“He was a wise man who invented beer.” — Plato
The History of Healthy Beer
The history of beer dates back to the world’s first civilization, Summer, in Mesopotamia (4000 BC). A 5,000 year old brewery was discovered in China, including a recipe of broomcorn millet, barley, Job’s tears, and tubers. Recently, a 6,000-year-old Italian wine was discovered in a Sicilian cave, tying Armenia for the earliest evidence of winemaking. A 9,000-year-old tomb in China unearthed a recipe with hawthorn fruit, sake rice, barley, and honey, the oldest known fermented beverage in history. This makes beer older than wine! However, there is some debate among experts that winemaking could have started 10,000 years ago in the beginning of the Neolithic age. Unlike today’s beer, beer in ancient times was not bitter, rather flat, and most likely a combination of sweet and sour. However, sour beers are now making a come back.
The Neolithic era represents the agricultural age that started 10,000-12,000 years ago and came with many faults. But I think many of us can agree that the best invention that came out of the Neolithic era, was wine and beer. I’m not talking about the mainstream beer companies that have created an embarrassing imposter full of chemicals, additives and depleted vitamins and minerals. I’m talking about the real beers that served as a source of nutrition, rich in b-vitamins, minerals, probiotics and medicinal compounds from numerous herbs. Thankfully today, there is a craft beer scene that is as wild as the yeast in the air with creative brewers everywhere recreating what beer should be.
During my research and exploration of brewing methods for beer along with wine production, I discovered a startling revelation. The majority of beers and wines are no different than any other sector of a processed food, with a high chemical load and nutrient deficient profile. In the past, the question “is beer good for you?” would have gathered a hearty laugh. For many cultures, drinking beer provided a major source of clean hydration, vitamins, and minerals. Today, people just assume beer has negative health effects and therefore is just categorized as a guilty pleasure. In fact, beer is good for you in moderation of 1-2 beers a day, but you have to choose wisely.
What You Won’t Find on the Label of Mainstream Beer and Wine
When you start to look at the content of many mainstream beers, you will find MSG, high fructose corn syrup, propyl glycol, food dyes, BPA, unnatural preservatives (due to pasteurization), and chemical residues like glyphosate found in 14 German beers and California wine (higher in non-organic). A study from the American Chemical Society in August 2016 found that 97% of imported and US beers tested had glyphosate levels of 0.46 – 196 ppb. A good beer isn’t full of chemicals.
In California, conventionally-grown wine grapes received more pesticides than almonds, table grapes, tomatoes or strawberries. Residual concentrations of many different pesticides have been detected in bottled wine were similar to initial concentrations on the grapes. Since hops are notoriously prone to pest and disease issues, I imagine a similar issue with many beers along with sprayed grains.
I knew from research that alcohol depletes b-vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc and disrupts gut flora. But it started to become clear that this depletion is negated based on where it is grown, how it is produced, how much is consumed, and the diet of the individual. The good beer of our ancestors – or places where traditional fermentation is still intact – did not contain the chemical load that many US wines and beers do (and other places in the world), and the mineral levels in the water and soil have always been higher in the past. The beer was unfiltered and unpasteurized, leaving the yeast in that contains the nutrients that alcohol depletes, was a source of probiotics and often had medicinal herbs that increased the medicinal value.
The Medicinal Qualities of Yeast, Beer, and Alcohol
If you look at the breakdown of brewer’s yeast from Nutrition Data in 1 oz., it is quite impressive for b-vitamins, immune-boosting selenium and the electrolytes magnesium and potassium.*Chromium isn’t listed, but is also found in yeast and is important for stabilizing blood sugar.
Now, take a look at a beer that was tested for B-vitamins:
Source: The Science of Healthy Drinking
This beer shows 62.5% of folate and 170% of B12!
Yeast Provides A Major Source of Nutrition
If you filter the yeast out and pasteurize the beer, you lose most, if not all of the b-vitamins and probiotics. While you will keep the benefits of compounds in barley and hops with filtered and pasteurizing, you are losing out on a major source of nutrition due to the loss of the vitamins, minerals, and probiotics.
