We all saw that article burning through social media. I had friends send the link, Facebook and Twitter seemed flooded with the link. The article 8 Beers That You Should Stop Drinking Immediately went about as viral as a quirky music video from another country. We actually covered the issues brought forth in the article in this weeks upcoming episode. The sad reality is that the article seems largely filled with fear mongering and dubious, unsubstantiated claims from a source lacking credibility.
The first real shocking blow is that the bevy of articles from around the web seem to be copy cats from a single source. I was exposed to the article from the ridiculously named worldtruth.tv and the same text from banoosh.com. Seriously, check out both links and see how the content is nearly identical and both devoid of any relevant scientific citation. It appears that this is largely a reprint of an article written by The Food Babe written in July of 2013. It turns out that this is the source material for this current deluge of anti-beer propaganda.
Maureen Ogle is a woman with many interests but she is a beer historian and she takes this article to task as a bunch of unsubstantiated tripe designed to create a sharefest as overzealous, concerned drinkers warn each other of the dangers of mainstream beers while promoting their favorite organic alternatives. Maureen’s entire article is an amazing read but for the lazy here are some choice parts.
Bare minimum, this one fact set off my alarm bells: She relied on information from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. If you’ve read Ambitious Brew, you know that I have zero patience with CSPI. For thirty years, that group has railed against the alcohol industry and lobbied for neo-prohibition. As a source of information, it’s untrustworthy, unreliable, and constantly shows a somewhat shocking disregard for science (weird, given the group’s name).
While I’m not usually one for poising the well via ad hominem attacks I think it is relevant to point out a history of ignoring solid science to promote an agenda. If the CSPI is known to be an untrustworthy entity for relaying “information” that flies in the face of known convention they burden of proof should be considerably higher than others.
Maureen contact several brewers with firsthand knowledge to discuss the many misperceptions about the Food Babe article. Her article starts with a response from Mitch Steele who is a Brewmaster at Stone Brewing Co and has a Fermentation Science degree from UC Davis. A pretty credible source. He responds to the Food Babe’s assertion that because alcohol isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration that brewers can throw anything in a beer without informing the public.
All alcoholic beverages are monitored by the TTB, the Tax and Trade Bureau, formerly an agency within Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. TTB has strict rules regarding beer ingredients. Any beer made with “non-traditional” ingredients, mean anything other than malt, water, yeast and hops (as well as some adjuncts) must go through a strict formulation approval by the TTB before the beer can be brewed.
So the insinuation that brewers can put anything in their beer and not label it is false and absurd. There is government authority on what brewers can use in their beers. And I can say that the FDA IS involved with brewing at an increasing rate.
The Center of Science and Public interest is a well-known Neo-Prohibitionist organization, so any publication from them has to be taken with a grain of salt. Their stated goal is to eliminate alcoholic beverages and adult drinking. As such, their list can hardly be considered objective.
He then proceeds to walk through the ten ingredients that the Food Babe objects to. I won’t list them all here but Mitch explains what each ingredient can be used for, talks about its regulation by the TTB, talks about whether he has first or second-hand knowledge of such ingredients being used, and whether or not the claim is plausible. He addresses the “toxic” dye in New Castle and the use of isinglass for instance.
Caramel coloring: Primarily used by English brewers, though it’s possible that some “dark” versions of mainstream beers include some kind of caramel coloring —though you don’t see those beers anymore. Michelob Dark, made by AB, got its color from black malt, not food coloring or caramel coloring. I can’t verify her claim that Newcastle’s caramel coloring is highly toxic. She would need to say exactly what they use to substantiate that claim.
Isinglass and gelatin have been used for well over 100 years in beer (and in wine) as clarifying agents. These compounds attract solid material in the beer, which then clump together and sink to the bottom of the tank, leaving the remaining beer crystal clear.
Carageenen, made from natural seaweed, performs a similar function to the Isinglass and Gelatin: It’s added in the brewhouse to help get solid proteins to settle out of the wort. Again, it does not remain in the wort, or in the beer.
The key point, however, is that this material stays behind in the tank. It’s not in the final beer product. English brewers commonly use these clarifying agents. Most American brewers use synthetic versions that do the same thing. In both cases, the clarifiants are not present in the final product.
Suddenly these things being “added” to your beer don’t seem as scary.
The article goes on with responses from famous homebrewers, brewers, and brewing instructors from all over America. I cannot post them all but the responses have two major points.
All beer ingredients are known to the TTB. Everything added to your beer has been cleared as safe by a regulating agency. From the tiniest of pico-breweries to the brewing juggernaut that is AB InBev brewers must report every ingredient used in the process of brewing.
The second point is best understood via a quote from Michael Copado. He is an award-winning homebrewer and student of brewing history. He writes:
Sugar is fundamental to the process of making beer: The beer’s yeast feeds on the sugar and converts it to alcohol. Put another way, it’s incorrect that beer contains “corn syrup.” Thanks to hungry yeast, that syrup and other sugars are gone by the time you enjoy your beer.
That’s an odd concept to grasp: When we drink an alcoholic beverage, we’re not necessarily drinking the ingredients used to brew the beer. Rather, the finished product contains sugars converted into alcohol by the yeast.
Even if a brewery was using High Fructose Corn Syrup in their beer that doesn’t mean that when you drink their beer you are drinking High Fructose Corn Syrup. What you are drinking is the alcohol that the yeast converted from the corn syrup. There would be no resulting corn syrup to worry about. This is equivalent to worrying about the chlorine in table salt. Chlorine is highly toxic to most forms of life including humans but when bound to sodium because something totally inert, even healthy to humans.
Ultimately some beers are going to be better for you than others but beer in general and especially craft beer is brewed by craftsmen who value the quality of the product over all else. They are not going to use ingredients that produce a beer that they aren’t going to want a drink. And even if you don’t trust the honesty of the mass market brewers you can sleep comfortably knowing that they are a highly regulated industry.
Alcohol was banned in America for thirteen years. Anyone who claims that once Prohibition was overturned in 1933 that the creation, marketing, distribution, and sales of alcohol was unregulated has a deeply flawed view of history. The various articles we have on the site that illustrate some of the absurdly antiquated statutes that last to this day are evidence of a highly regulated industry.
Being a craft beer enthusiast I’m not about to tell you to run out and buy a mass market beer when there are so many delicious craft beer alternatives but if you enjoyed a Corona or Newcastle and might want one in the future do so knowing that you aren’t threatening your health while you do.