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Why This Mexican Craft Brewer Refuses to Use GMO Grains

As a regular beer drinker who doesn't mind downing a few cold Negra Modelos in between IPAs and stouts every once in a while, I was curious to find out why this rebel is literally going against the grain.

In today's buzzkill edition of beer news, we will probably ruin the soft spot that you've always had for Mexican beer.

Greenpeace Mexico's "Do You Know What You Eat" campaign recently reported that Corona, Victoria, Pacifico, Tecate, Indio, Modelo, and many more deliciously refreshing beers from Grupo Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma and Grupo Modelo are brewed with genetically modified grains. While we still await an official verdict on whether GMOs pose a health risk, much of the internet would have you think that consuming GMOs is pretty much the same as drinking bleach.

He compares the thought process behind brewing good beer to using good ingredients to make good food.

Nonetheless, it is not all grim news. Greenpeace did release a list of the few Mexican craft breweries that refuse to use GMO grains in their beers, including Baja Brewing Company. MUNCHIES spoke with Jordan Gardenhire—the small company's founder and head brewer—back in January about how difficult it is to start your own craft brewery in Mexico. But as a regular beer drinker who doesn't mind downing a few cold Negra Modelos in between IPAs and stouts every once in a while, I was curious to find out why this rebel is literally going against the grain.

"All of our stuff is non-GMO. If you are a small brewer, you probably won't use those types of grains, but the big guys are using whatever they can," the Colorado native tells me from Baja.

This brought up a burning question, though: Can one actually taste the difference between a beer brewed with GM grain and one brewed without it? According to Gardenhire, you can. "It definitely does change the flavor. I have been using non-GMO grains since I started. If I switched to using GMO grains now, it would change the flavor and our customers would notice that." He uses malted barley sourced from Great Western Malting Co., a company based in Vancouver, because it's difficult to find non-GM grains in Mexico. He doesn't mind that it is quite a bit more expensive to use non-GM grains, either. "I have to ship down everything," he says.

When I ask Gardenhire what made him refuse to use GMOs and ultimately give up more profits, he says, "I am a craft brewer and this is an artisanal product. It is something that I love. I just want to make the highest-quality product possible." He recognizes that beer isn't exactly a health food, but it is something "that could be better or worse for you." He compares the thought process behind brewing good beer to using good ingredients to make good food. "The better the ingredients, the better the beer—or the food— will turn out."

Jordan Gardenhire. Photo courtesy of Baja Brewing Company

Jordan Gardenhire. Photo courtesy of Baja Brewing Company

GMOs in Mexico have been a hot topic lately. In August of last year, a Mexican federal district judge repealed a two-year-old ban on genetically modified corn, benefiting companies including Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, and Dupont, which were behind the lawsuit. The suit ruled that those who supported it had failed to show that the planting of transgenic seeds and the herbicides used with them posed risks to human health, farming economies, and food sovereignty.

Yet many of the country's chefs, scientists, farmers, and environmentalists think otherwise, saying that non-GMO corn is under dire threat with these new genetically modified varieties creeping in.

The argument against using GMO grains in beer loses when it comes to economics, which probably explains why both of Mexico's brewery juggernauts choose to use GMOs over non-GMOs, according to Greenpeace. Gardenhire theorizes that it is a just a matter of making more money. "For these bigger breweries, it is all about saving pennies. Remember, these are huge companies that we are talking about, so if they can save one penny per bottle, that has the potential to turn into millions or billions of dollars. Who knows?"

Nonetheless, Gardenhire remains stubborn in his money-losing, anti-GMO brewing ways, and it appears to be working out for him. He is about to introduce his IPA and his "Peyote Pale Ale" into the US market (the latter of which is not actually brewed with peyote). "We are not going to sell to a million people. We'll serve to our group of people and that is OK with us."

As passionate and adamant against GMOs as Gardenhire is, however, it is not completely black and white for him. He admits that he would still drink a beer brewed with GM grain. "I definitely prefer a good, artisanally made craft beer, but when it is hot on the beach and that is all you haven, you drink it."

Seeing as some beaches in Mexico have the power to transform Mexican beers into spicy micheladas that are practically suited for the drinking gods themselves, we don't blame him.