We are living at the apex of beer. According to the Brewers Association, as of 2017 we have over 6,000 craft brewers operating in the U.S. While this provides an abundance of choices for drinking, it can also create some confusion in navigating all the taps we have to choose from. In the spirit of providing some clarity, we'll dispel some of the myths surrounding beer to help you more fully enjoy this amazing bounty.
MYTH #1: Beer is best served as cold as possible
Frosty cold mugs and bottles with ice dripping down the sides are the marketing messages of “big beer.” While it looks appealing in a commercial, severe cold freezes out the flavor of beer. You will lose the aromatics when you serve beer too cold.
Craft beer offers an abundance of unique flavors—florals, pepper, citrus, bread, raisin, chocolate, pine, grass, toffee, banana, earth, nuts, biscuit, coffee, cloves, tropical fruit—and so many more. To get the full essence, it is best to hold your glass for a couple of minutes after pouring.
MYTH #2: Dark beers are stronger than pale beers
The short answer is, no. The flavor intensity of a dark beer might lead you to think that the taste is strong, but there is no correlation between color and alcohol content. The color of a dark beer simply comes from the roasted grains used to make it.
The common misconception is that light beer has less alcohol and calories, while darker beers are heavy. The truth is, you just can’t judge a beer by its color!
According to Ashley Routson, in her article “Debunking the Myths Surrounding Dark Beer,” “the color of beer is directly related to its malt content. The fermentable sugar in the majority of craft beer comes from malted barley that has been germinated and kilned. Additional color and malt flavor come from the roasting process.”
MYTH #3: Ales are darker than lagers
The difference between lagers and ales is a difference of yeast. Lagers rely on bottom-fermenting yeast that thrive in cold temperatures, and they work slowly and produce clean, sharp beers. Ale yeast works in warmer temperatures from the top of the fermentation tank and produces esters responsible for robust, fruity, and complex flavors.
Color has nothing to do with yeast—it comes from the color of the malt. Dark malt makes dark beers and pale malt makes pale beers. So to make a dark lager, a brewer simply pairs dark malt with a lager yeast. It’s that simple. That’s precisely the process that German brewers use to produce dunkels, double bocks, and schwarzbiers. These brews are capable of delivering the deep coffee and chocolate notes of an Irish stout, but they come bound in the refreshing crispness of a lagered beer.
MYTH #4: Wine is the healthiest libation
When people talk about the healthy component of wine, they’re talking primarily about a polyphenol called resveretrol. “Resveretrol is grossly overplayed as a health story,” says Charles Bamforth, who wrote the book Beer: Health and Nutrition. “Compare wine and beer and you find that beer’s polyphenols are every bit as potent as wine’s.”
To back this argument, Bamforth ran beer and wine through a battery of antioxidant tests, and beer displayed some surprising benefits. In the test that looked specifically at the antioxidants that stimulate fat oxidation, beer actually outperformed wine.
Here are some healthy beer benefits might just surprise you:
- Beer Is Heart-Healthy
Huge studies have found a 25 percent lower risk of heart disease in people who drink from one-half to two drinks daily, compared to abstainers. And alcoholic beverages that are rich in polyphenols (like beer) may be especially good for the heart, according to a 2012 research review. Beer has benefits for people who already have heart disease, as well as for healthy folks. Men who had survived a heart attack were nearly half as likely to die over the next 20 years if they drank a couple of beers a day, Harvard researchers reported in 2012.
- Beer Builds Bones
Beer is a great source of silicon, which is important for building and maintaining healthy bones. In fact, the form of this mineral that's found in beer, orthosilicic acid, is extra easy for the body to metabolize, according to a 2013 report in the International Journal of Endocrinology. If you're looking for a brew that will build your bones, try an India pale ale. IPAs and other beers with lots of malted barley and hops are the best beer sources of silicon, according to a 2010 report from University of California, Davis researchers.
- Beer May Prevent Some Cancers
Lots of chemicals found in beer have shown promise in preventing or even treating cancer —although studies so far have been in Petri dishes and rodents. One type of bitter acid, lupulone, wiped out tumors in rats with colon cancer who consumed it in their drinking water, according to a 2007 study published in Carcinogenesis. Xanthohumol, another beer ingredient, also looks promising. A 2010 study by an Austrian research team found that xanthohumol shut down abnormal cell growth and prevented DNA damage in rats exposed to cancer-causing chemicals. The researchers say xanthohumol is likely to be good for humans too, since its cancer-fighting effects were seen at relatively low doses—equivalent to what people would get with moderate beer consumption.
- Beer Aids Digestion
Bitter acids in beer may also improve digestion. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry looked at five types of German and Austrian beer and found that each triggered the release of gastric acid from stomach cells. The more bitter acids a brew contained, the greater the response. Gastric acid is key for both digesting food in the stomach and controlling the growth of dangerous gut bacteria.
- Beer Fights Inflammation
Hops, the female flowers of the hop plant, give beer its tangy, bitter taste. These bright green buds are also chock-full of chemicals known as bitter acids, which have an array of health-promoting effects. Bitter acids are powerful inflammation fighters, according to a 2009 laboratory study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. One type of bitter acid, humulone, offers promise for both preventing and treating viral respiratory infections in a 2013 study funded by Japanese beer manufacturer Sapporo.
- Beer Protects Brain Cells
Xanthohumol—the found in beer that can shrink liver tumors in rats—can also protect brain cells from oxidative damage, according to a 2015 study from China. Austrian researchers reported in 2013 that xanthohumol and other beer ingredients promoted the growth and development of neurons—in the lab.
- Beer ‘Polishes’ Your Teeth
That slimy stuff that collects on your teeth if you haven't brushed in a while? It's called biofilm, and beer can keep it from forming—and even help get rid of it. UK researchers tested the effects of several plant-derived extracts on bacteria that form biofilm and promote tooth decay and gum disease. Even the weakest extract of beer tested blocked the activity of bacteria associated with gum disease and tooth decay in the study, published in 2012 in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. In fact, for wiping out biofilm, beer beat out black-tea, raspberry, and all other extracts tested. It was also among the best for blocking communication among dental-disease-causing bacteria.
- Beer Can Reduce Risk of Kidney Stones
A study in nearly 200,000 patients published in 2013 showed that while sugary soda and punch boosted kidney-stone risk, beer drinking reduced the likelihood of kidney stone formation by 60 percent. “Our study suggests that beer consumption is associated with reduced risk of forming stones in three large U.S. cohorts,” says Pietro Manuel Ferraro, MD, of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.
NOTE: We are not claiming that beer can prevent or cure disease. An individual's diet, pre-existing conditions, and lifestyle are all contributors in one's overall health. You are ultimately responsible for all decisions pertaining to your health. We merely provide some interesting antecdotes as it pertains to beer to highlight some of its nutritional qualities.
Myth #5: Beer Foam is Evil
Contrary to popular beliefs, having a head on a beer is a good thing. Firstly, foam releases carbon dioxide. If you do not release the CO2 in your pour, it will be released in your stomach, causing that bloated or full feeling you can sometimes get when drinking beer. Secondly, a substantial head carries with it intense, complex aromas from the beer that otherwise might be lost to the nose and the palate. A quality beer pour should have about a finger and a half of head on it.
There you go, five beer myth – gone! Now, go out there and pour one for yourself and enjoy it fully. Cheers!