John Hardin / @ 7:03 a.m. / Op-Ed

HARDIN: An Honest Value in Humboldt County


When I drank beer, the Eel River Brewing Company made my favorite. Their Organic IPA had everything I was looking for in a beer. It’s strong, satisfyingly hoppy and all organic. I love the fact that they make it right here in Humboldt County, but a big part of what I love about Eel River Organic IPA, is the price. I used to get Eel River Organic IPA at Eureka Natural Foods, or the Liquor Store in Redway for $28.88 a case. Just last week I saw that they still have it at ENF at that same price. That works out to about $1.20 per 12 oz bottle, which seems like a bargain to me.

I bought a lot Eel River Organic IPA over the years, amounting to thousands of individual beers, and I never got a bad one. Every single bottle tasted consistently crisp and refreshing. People take this for granted with beer, but unless you’ve paid good money for a badly skunked and undrinkable beer you probably don’t fully appreciate it. I thank the Whale Gulch Brewery for making me really appreciate the quality control at Eel River Brewery.

Of course, I could have drunk Budweiser for about half as much money, and found it available in even more convenient locations, or I could have chosen Hamms for even less, but I chose Eel River IPA because I don’t mind paying a bit more for real quality. I don’t have extravagant tastes. I never bought their Imperial IPA at something approaching $10 a bottle. After all, I’m not made of money, and beer isn’t everything, but I like a good one, and I appreciate it when someone can make a good one at a good price, so I don’t mind giving them this entirely unsolicited publicity.

Look at what goes into an Eel River Organic IPA. First you need organic barley. The field has to be certified organic. The farmer has to plant it, water it, fertilize it, protect it from pests, harvest it, hull it and cure it, and make money at it. From there, the barley has to be sprouted, and roasted at a very specific temperature for a very specific amount of time. In addition to barley, you need hops, an aromatic flower not unlike cannabis. The hops have to be grown in a certified organic field, watered, fertilized, protected from pests and picked at peak florescence. Hops also have to be cured and dried properly.

Besides the ag products, you need an abundant supply of clean water, and you need to deal with a lot of organic waste material properly. You need a specific strain of yeast. You need someplace to boil it all together, and you need the fuel to make the heat. You need a sterilized fermenter with an air-lock, big enough to hold it all, and you need to keep it within a narrow temperature range for a matter of weeks. Then you need to bottle it, with just a dash of sugar in each bottle for sparkle, cap it, and let it age for a few more weeks before you sell it to the distributor.

The distributor buys it, tacks on all of the taxes, then takes it to the store, and sells it to the store owner, at a profit. The store buys it, and marks it up again, before they sell it to me, at $28.88 a case. I’m happy, and everybody gets paid. Nobody makes too much, but everyone makes enough to keep doing it. That’s what makes Eel River Organic IPA a success. It’s quality, but it isn’t just quality. It’s quality, done efficiently. It’s honest value that makes Eel River Organic IPA such a great beer.

Now let’s compare this great local beer to our even more famous local product, marijuana. To make marijuana, you need to plant it, water it, fertilize it, harvest it, dry it and cure it. In the past, you also had to hide it. Time was, we had the best place in the country to hide marijuana, and there was so much of a premium on cannabis because of prohibition, that it was worth the expense of dragging everything else you needed to grow marijuana, including the topsoil, fertilizer and even the sunlight, in the form of generators and lights, out to the middle of the forest in Humboldt County to do it.

No one would dream of hauling soil up the side of a mountain to a hole in the forest to plant barley. If they did, that would be some expensive barley, and unless they could think of some kind of hype to convince people that the barley they grew was better than barley grown by competent farmers, working fertile soil, on flat land, in full sun, out in the open, they would soon go out of business. Unless they could lobby the legislature to create all kinds of strict licensing of barley. They could argue that since barley is used to produce beer, which is responsible for millions of deaths every year, of course we need to strictly limit where, and how much of it can be grown They could use their influence in government to create an artificial shortage of barley that would drive the price of beer through the roof, and allow them to sell their expensive barley at a profit.

Right now, the marijuana industry is conspiring with politicians to keep marijuana expensive and to stifle competition and prevent innovation. The cannabis industry has given more money to gubernatorial candidates than all other farmers in the state combined, and most of that money went to Gavin Newsom who has promised to keep the price of marijuana high, to protect drug dealer’s profits, while he screws cannabis consumers who are sick of high prices and communities all over the state who will have to deal with black market crime for the foreseeable future.

That’s not a bargain; that’s a ripoff. There’s no honest value anywhere in the marijuana industry. Instead, it’s full of hype, greed, and government coercion. If you happen to get good pot out of it, that is more or less beside the point. You didn’t really have much of a choice. You paid through the nose to people who feel entitled to your money, and you settled for whatever you got. We deserve a better deal.

A better deal means open competition that rewards innovation. A better deal means licensing large-scale cannabis grows on agricultural land to stop people from hauling soil up the side of a mountain to a hole in the forest by putting them out of business. A better deal means we have a choice of fine cannabis products, in every price range, that are safe, consistent and reliable. Until we have a better deal, we don’t even know what an honest bargain looks like in the marijuana industry.

Someday, if we ever get a better deal, some Humboldt cannabis entrepreneur may develop a profitable cannabis product that matches the honest value of Eel River Brewery’s Organic IPA, but I sure haven’t seen it yet.

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John Hardin writes at Like You’ve Got Something Better to Do.


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