by OCI Culinary Management student Kerry Powell
All around the world– from Europe, the Americas, Asia, and beyond– beer is celebrated as the drink of choice for various people of differing cultures and lifestyles. However, there is also a lot of controversy surrounding beer and is often seen in a more negative light than positive one. This paper is a collection of compiled research that supports the idea that, when consumed in moderation, beer has a vast array of benefits. For starters, beer has a long and extensive history that appears beside mankind for thousands of years. Many cultures have evolved around beer, and beer has become its own culture in many countries worldwide, much like the Microbrew Culture Revolution in the United States. The sale and distribution of beer boosts the economy by providing jobs, paying taxes, and encouraging consumer spending. Alcohol is known to have a number of health benefits, and beer especially has added nutrients to contribute to one’s overall wellness. Given the vast amount of benefits that beer has to offer, it should never be forgotten that abusing the substance can cancel out many benefits that it initially provides.
To help gain a better understanding of the significance of beer, it is important to look at its origins and the role it has played in history, and what is considered “beer”. In the modern world, beer is an exclusive reference to hopped malt beverages, commonly used to describe lagers. This wasn’t always the case as hops are only a more recent innovation in the use of beers. Prior to the use of hops and the development of the cold maturation process that makes lagers; the beverages brewed were actually ales (beer100.com).
Beer (ale) goes back in history almost as far as civilization does, perhaps even earlier. There are arguments as to whether it was the need for bread or beer that led the nomadic tribes to settle down to form agriculture, though these statements are not proven. The earliest chemical evidence of beer is found in pottery dated back 7,000 years ago from modern day Iran. In contrast, the earliest depicted evidence of beer occurs in a 6,000 year old Sumerian tablet that portrays people drinking from a communal bowl through reed straws (beer100.com).
In the beginning of Western Civilization, beer continued to play an important role in society. It is widely accepted that the Egyptians used beer as a form of currency. Slaves were paid in beer, and currency units were based off of the amounts of ingredients and materials required to make the beverage. In Ancient Egyptian texts, there are over 100 medical prescriptions calling for beer (Dunn). Beer was passed down to the Ancient Greeks, and Plato wrote, “He was a wise man who invented beer.” The Greeks passed their knowledge of beer to the Romans, where it played an important role during the empires fledgling years. However, during the Republic, wine surpassed beer in importance, and beer was regarded as a drink for barbarians (Raley).
Prior to the Middle Ages, the primary responsibility for brewing beer fell on women, since it was considered both a food and a drink for celebration. During the middle ages in Europe, monasteries began centralizing beer production for hospitality to traveling pilgrims. Families started to expand their homes and brewing operations to become inns with public houses, or with the Latin phrase tabernae which becomes tavern. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the brewing began to become more of an artisanal practice done primarily by monasteries and pubs for the purpose of mass consumption (Raley). In many ways, these were some of the first establishments to resemble today’s hospitality industries.
Hops weren’t always used for beer. They have been grown in France since the ninth century, but the oldest reference pertaining to the use of hops for beer wasn’t until the eleventh century when writer Abbess Hildegard of Bingen wrote, “If one intends to make beer from oats, it is prepared with hops.” (beer100.com). Prior to the use of hops, various herbs and spices would be used to flavor the beer. For example, in Ancient Scotland the native Picts brewed ale made with Heather. In 1516, a new purity law in Bavaria first appeared. This law was done under Bavarian brewing guilds and made it illegal to use any ingredients but water, hops, barley, and later yeast (when it was discovered) in the process of brewing beer (Raley). The law eventually spread throughout all of Germany, and was initially made to ensure that the quality of the beer was to a certain standard by forbidding the use of lesser quality ingredients.
Beer, or ale, played a role in the founding of the United States. The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock because their beer stores were getting low. As the colonies grew, colonists began putting ads in London, and other foreign newspapers calling for experienced brewers to come over to the colonies. Many of the founding fathers of the United States– George Washington, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and William Penn– all brewed or had their own commercial breweries (Raley).
