Meet Our Board—Ted Vivatson, Eel River Brewing

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Written by Gaea Denker on Monday, April 1, 2024
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Ted Vivatson is the founder of Eel River Brewing, America’s first certified organic brewery. He serves on the CCOF Board.

Ted Vivatson is the founder of Eel River Brewing, America’s first certified organic brewery. He serves on the CCOF Board.

Ted Vivatson’s love for quality beer evolved as organically as the company he created. A native of Danville, California, Ted spent a couple of years developing his palate for unique brews while serving his country in Germany in the early 70s.

“I was young, and America's big, corporate breweries hadn’t contaminated my palate for quality brews. I learned to savor and appreciate beer in a new light—not just by how many I could drink in a short time, but by seeking to understand different varieties and flavors. I learned to appreciate what beers are best at which season and what foods they pair with. A whole new world opened up for me.”

After his military tenure ended and he moved back to California, Ted’s job as a full-time cadastral surveyor did not prove to be as fulfilling a career as he had hoped. However, he did enjoy being outside in the wilderness because, as a feral child of sorts, he had grown up tramping through the forests and wilderness of Contra Costa County. His keen interest in agricultural products and preserving the environment filtered through his mind as he yearned for one of those malty, hoppy, and yeasty German beers he so fondly remembered. 

In 1992, Ted thought, “I’ve figured it out. I want to spend my life brewing quality beer with organic ingredients.”

In Fortuna, California, in 1995, Ted introduced Eel River Brewing to the public. Although brewing was his ultimate dream, he also envisioned improving the plants he worked with. “I knew hops were one of the most chemically treated agricultural products. Because they’re very susceptible to powdery mildew and mites, they’re sprayed with many fungicides and pesticides. That’s not good. Hops, not being classified as a ‘food’ by the FDA, are not regulated the same way as fruits and vegetables.”

Ted knew he was in a challenging position. “We couldn’t fight the big guys because that’s who our distributors were,” he recalls. It wasn’t until one of his longtime customers made a special request that Ted realized a demand for a better brew was imminent. “He came in and asked for a naked beer,” Ted laughs. “I asked him what he meant, and he said he wanted a beer like the one his grandfather used to drink—without all the crap in it.” 

That single exchange led Ted to brew organic beer. He searched as far as New Zealand for organic hops. “They thought it was so funny,” he recalls. “This little California brewery came all that way for their hops.”

Empowered with new, high-quality ingredients, Eel River Brewing was unstoppable. The only thing it needed was certification. Ted wanted customers to be able to trust his product. “Who’s going to say whether we’re organic?” he wondered. “Customers must be able to trust that this isn’t just some greenwashing claim—we’re the real deal.” He contacted CCOF, and Eel River Brewing became America’s first certified organic brewery.

Ted eventually felt the need to become a CCOF Board member because he wanted to represent the voices of agricultural production in Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino, and Del Norte counties. “There are a lot of interests that don’t reflect the farmer and producer,” he says. “Our voices need to be heard.”

The quest for organic excellence continues to drive Ted and his work. “When I train my brewers,” he explains, “I tell them organic can’t be some compromise where people have to lower their taste standards just because they want organic production. That’s a load of hooey. We have to set the standard.”

Ted’s vision, curious mind, and persistence have resulted in the creation of quality brews. “Now we’re one of the most award-winning breweries in the world,” Ted says. “I make award-winning beer. It just happens to be organic too.”


 

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