Should you drink organic alcohol?

A man used to walk into a bar and order a beer. Today, a man walks into a bar and orders a citrus skinny margarita made with muddled fruit, torn mint, cucumber and organic — yes organic — tequila. That man is Jon Augustin, beverage manager of True Food Kitchen, a health-centric restaurant chain that’s served organic alcoholic beverages since its first location opened in 2008. “This day and age, people are a lot more conscious about what they put in their bodies, whether it’s food or cocktails, wine or beer,” he says.

Other bars, restaurants and beverage companies are also finding that “organic” — a label essentially meaning produced almost entirely without additives like pesticides, fertilizers, dyes or GMOs — isn’t a designation only appreciated in foods and nonalcoholic beverages. Peak Organic Brewing Company, for one, opened in 2007 to brew only beers with organic, locally sourced ingredients. At first, fellow brewers didn’t understand why. “We spent the first two to three years just explaining to people who we are and why we do what we do,” says Jon Cadoux, the company’s founder. “I’ll never forget the inquisitive looks.” Today, people get it. “Now we’re talking about the style of the beer and we don’t have to completely explain our reason for being,” he says.

At Irvington, a restaurant in the W New York in Union Square, cocktails like organic watermelon sangria accompany a limited-time menu catered to yogis who’ve participated in the hotel’s yoga series. They call it ” no shower happy hour,” says Vinny Mauriello, managing partner of Gerber Group, which owns the restaurant. “It shakes up the bar scene a bit.”

[See: 13 Fun Sports That Burn Calories.]

Considering shaking up your alcoholic beverage selection? Here’s what to ask first:

1. Do you know what ‘organic’ means?

Food and beverages — alcoholic or not — must meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s strict production and labeling regulations to be considered organic. (Alcoholic beverages — organic or not — are also regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). While beer, wine and spirits each have specific requirements, products labeled “certified organic” must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (save for water and salt). There are stipulations on the remaining ingredients, too.

Still, there are some nuances. For example, most wineries add sulfites — chemicals that are considered additives when not occurring naturally — to preserve their product, but many varieties are called “organic” because they contain a more limited number of sulfites and are made with 100 percent organic grapes. Different countries, too, have different requirements for the organic label, so drinking an organic French cabernet might not mean the same thing as drinking an organic Californian cabernet.

On the other hand, plenty of wineries use sustainable practices and organic ingredients but don’t go out of their way to share that with consumers, says Gladys Horiuchi, director of media relations at the Wine Institute, an industry advocacy group in California. “That’s not their marketing ploy,” she says. “They want to be on the shelf with all the premium wines.”

2. Does it taste better?

As a “passionate foodie,” Cadoux started to realize years ago that his favorite restaurants served locally sourced foods from small family farms that didn’t use chemicals like pesticides. As a home brewer, he decided to see if the same benefits applied to beer. “We were just floored by the result,” says Cadoux, who launched Peak Organic soon after.

While Cadoux and his company’s fans find that organic beer tastes better — “the organic hops that we get are brighter and more aromatic and more flavorful and cleaner,” he says — taste is, of course, subjective. And, when it comes to liquor, the differences are relatively negligible, Augustin says. “Some of the products do taste a little different, but overall, [it’s the same.]” Mauriello’s advice? “Exert your purchasing power to do what feels right for your body.”

3. Can you afford it?

Just like organic food and nonalcoholic beverages, the price point for organic booze tends to be higher than conventional varieties, which can more easily cut costs by mass producing their products. Still, Augustin says it’s worth it. “There’s going to be a little higher premium, but you kind of look at it as an investment” if you believe the alternative is more harmful to your health, he says.

[See: 6 Healthy Foods Worth Splurging On.]

At Peak Organic, a six-pack might be a dollar or two more than the average six-pack on the shelf, but the difference isn’t drastic because the brewery buys directly from the farmers rather than working through a broker. In effect, they’ve been able to keep the price down, Cadoux says. “We don’t want this to be some niche-y thing that only elite can enjoy,” he says.

4. Will it make you feel better — morally?

Environmentally conscious consumers might be willing to shell out a few more bucks for organic alcohol to avoid fueling big industries with big production plants and big environmental impacts. “The people who are drinking organic beer aren’t drinking it because it’s healthy — it’s still alcohol — but from a taste standpoint and from an environmental standpoint, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” Cadoux says.

The makers themselves are also increasingly embracing sustainable practices for reasons beyond public image, says Horiuchi, whose organization helped form the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. “When you’re a farmer, you’re close to the land and you’re sort of an environmentalist anyway,” she says. “A lot of it is protecting natural resources for future generations.” Greenbar Distillery, which makes the tequila found in Augustin’s margarita of choice, even plants a tree for every bottle sold. “A lot of companies are not just making a good product,” he says, “but they’re doing a lot of good for the environment.”

5. Is it healthier?

Cadoux admits it: “If you drink organic beer versus a nonorganic beer for a month, there’s going to be no health difference to you as an individual,” he says. Instead, he argues, shifting your purchasing habits can make a broader impact by, for example, reducing environmental waste that can contribute to public health problems. “Health benefits should be looked at through a bigger picture lens,” he says.

[See: 13 Best Fish: High in Omega-3s — and Environmentally Friendly.]

Still, organic alcohol is alcohol, which has zero nutritional value, despite packing in calories, and can contribute to a host of mental and physical health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, some cancers, memory problems and addiction. While alcohol can be part of a healthy diet for most people, moderation — meaning no more than one drink a day for women and two for men — is key, says Joy Dubost, a registered dietitian in the District of Columbia who’s a beer steward with the Master Brewers Association of the Americas. Even she is unaware of any research indicating that organic alcohol is healthier than nonorganic alcohol. “Whether you choose organic or conventional alcohol products,” she says, “moderate consumption is always recommended.”

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Should You Drink Organic Alcohol? originally appeared on

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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