The Health Benefits of Beer
The benefits of beer not only come from the grains and yeast but also the herbal change to hops. Hops contain a flavonoid called xanthohumol that strongly suppresses CYP1A2 (suppressing is good), a liver enzyme that metabolizes various environmental procarcinogens such as heterocyclic amines (created during high heat cooking of meat or fish), nitrosamines (pesticides, cosmetics), and aflatoxin B1 (mold) that can lead to cancer when overexpressed. When you have heterozygous or homozygous variants in this liver enzyme as discovered through Nutrition Genome, you have to take more dietary strategies to prevent the activation of procarcinogens. Hops appear to be one of those strategies, while they also improve fat metabolism. Hops are also a potent phytoestrogen due to 8-prenylnaringenin; something that doesn’t make me get on the heavy hops bandwagon of brewing for guys. I prefer a smaller dose of hops and a higher use of other herbs myself. But for post-menopausal women, the hops may increase bone density and the prevention of hot flashes.
One study highlighted in The Science of Healthy Drinking found the following: Two months after the hospital staff began offering one beer a day to the geriatric patients, the number of them who could walk on their own increased from 21 percent to 74 percent. Social interaction tripled, and the percentage of patients taking Thorazine, a strong tranquilizer, plunged from 75 percent to zero. If you want your mind blown by 400 pages of studies showing the positive benefits of moderate alcohol intake, including drinking beer every day, pick up The Science of Healthy Drinking.
Radiation is another risk factor for cancer, as it may damage cellular DNA. In one study, human volunteers were asked to drink two beers a day, and then X-rays were irradiated to blood samples collected three hours after beer consumption. The results showed that the frequency of chromosomal aberrations in lymphocytes after beer consumption was significantly lower than that before beer consumption. This effect was not attributable to alcohol, but to the compounds in beer.
Another study found that when volunteers consumed either beer, red wine, or spirits for one week, it was only the beer drinkers that did not have a rise in homocysteine due to the B6 and folate content.
You can have too much of a good thing. If you or your family members are prone to gout, beer appears to raise uric acid levels higher than liquor and wine, with wine being the best option for not pushing uric acid levels too high. It is important to note however that the reason gout has been known as the rich man’s disease is that it occurred from a combination of over-consumption of sugar, red meat, and alcohol during a time when only the wealthy could afford it. Uric acid actually acts as an anti-oxidant comparable to vitamin C, and moderate elevations are beneficial. It all comes back to balance.
Since beer companies are not allowed to make any health claims, you have to dig for the beer health benefits in the research.
The Medicinal Effect of Moderate Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol itself works in medicinal doses. Both too little and too much appear to be an issue. One study on alcohol from Harvard was published recently in the European Society of Cardiology and is perhaps one of the longest of its kind. It followed 14,629 men and women aged 45-64 and followed them for up to 25 years. They found that for those who drank one 5 oz glass of wine or 12 oz. beer per day, the men had a 20 percent less incidence of heart disease and 16 percent for women. What’s interesting is that heart failure rates were higher for those who drank less OR more. For those having more than 21 drinks, a higher risk of dying from any cause went up 47 percent for men and 89 percent for women.
In a new study from UCSD, “researchers found that among men and women 85 and older, individuals who consumed “moderate to heavy” amounts of alcohol (1-4 drinks based on gender and weight) five to seven days a week were twice as likely to be cognitively healthy than non-drinkers.” This study looked at 1,344 older adults (728 women; 616 men) in an upper class, Caucasian population. I think it is important to note here that this San Diego demographic is also highly active.
