Beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit, and promotes health.
(Thomas Jefferson) Beer is a fermented alcoholic beverage brewed from malt and flavored with hops.
Although Beer is mostly considered a ‘mans drink’, a drink that is most favoured by the “boys”, it were the women in the ancient times who brewed beer. In fact most of the women brewers were also priestesses and beer was considered a drink worthy of the Gods. It was mostly used as offerings to the Gods in Ancient Babylon.
Brewing and consumption of beer finds a reference in the history of Mesopotamia and China some 4000 to 5000 years back. Inscriptions on stone tablets founds in Mesopotamia bear testimony to this.
 Why should I be aware of this?
- Beer is the world's oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea.
- Excess beer can lead to obesity and other lifestyle diseases.
 All about beer
Beer is produced by fermentation of sugar derived from starch based products. The most common source is malted barley; however rice, wheat, corn, potatoes, millet and certain kinds of roots grown in Africa and Mexico may also be used although in conjunction with barley.
There are three main types of beer. These are top-fermenting, bottom-fermenting and spontanious-fermenting beers.
 Varities of beer
The classification of beer is a complex exercise owing to the fact that there is a variety of local beer available that are produced in styles typical of the region. Also local characteristics such as the water give the beer a unique and a typical taste. However the beer making process, minus a few adjustments, largely remains the same everywhere. Michael Jackson in his book, The World Guide to Beer, categorised beer according to the various types of beer that was available. This classification was upheld by the Beer Judge Certification System of USA.
Beer is classified into groups depending on the type of yeast that is used in the fermentation process. This kind of criteria leads to the ale and lager categories. Classifications are also done on the lines of the country of origin.
- Ale and Lager: The two most prominent types of beer are ale and lager and the difference is only in the type of yeast that is used. Ale is fermented with top fermenting yeast that allows for rapid fermentation at a higher temperature ranging from 15 to 25 degree centigrade. Thus it is mostly made in warmer climes. They have a higher alcoholic content and are therefore more robust than the lagers. Ales are sweeter and often have a fruity note. Sometimes they are black in colour as is a type of Irish ale. They come in a wide range of styles as stout, porter, pale ale and wheat beer. These are definitely not for the weak hearted since they are stronger and more full bodied.
Lager, by contrast is fermented with a bottom fermenting yeast that generally settles at the bottom of the fermenting vat. Lagers ferments at a much slower pace and is thus suitable for colder temperatures ranging below 10 degree centigrade, though nowadays 12 to 18 degree centigrade is good enough to produce a lager. A primary fermentation at a temperature between 7 to 12 degree centigrade and a secondary fermentation at temperatures below 0 degrees allow for the finest beers to be produced since the hops and the malt are allowed to ferment slowly so as to release their flavours to their absolute limit. Lagers are far paler and less alcoholic than ale and probably find more favour among people who go more for the flavour of the drink than for any other characteristic. The colder temperatures also act as a preservative agent, keeping the flavour intact. It enhances sedimentation and prevents growth of micro-organisms so that the beer comes out cleaner and better.
Lager is a German word which means to 'store and put aside'. German lagers called 'helles', meaning pale or blonde are very popular today and served in glasses that are branded which just adds to the whole experience of having a beer. There are of course those who believe that the beer can do on its own without the display part. Another type of lager called Pilsner or Pils was first found in Bohemia. It was found that the taste improved if kept in cool caves or on dry ice. All malt beers first came up in Germany. The taste of this beer is bitter and very aromatic as it is preserved with the finest and most aromatic hops. Bock and Marzen are two such kinds of German beers that do not have added sugar in them.
The modern method of making lager beer was headed by Gabriel Sedlmayrthe Younger, who made dark brown lagers in Bavaria. Anton Dreher also produced an amber coloured lager in Vienna. The Lambic beer uses wild yeast and not the ones that are cultivated for spontaneous fermentation. This yields a different type of taste.
- Pale and Dark Beer: The colour of the beer is yet another basis for the classification of beer. Pale amber colour is the colour of beer although darker colour of beers are also produced. Pale lager is produced by combining malt with coke. Coke is used here for roasting the malt. Deeper coloured malts are made by intense roasting of the malt. This was first introduced in 1862. Today, lagers are the more preferred beer, especially brands such as Pilsner, Urquell and Heineken among the European brands and Budweiser, Coors and Miller among the American brands. The alcoholic content in such lagers is 5% which is not so high. Hence it can be enjoyed any time of the day and can also be an accompaniment to a variety of foods.
Dark malt is made by brewing a pale lager with a small amount of dark malt. In some cases, a little bit of caramel is added to get the desired result. Guinness is an example of a dark beer.
Yet another classification arises out of the countries that have traditionally been the hot bed of the beer industry. Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, England, Poland, Denmark, Austria have contributed immensely to the historical development of beer. Each of these countries has a rich tradition of beer brewing and has come up with various kinds of beers that have a taste that is typical to the local region. The local flavour has not been an inhibiting factor; instead they have transcended boundaries and won appreciation of beer drinkers across the globe.
