Like every business owner, Marilyn Megenity has to make tough decisions. But one of her most recent ones was tougher than most.
Earlier this month, she decided to switch all twelve taps at the Mercury Cafe from beer made by her neighbor, the Wynkoop Brewing Company, to beer made in Boulder by Asher Brewing, Colorado's only all-organic brewery. The Mercury had been the Wynkoop's biggest outside account for several years before that.
The change, which took effect last weekend, means the Mercury will be buying beer from a company located 35 miles away -- one that use gasoline-powered trucks to drive it here -- rather than from a brewery just a few blocks away. It will mean Megenity's carbon footprint will get bigger, something she is loathe to admit.
But she says the trade-off was worth it.
"It's complicated, but certainly part of the divorce from the petroleum industry is to stop using chemicals and fertilizers," she says. "I'm sad not to buy beer from my neighbor, but organic food is our birthright and we must all demand it for the sake of the planet... All my foods are organic and all my wines are organic. There was no way to say no."
Megenity could have been buying organic beer from Oregon for the past five years, but chose not to because it wasn't local, she adds. Boulder is much closer.
Wynkoop spokesman Marty Jones says the decision was disappointing.
"Marilyn is very much into organic food, and God bless her for that, but we were certainly very surprised that she was going with beers from the Asher folks," he explains. "In a flash, we were going to be moved out."
Jones stresses that the Wynkoop has no ill will toward the Mercury or Asher, but adds that Megenity hadn't made her wish for organic beer clear to them over the years.
Megenity disagrees: "I have been asking them for organic beer for ten years," she says.
Switching from traditional beer ingredients to organic ones would be an expensive and time-consuming process, however, says Steve Turner of Asher, which was founded two years ago as the state's only USDA-certified all-organic brewery. (Asher will celebrate its birthday on December 4 with a party from 3 to 10 p.m.)
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For starters, the brewery would have to separate its organic and non-organic brewing equipment and storage. The only other Colorado brewer with an organic option is New Belgium's Mothership Wit. "It's difficult if you aren't already set up that way.
"Finding the ingredients is our biggest challenge," Turner adds. A few years ago, there weren't enough companies making quality organic malt and hops. And while he says that has changed, these ingredients aren't cheap.
"Pint for pint, we charge more," he admits. "But we are willing to take a lower margin than other breweries. It's worth it for us. And our customers are willing to pay for it, too."
The Merc will immediately become Asher's biggest client, he adds, buying two to four kegs of beer per week.