Big brewers elbow into organics

If you're into organic beers, the names Wild Hops, Stone Mill and Henry Weinhard may pique your interest.

As most people know, if there is a beverage niche to be found, the major brewers will make or import a product to fill it.

In this case, the brewing giant Anheuser-Busch has gotten into organic brewing with two of the three aforementioned products that are about to show up in various test markets around the country priced at about $7.99 a six-pack for Lager Wild Hops and $8.49 for Stone Mill Pale Ale.

Rather than using the familiar A-B name, the strategy is to call the project Green Valley Brewing Co., with an unspecified percentage of the profits to be donated to the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, CA.

Another major player, Miller Brewing Co., already has launched Henry Weinhard's Organic Amber Premium Ale in the Pacific Northwest, but plans to expand distribution to San Francisco on May 1, at first only in draft.

Organic beers are a tiny part of the domestic beer market, but it is growing. North American sales of organic beers grew from $9 million in 2003 to $19 million in 2005, according to the Organic Trade Association. And, sales continue to grow at a double-digit pace, according to figures from the Mintel International Group research company.

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