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Bon Appetit - Just Plain Good Food

A Thought About Beer?

Published August 27th, 2013 in Bon Appetit - Just Plain Good Food, HN4U Blog

Labor Day weekend is here and with it some of the last big barbeques of the summer. Those who are not out bow hunting are maybe thinking about salmon fishing and the fall hunting season. What do these events have in common with the last big barbeque of the year? Well from the volume of cans that show up in the woods, I would say Beer.

For many of us beer is a quintessential drink from our childhood, no matter whether it was branding calves in the spring, haying or working in the woods; beer was always something the men in our family indulged in on special occasions. For me I had never really thought much about it, it was just a bitter nasty smelling beverage for adults only. But this week I learned those ancient brews from malting grains and hops has a lot more in it than Rocky Mountain water.

So if the brewing industry had to follow the same labeling laws as nutraceutical companies and food vendors you might instead see on the label – “Brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water, GMO corn syrup, and fish bladder”. If you watch TV you know there is truth in advertising and were reassured by ads with wholesome images of sparkling mountain streams and barley rippling in the breeze.

The reality is far less appetizing. The list of legal additives to beer includes:

  • MSG
  • Propylene glycol (it helps stabilize a beer’s head of foam, though in high quantities it can cause health problems)
  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Calcium disodium EDTA
  • Caramel coloring
  • FD&C blue 1, red 40, and yellow 5
  • Insect-based dyes
  • Glyceryl monostearate
  • Isinglass

You’re unlikely to see any of these ingredients on a label, because listing is voluntary. When ingredients are listed, it may be a partial list—which is even more deceptive than having no list at all.

According to the Alliance for Natural Health: Some brands with less-than-wholesome ingredients:

  • Newcastle uses artificial caramel color to simulate the golden brown color that is supposed to come from toasted barley. “Caramel color” sounds innocuous, right? But it’s manufactured by heating ammonia and sulfites under high pressure, which may create carcinogenic compounds.
  • Miller Light, Coors, Corona, Fosters, Pabst, and Red Stripe use corn syrup, and Molson-Coors acknowledged that some of their corn is GMO.
  • Budweiser, Bud Light, Bush Light, and Michelob Ultra use dextrose (made from corn).
  • Anheuser-Bush uses corn.

The labeling regulations are confusing and capricious. Food is regulated by the FDA, and requires a Nutrition Facts panel, but alcohol is regulated by the US Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Unless it’s beer made with something other than malted barley, and then it’s regulated by the FDA and must carry a Nutrition Facts panel. States also have their own regulations, which can supersede those of TTB, but not of the FDA.

Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, explained on her blog why we still don’t know the ingredients in alcoholic beverages. In short, TTB has been procrastinating since 2007 on completing their rules for labeling of alcoholic beverages.

People with allergies to genetically modified corn are taking a chance when drinking beer, as there is no requirement that GMO ingredients identified on the label.

So those pounding sinus headaches or gut cramps may not be from the alcohol or the yeast but the chemicals hidden in your favorite bottle of beer.

According to the, your best beer bets are: Sierra Nevada, Heineken, and Amstel Light, as they use non-GMO grains and no artificial ingredients, stabilizers, or preservatives. German beers are subject to the “Reinheitsgebot” law mandating that beer be produced using only water, hops, yeast, malted barley, or wheat—you won’t have to guess what’s in them.

An obvious choice is certified organic beer, which cannot include GMOs and other harmful additives by law. The local micro beer bonanza of the northwest are also good choices. BUT be warned many craft beer companies will give you a complete list of ingredients if you ask, however, large beer companies are buying up microbreweries, as Molson-Coors did with Blue Moon and Anheuser-Busch did with Goose Island Brewery.

So have a great Labor Day weekend, drive safely and sober. Buy a local craft beer supporting our state not a mega corporation who puts volume over quality and tradition.

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