During the 1800s, Oktoberfest was declared a celebration. German immigrants introduced cold maturation lagers to Americans. From this, the roots of Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Miller, and Pabst had begun to grow. With approximately 2,300 breweries in 1880, beer in America was enjoying its glory years. With such a large amount of competition, combined with growing public dissent for alcohol, the number of breweries went down to 1,400 by 1914. By the early 20th century, in many Nordic countries, Canada, and the United States, Prohibitions began occurring. In the United States, Prohibition ran from 1920-1933. After Prohibition had ended, only 160 breweries hadn’t gone out of business (Raley).
During the years that followed Prohibition, the giants we all know today that dominate the American beer market began their domination. These are almost like the dark ages of beer in America. Hardly any breweries survive “the plague” of prohibition, and the ones that do eventually twist and evolve to a flavorless substance made with cheaper materials and in a larger volume to make money. However, we are currently in a Renaissance of Beer in the United States. Microbreweries are rising in numbers and the larger corporations are (kind of) starting to up their product.
As well as having an extensive history alongside human kind, beer also has a number of benefits associated with it. Some of the most major of these are the economic benefits that come with the production, consumption, and distribution of said beverage. Beer helps benefit the economy by providing jobs, putting more money into the economy, and providing governments with revenue from “vice” taxes. In 2008, the malt beverage industry generated $41 billion in business, personal and consumption taxes (Business Source Premier, Beverage Industry).
To put it simply, beer puts money into the economy. “Brewers, beer importers, beer distributors, brewer suppliers and retailers directly and indirectly contribute more than $198 billion annually” (Business Source Premier, Beverage Industry). This all starts with the agriculture industry, which brewers support by purchasing the necessary grains and hops to make their product. Then it affects the wholesale and hospitality industry by providing product, revenue, and potential customers. A large portion of a restaurant’s income comes from the bar, and beer is one of the more popular beverages that appear in restaurants. Other tiers that the malt beverage industry affects are the suppliers, shipping, and even governmental tiers that regulate the industry (Dunham).
The malt beverage industry also opens up, supports, and provides many jobs. It is said that the beverage industry provides, or influences to provide over 1 million jobs in the United States (Business Source Premier, Beverage Industry). Think of the amount of jobs that indirectly involve the sale of beer. Beer makes up a healthy amount of sales in the places that provide and distribute it. Farmers work to grow the necessary ingredients. Truck drivers trek across country to deliver it to distributors. Warehouses hold the product in its various forms of completion. Manufacturers make the equipment necessary to make the beer. People pay taxes when they buy their beer. The brewing industry pays taxes to make their product. The industry is a driving force in the United States economy and it’s undeniable how much something simple like beer can affect our everyday lives. The amount of jobs in each industry is as follows:
Retail/Hospitality – 888,400
Wholesale/Storage – 95,400
Production – 42,950
Other affected firms – 441,300
The effects beer has don’t only lie in the money it generates, but in the spark it gives many cultures. Beer plays a very central role in many European cultures today, and many countries pride and associate themselves with their beer. The countries in Europe that have openly embraced beer culture are Belgium, Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Czechoslovakia (Raley).
In the Americas, beer culture is changing very rapidly. American beer has had a bad reputation for being tasteless and cheap, but that is changing. Beer connoisseurs are becoming ever more common, and microbreweries and brewpubs are putting out product that is dedicated to quality and flavor. These places and people are popping up all around the country, making it evident that this change is going to stay.
Beer is the drink of preference to the majority of Americans, and many advertisements and events are centered on beer. Sports events and beer go hand in hand, whether you’re at the game waiting in line at the beer stand whilst gazing upon the 80 foot beer billboard, or at home watching the game’s beer centered commercials. America loves its sports, and watching sports fits perfectly with consuming beer.
