork for cooperative purchasing where possible. Our motivation is to make it easier for other brewers, producers, and ultimately consumers that are interested in organics to opt in.” Sandy and Jay know that change comes from communities working together, and that’s precisely what they want the Organic Brewers Alliance to be—a community.

The Organic Brewers Alliance will consist of a comprehensive database of organic producers, including information such as location, which products they specialize in, which varieties they grow, any breweries or producers they are affiliated with, as well as their contact information. This database will include organic farmers across a variety of grains such as barley, buckwheat, corn, Kernza®, millet, oats, rye, sorghum, spelt, and wheat. It will also include hops farmers, maltsters, millers, and yeast labs. Additionally, organic producers of other brewing ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, spices, honey, and maple syrup will be listed.

Along with a database of organic producers, the Organic Brewers Alliance network will catalog breweries in the United States, from 100% certified organic breweries to those that only use organic ingredients when possible. Once complete, the database will be turned into a national map depicting where organic brewers and producers are located, granting users the ability to make connections, source or sell local organic ingredients, and allow brewers to establish cooperative pricing when possible. The map will also have a search function, allowing users to quickly find local organic grain producers, locate organic breweries near them to connect with, or source and market special ingredients to take craft beer to the next level.

The database and interactive map will be housed on the Organic Brewer’s Alliance website once it is launched following the completion of the project. From the website, users will be able to access the map that will help brewers locate ingredients and help producers find stable markets to sell their organic products.

This network is especially beneficial for organic farmers and producers. With the Organic Brewers Alliance, mutually beneficial relationships can be made between organic brewers and producers that allow brewers to source ingredients they need for their beer and producers to have a steady buyer for their products and services. Having a community like the Organic Brewers Alliance will help ensure that farmers have a market and a reliable income year-to-year. The alliance also will connect them with other producers to share their knowledge and resources.

Also included on the website will be an annotated bibliography of resources to help understand the importance of regenerative and sustainable farming practices, how to begin organic brewing or farming, and why it matters. Additionally, there will be a platform for discussion between users, allowing for more frequent updates of the map and the spread of news throughout the network. The Organic Brewers Alliance team hopes to launch the website by the end of 2020.

The first phase of research and development of the Organic Brewers Alliance will focus on beer brewing in the United States. Once established, the Organic Brewers Alliance team plans to expand their database and map to international beer brewers and producers. Talks of adding wine producers, cider makers, and distillers to the database will proceed once the international website is up and running.

“We envision the Organic Brewers Alliance as an amazing online resource where anyone can search by ingredient or location to find farmers, brewers, and mid-producers—providing a dynamic network for people to connect,” Sandy said. “We believe change happens by individual actions, one batch, one beer at a time.”

With the foundation laid, the Organic Brewers Alliance needs collaboration on all sides to reach its full potential. For more information on the project or to learn how you can get involved, email oba@bangbrewing.com.

 

Emmery Hartwig and Marena Ekblad are seniors in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences at the University of Minnesota.

 

 

From the November | December 2020 Issue

 

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