An Interview with the Founder of Peak Organic Brewing

This evening I was lucky enough to sit down for an exclusive interview with Jon Cadoux, the founder of Peak Organic Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine. The pesticides used in non-organic farming have been linked to cancer, Developmental Toxicity, Reproductive Toxicity, Endocrine System Toxicity, Neurotoxicity, Immune System Toxicity, and more. The good news, however, is that in the past decade, sales of organic products have shown an annual increase of at least 20%, the fastest growing sector of agriculture. Please do all you can to support Peak Organic Brewing and the organic movement. What follows is a transcript of my conversation with Mr. Cadoux, enjoy:

How did you first get into brewing?

Like many of the best brewers, I got my start home brewing in college. My friends and I were real foodies and kitchen rats, so home brewing was a natural extension of that. Home brewing really builds a good foundation for brewing, since you’re coming at from an experimental and improvisational standpoint. It’s one thing to be able to read and follow a recipe, but the real key to success is to bring improv to your brewing, to push the boundaries of style. Along the same lines, my friends and I starting making crazy beers and really getting into it; at the same time we were starting to get incredible feedback on the beers we were making.

At the time I thought I was smart enough to not want to get into the beer business; I guess I was smarter back then. We were having fun with brewing in general, but soon started to get interested in the things happening with organic foods. It was then that I had the realization that the organic food we started to find was just “better”; organic food just tastes better, it’s incredible really. The quality of organic products really aligned with what we were doing to push the boundaries in our brews, so we decided to try and get our hands on organic brewing ingredients – organic hops and organic barley. That was eight years ago and at the time there was virtually no such thing; what was out there was hard to find. We made phone calls and sent emails all over the world. I think that growers were so surprised to hear from us—those were the early days of email—they were happy to send us ingredients. The good news is that everything we got was incredible, to the touch, to the smell, and the look. I think that those organic ingredients really brought our homebrew to a new level; in turn we were getting more positive feedback. People were saying “the stuff you’re making is as good as or better than the commercial stuff all ready out there”, and people were really getting into it. I think they too were starting to realize organic stuff simply tastes better. So we thought, “This is interesting, let’s give it a shot… and here we are.”

As competitive as the beer world is, I think Peak Organic is just winning because of the sheer quality of our product, that organic point of difference; we’re really just along for the ride. Being organic allows us to cut through the clutter of the commercial beer world, but really we’re like anyone else – just a bunch of friends who got into the beer business.

What were the early days of Peak Organic Brewing Co. like?

There is a lot of paperwork involved with selling things commercially, but even more when what you’re selling is alcohol, and even more when it’s organic. I was really blown away by the bureaucracy of it all. But I guess that saves the integrity of the organic products, and beer in general really—this way no one is out there selling poisonous beer or faulty organic products—it was just surprising. But once the product got out there, on shelves and into restaurants, like I said, we were really just along for the ride.

Why did you decide to go organic?

Organic ingredients are just better. I like to think that I have some good business sense and I knew it was best to brew with the best ingredients we could get our hands on. You can have the best marketing plan and the best distribution deals, but when all’s said and done, you succeed when your product is great; we survive with people who believe in sustainability. To me, it didn’t make sense to be in business if I wasn’t in a business with a purpose. Not just making beer but continuing to turn people on to sustainability.

At the end of the day, I took a look at the state of agriculture in our country right now – at the use of pesticides, at the determent caused by agriculture runoff, at what will happen if our country continues operating at a non-sustainable pace, I didn’t want to contribute to that. Really, I can’t think of a reason not to brew organically.

Is it tougher to produce organic beers?

It can be, yes; organic brewing—like organic products in general—is often more expensive. We’re lucky enough, however, to have been doing this for eight years, so we’ve built great business relationships with those same original farmers who were amazed someone was just calling them up out of the blue.

What’s your favorite part about the industry?

Making beer. At the end of the day, attention goes to a lot of other things, to marketing, to distribution, to personnel—and it has to—but tomorrow morning at 7:00am I’ll be there brewing a batch of beer. It’s what I love more than anything else, so to be able to make money off of that is pretty cool.

Why did you decide to open up shop in Maine?

I’m from Baltimore originally and like a lot of people came up to New England for college. I’ve lived all over New England and traveled a great deal, but in the end, Portland just made sense.

On your website you ask people to share their photos and explanations of their “peak experience” – what was yours?

Someone take a picture of me at 7:00am tomorrow brewing beer, that’s what it’s all about. A lot of us at Peak are passionate surfers and outdoors people and that’s taken us all over the world, but at the end of the day – brewing beer is my favorite.

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