With so many places and events that have beer available, and the social aspect related to these events with the consumption of beer, it’s safe to say that beer, in many ways brings people together. Events such as Oktoberfest and other beer festivals bring together people of many backgrounds, having them all celebrate this commonality together. The arts can also get involved with beer and its culture. Artistic beer labels, bands playing at beer festivals or in advertisements, dancing for the silliness that often ensues during a night of drinking all add to the beer culture.
Beer also has an effect on food culture. Everyone knows that wine complements food, and can be used in a variety of cooking methods. A less popular, but still known, notion is that beer and food also can marry well, and beer can be used in cooking just as wine can. Beer can be used as a marinade, in braising, stewing, deglazing, sauce making, baking, poaching and simmering. Beer also brings an array of flavors to the table; bitterness and acidity from the hops, and a hint of sweetness from the malt. The yeasts in beer help contribute to a light, fluffy batter ideal for frying. The acidity and the yeasts also contribute to the beer’s marinade qualities, helping to tenderize. In baking, the chocolate-y, roast-y flavors found in stout beers harmonize well with chocolate recipes, such as brownies or cake. Beer is an excellent ingredient to have available in the kitchen for some creative cooking ideas (drinkfocus.com).
In the United States, craft beer and microbreweries are becoming ever more popular and common. There are over 1,500 breweries in the United States, and 90% of them fit into the small, micro brew definition. Microbreweries are defined as producing no more than 2 million barrels of beer annually (craftbeer.com).
The micro brew revolution began in the early 1990s, when the rate of microbrewery growth had rapidly started to increase. In 1982, there were only 82 breweries of all sizes in the entire United States, which rose up to 258 by 1992. As 1994 came, a new microbrewery opened every three days, raising the national total of microbreweries to 745. In the year 1995, an additional 287 microbreweries and brewpubs opened their doors. Through the early 1990s, microbrew sales were expanding 40-50% annually during a time when per capita alcohol consumption was declining. The year of 1997 saw a total of 1,273 breweries, which was the first time the United States breweries outnumbered their German counterparts. Today there are 1,531 establishments that brew local beer (Schnell & Reese).
With the growing recognition of craft micro brews, the big guys in American beer (Budweiser, Coors, Miller, etc.) are facing a steady decline in popularity and are losing customer loyalty. For example, in 2003 Budweiser appeared at 13th place on a beer brand loyalty list, today in 2010 it is placed at number 220, quite the drop in only seven years (Hoffman).
The big brewers aren’t taking this lightly; they want in on the micro brew gold mine. Since craft beers can be sold for a premium price, there is a lot of money to be made there. Anheuser-Busch started faux micro brews of Red World and Elk Mountain, Coors started up Blue Moon and Killian’s Red, and Miller introduced Red Dog. However, these faux micro brews didn’t succeed as much as the breweries had hoped, though many continue to be in production today (Schnell & Reese). It is evident that the micro brew revolution is going to change the way the world sees American beer, which may create a high demand for it in other countries.
Most people have a lot of misconceptions when it comes to beer in relation to one’s health. Although it is true that when abused, beer can help cause some adverse health effects, but there are many benefits associated with the moderate consumption of the drink. Studies show that participants who drank 1-2 beers a day had their B6 vitamin levels raise by 30%, twice as much as the increase caused by wine or spirits (Life Extension, 8.2).
Alcohol in general is known to decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke, and blood clotting. It raises the levels of “good fat” (HDL Cholesterol) in the blood, which stack with the cardiovascular benefits. It is also said that moderate consumption of alcohol causes insulin resistance, which may help prevent type 2 diabetes down the road. Alcohol also helps to reduce the risk of suffering from inflammatory diseases. Keep in mind that most of these benefits come with the moderate consumption of alcohol, over consumption would negate any of the benefits (Witheridge, 11).