Let’s also take a look at the PON1 gene, which codes for enzymes that break down pesticides and helps prevent LDL from oxidizing, a major mechanism in atherosclerosis. One study found that alcohol in small amounts (4-5 oz. of wine or 12 oz. of beer for example), improved PON1 activity by 395%. However too much decreased it by 45%. PON1 is responsible for elevating HDL in response to alcohol. Another study reported that three weeks of beer consumption significantly reduced the level of plasma c-reactive protein (CRP), but was attributed to the alcohol.
Many other studies have confirmed this fact over and over again. Alcohol can be very good for us, but it must be treated like everything else in our food supply. The source, production, and amount is the key. Even more reason for responsible drinking.
Is Beer Good for You? It Depends on the Beer
I came across a beer in Whole Foods by Propolis Brewing Company from Washington state a few months ago when I started asking the question “is beer good for you?”. I was so impressed by their beer, that I looked them up and found a description on their website that resonated with other literature I had read about beers of the past.
For thousands of years beer served as food and medicine; it had antiseptic, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Old world ales were referred to as “gruits” and were created from various malted grains and bittering herbs. Proprietary herbal blends were passed down from generation to generation as was the knowledge of how each herb served to promote health throughout the year. We carefully selected local herbs and botanicals that bitter and flavor our ales. Our herbal blends are developed to harmonize with the spectrum of malt that shifts from light to dark with the sun and the harvest.
Before the Beer Purity Law 500 years ago this year, other herbs were used in beer instead of hops. According to the book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, before the use of hops in beer, gruit ale was the beer staple made primarily with sweet gale, bog myrtle and yarrow. These herbs were mildly narcotic and some were considered aphrodisiacs. Due to these qualities, it was under extreme interrogation by the Protestant church. Unhappy with partying habits of the Catholics, the Protestants played a role in the banning of certain herbs and replacing them with hops, a known sedative.
I scoured the internet and contacted breweries to compile a beginning list to seek out these special craft beers. Whole Foods and specialty wine and beer shops will most likely carry some of these. If you have one of these breweries in town, that is also the best place to go.
Good Beer (Unfiltered and Unpasteurized)
Some of these may indeed contain organic ingredients but are not certified. It is very costly to be certified and I understand companies choosing not to. But some companies will use organic ingredients without being certified, and I’m trying to find these. Many beers in Europe are organic, unfiltered and unpasteurized by default. I was told that the east coast of the US have more breweries that are creating unfiltered, unpasteurized beers, while more west coast breweries filter many of their beers.
“Bottle conditioned” is another word used for unpasteurized to look for on labels. Yeast is added at the bottling stage for carbonation.
North Coast Brewing: Blue Star and Pranqster. Prankqster is a very delicious, good beer. Great customer service.
Sierra Nevada: Porter, Stout, and Kellerweis (most yeast). Pale Ales are bottle conditioned. All others are filtered, but unpasteurized. All beers use non-GMO ingredients. I can vouch that the porter is excellent. Great customer service too.
Bell’s Brewery: According to Bell’s Brewery: “Most of our ales are unfiltered, it’s been one of our main philosophies since Larry Bell first started brewing more than 30 years ago. Our lagers, on the other hand, are filtered, but unpasteurized.” Amber Ale, Kalamazoo Stout, Porter, Oatsmobile, Two Hearted (non-GMO verified), Oarsman, Oberon (non-GMO verified), Winter White, Best Brown, Expedition Stout, Special Double Cream Stout, Hopslam, Arabicadabra, Christmas Ale and The Oracle.
Weihenstephan: Vitus, Korbinian, Hefeweissbier Dunkel, White Hoplosion are the best beers.
Schneider Weisse: Choose Aventinus.
Allagash: All beers are unpasteurized and bottle conditioned. Sixteen Counties uses organic oats.
Red Oak Brewery: A brewery in North Carolina that makes some awesome unfiltered and unpasteurized beers.
Great Divide: Orabelle Belgian Tripel, Nadia Kali Hibiscus Saison, Colette Farmhouse Ale, Samurai Rice Ale (being released later this year). Ingredients are not organic.