The European styles have been adapted to countries such as USA, Canada and Australia. However, the water, yeast and other climatic conditions have made these beers different from those in Europe; they too stand apart and are just as appealing. In Australia beer drinking is much commonplace and beer occupies a huge appeal to both men and women alike.
 Diet Beer
The end result of brewing does give rise to a complex chain of carbohydrates and simple sugars. This can be a cause for concern, especially for those who run the risk of hyperglycemia or liver cirrhosis. These days ‘Diet Beer’ has been introduced which has the complex carbohydrates and the simple sugars in whittled down proportions. They are thus lower in their energy content. Similarly there are light beers which have the same complex carbohydrates and sugars due to which they have the same flavour. Due to their low alcohol content they present an advantage. For a diabetic person the light beer with a lower alcoholic content is a better choice as cutting down carbohydrates reduces the chance of hypoglycemia.
Beer drinking ought to be factored by sense, sensibility and maturity. If one is ill one ought to see a doctor and go with his prescriptions. For a person with diabetes, an endocrinologist should be consulted. There is little sense in drinking beer and baiting ill health and trouble.
 Organic Beer
This is beer made with organic barley and organic hops. Any other additives will need to be approved by the guiding organic authority for that area.
 Beer and Health
Usually it is a case of stereotypical thinking that beer, or any other alcoholic produce for that matter, can give rise to innumerable diseases. This may not always be true. Recent researches on the topic do state that a pint of wine a day can actually do a person and his heart more good by reducing the chances of strokes, and vascular disease almost by 20 percent (New England journal of Medicine-November 1999). The difficulty arises when it is not taken in moderation or when it is consumed even when a person is advised not to have alcohol. The effects in these cases often range from the mild, like sleeplessness, headaches, nausea, to the more severe such as impaired liver function, obesity, higher blood sugar levels, even mood disorders. Hence most people steer clear of all forms of alcohol. Alcohol is also frowned upon in the Indian social spectrum due to religious dictates. Otherwise it is not really a huge harm to one’s physical self if one does indulge in beer or wine.
Beer contains polyphenols, antioxidants also found in wine. In addition the hops contain antibiotic properties. The presence of Vitamin B6 has also been found in beer which prevents the build up of amino acid called homocysteine which is responsible for heart and vascular diseases. Those who drank beer in moderation recorded a 30 percent increase in the presence of Vitamin B6 in the blood plasma.
In addition beer has certain effects that are very conducive to physical and mental health. In a stress ridden world, people often suffer from insomnia which again gives rise to a variety of problems such as digestive disorders, anxiety attacks, fatigue etc. Beer relaxes the body and helps the person to sleep well. He wakes up refreshed and is able to tackle the pressures of his environment much better. Beer is also known to be fat free and cholesterol free and so it mitigates the harmful effects on the body, especially on the heart where bad cholesterol invariably settles down and clogs the pores.
Beer is also a source of soluble fibre that is got from the cellular walls of the malted barley. In fact it meets 20% of the daily recommended dose of fibre, sometimes even 60%. This improves digestion, renal activity and regulates bowel movement. Among elders, beer is a known relaxant, it also improves blood circulation by helping blood vessels dilate beet. Plus it also improves urination which means it forces the kidneys to work at flushing out toxins. An average beer contains no cholesterol or fat, 13 mg of carbohydrates, 25 mg of sodium, protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and vitamins B, B2, and B6.
The good effects of beer have been listed out. However this does not mean that one should go out and have a huge amount of beer. The key word here is moderation. This should be applied more in cases where a person already has a history of heart attacks, diabetes and impaired liver function. The doctor’s advice should always be held in high regard in this case.
 Health Risks
The ill effects of beer are not direct, that is beer per se does not give rise to ant debilitating disease. The ill-effects are indirect. The first ill effect that comes to mind is obesity or ‘beer belly’. A beer belly is formed when a person has a beer too many, day after day, and develops a girth of 94 centimetres or more down the middle. It is considered ‘high risk’ if the girth measures over 102 centimetres down the middle. This beer belly arises out of too much fat accumulation and is a hotbed for diseases such as diabetes, heart attacks, high cholesterol levels, clogged arteries and sometimes even cancer. Alcohol lessens the body’s ability to burn stored fat. So the fat gets accumulated. The liver, which detoxifies alcohol, may also be unable to metabolize the excess quantity of alcohol. It might in such cases swell with an excess of fat. All this leads to a rounded middle or a ‘beer belly’. A beer belly is often taken to be a sign of prosperity and wealth. It couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact it is a pointer to the fact that one needs to cut down on alcohol and perhaps a sedentary life as well and adopt healthier means of living.
Beer, as all other kinds of alcohol can precipitate the blood sugar levels. This is alarming to people suffering from diabetes. Low blood sugar levels can trigger dizziness and in an extreme case black outs. Not to mention the injuries one can sustain if one falls down due to dizziness. Further low blood sugar levels stimulate appetite, which is not ideal for people who need to keep their diets restricted. In the case of beer which is made of starch and fermented sugar, the drink may not be very good for their health.
Beer may also impede the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals. Pregnant women should ideally abstain from beer due to all of the above reasons. Also it is during this stage that the blood sugar levels do rise naturally and beer at this stage should be avoided.