There are many studies underway trying to determine if beer and alcohol consumption can help delay senile dementia in elders. Evidence suggests that elders who consume alcohol are less likely to develop dementia; perhaps due to reduced narrowing of blood vessels in the brain, or even the social contact that drinking can cause by going out to drink at a bar or at a friend’s house. Other studies are trying to find out if beer can help prevent osteoporosis, or the weakening of bones, in women partly by raising blood oestrogen (estradiol) levels (Witheridge, 17-18). Estradiol is a hormone found in both sexes which supports bone growth (Henderson). Other suggested benefits are reduced risk of gallstones, and reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s (Witheridge, 17-18).
Lastly, there are the psychological benefits associated with the moderate consumption of alcohol. There are many that believe that the relaxed feeling that one or two drinks provide is a psychotherapeutic effect that is beneficial to everyday living. Moderate consumption of alcohol is linked with reducing tension and stress, more so in moderate drinkers than in abstainers or heavy drinkers (Witheridge, 19). It is also worth noting that the common belief that drinking beer will cause a “beer belly” is a myth and has been proven to be untrue. Although over-consumption of beer can result in fat gain, it isn’t site specific, and won’t just accumulate in the stomach area (Schütze).
With the careful, mindful, moderate consumption of alcohol comes a great many beneficial health effects. Over-consumption of alcohol can reverse many of its benefits. However, alcohol fits perfectly into a healthy lifestyle that is balanced and active.
The adverse effects of the abuse of alcohol are also worth noting. Alcohol abuse can cause organ damage, lead to alcoholism, cause psychological stress, and even contributes to deaths every year through Alcohol Poisoning or drunk driving incidences. The best known effects of heavy drinking are the damage it can cause to one’s liver. The body prioritizes alcohol above other things when it enters the body, so it is quickly absorbed. The liver follows along on this path, sometimes pushing aside fatty acids to metabolize the alcohol first. This can cause the liver to accumulate a bunch of unnecessary fat that impairs its function. It is worth noting that the moderate consumption of alcohol doesn’t have this effect, as it allows the liver enough time to metabolize it (healthchecksystems.com).
Alcoholism is a huge problem to many across the world. Alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol, and many times the cravings are so primal that a person who is an alcoholic has a brain that is telling them they need the alcohol as much as they need food, sometimes more. Most of the time, alcoholics need to be treated with assistance from either a doctor or an alcoholic support group such as AA to put their disease under control. Alcoholism not only affects the individual, but their environment, family, and friends (healthchecksystems.com).
Binge drinking is a good way to cause harm to one’s health. Binge drinking is usually described as having more than five drinks in one sitting (Witheridge, 7). Heavy drinkers have higher risk of kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, cancer of the liver, pancreas, esophagus, breast, and mouth, obesity, and more. If women choose to drink while pregnant they risk behavioral and abnormal qualities in the fetus (healthchecksystems.com). It is important to be mindful about personal alcohol consumption, try to reap the benefits, not delete them.
Given that beer has a rooted spot in humanity, and the vast array of benefits the beverage provides, beer should be respected among society. That doesn’t mean that everyone must drink a beer every day, but to know that it does have a positive impact. Negative impacts often caused by alcoholic beverages are due to overindulgence. Overindulgence in just about anything in life can cause negative effects. Eating too much food can cause obesity, exercising for too long and too hard can cause injuries, too many vitamins or nutrients can be damaging to one’s health, taking too much medicine also has negative health effects, and people can even die from drinking too much water (called water intoxication). It is important to remember that it is the overindulgence and abuse of such things that causes the negative impact, not the substance alone. When someone respects beer and drinks it in moderation, it can be part of an extremely healthy and satisfying lifestyle if they choose to live in balance. Beer brings people together, provides health benefits, boosts the economy, and gives a certain cultural flair to society. It’s important to respect it and, in a way it will respect you. Most of all, it is important for the individual to respect themselves and their body.