Chimay: This one is actually pretty easy to find at Trader Joes, Whole Foods and at restaurants. Chimay is a very good beer.
St. Bernadus: If you like Belgian beers, this is a delicious choice.
Einstok: “Our White Ale in bottles is unfiltered, unpasteurized and bottle-conditioned, and our Toasted Porter is unfiltered.”
Orval: Orval beer means is in the exclusive club of authentic Trappist beers
Westmalle: Westmalle is also a Trappist beer made by the monks.
Rochefort: Trappist Rochefort is an easy beer to find from Belgium.
Green’s: One of the few gluten-free beers on the market.
Du Bocq beers: This is another beer from the famous Belgian region.
Budvar’s: They have an unpasteurized yeast beer.
The Bruery: Email response. “All of our beers are going to be unfiltered, as well as all of our sour beers will be unpasteurized.”
Beau’s: A great find for Canada! Organic malt, hops and local spring water. However, they pasteurize their beers but have unfiltered versions.
Best Beer (Organic, Unfiltered and Unpasteurized)
*Only certain beers for some of these companies may be certified organic, or use mostly organic ingredients.
*Only certain beers for some of these companies may be certified organic, or use mostly organic ingredients.
Propolis Brewing: This brewery is in Port Townsend, Washington, and I would consider this beer to be at the top of the healthy beer list. They have access to natural spring water, which I think is a secret ingredient for the best beers. I ordered a case of their yarrow beers for my wedding to show you how highly I think of them. They also have a monthly ale club.
Logsdown Farmhouse Brewery: I bought these as gifts for my groomsman. They are definitely on the healthy beer list.
The Ale Apothecary: This brewery is in Bend, Oregon, and I have only heard about their legendary beer. They would also be categorized as a healthy beer due to their water source, clean ingredients and ancient fermenting practices.
Gjulia: Gjulia is made in Italy and is a little harder to find. I have only seen these at one Italian restaurant where I live.
Ayinger Brewery: Ayinger is from Germany and they are excellent beers. I’ve seen Ayinger at Bevmo, Whole Foods and numerous grocery stores.
Bison (unpasteurized, but filtered). Bison is one of the few breweries that sing their organic certification loud and proud. Numerous health benefits from the herbs and spices added to their beers.
Deschutes Brewery: Deschutes is also in Bend, Oregon, and if I was picking beer stocks, I would invest in Deschutes to become the top craft beer distributor along with Sierra Nevada. Black Butte Porter, Chainbreaker White IPA, The Abyss, The Dissident, Flanders Black, bottle condition all the beers in the Mainline, Seasonal, and Bond St. lines, Reserve Series beers have live yeast. Non-GMO ingredients and some are organic. Deschutes County doesn’t fluoridate their water, another win. Great customer service.
Dogfish Head: Email response. “We use organic ingredients when available but we do not claim to be 100% organic. Some of our beers are unfiltered like our wheat beers (Namaste) and certain high gravity beers (120, Burton) other beers are filtered (like 60 Minute). And we are unpasteurized.”
Fish Brewery Company: I haven’t tried these beers yet but would love to hear from anyone who has.
Lakefront Brewery: (different degrees of filtering): New Grist and New Grist Ginger are gluten free. Fuel Cafe Coffee Stout, White Belgian Wit, and Growing Power Farmhouse Pale Ale are year round organics. Barrel Aged Beer Line Barley Wine is limited.
Hair of the Dog Brewing Company: Hair of the dog has an excellent reputation in communities lucky enough to be able to buy them.
Brooklyn: I haven’t tried these beers yet.
Pinkus: Organic, healthy beers. The taste wasn’t anything to write home about.
Samuel Smiths: Samuel Smiths Organic Ale is their healthiest option.
Wychwood: Scarecrow Ale is their organic beer.
K&L Craft Beers: I might fly to Italy just to try these beers.
La Birra di Meni: Now I have two reasons to fly to Italy.
Please feel free to help me add to this list from your hometown in the comment section. Cheers!