I didn’t always love beer. That came later in life, after the craft beer revolution began taking off in the late 1980s. Give me a lightly hopped IPA with hints of citrus – almost heaven. But peeling back the layers, just how benign is that beer? Let’s get into it.
Beer is made from three simple natural ingredients; hops, barley malt and yeast. What can possibly go wrong? The answer is: Plenty! Including the addition of the following ingredients: Yeast enhancers, mold inhibitors, artificial colors, artificial carrageen (thickener), MSG, foam enhancers, stabilizers (including PVP and PVPP), potassium metabisulphite, PGA, anti-microbial preservatives, EDTA, propylene glycol and more. These are all legal and none has to appear on the label. Buying USDA certified organic beer is one way to ensure that none of these FDA approved food additives find their way into your brew.
While you are recovering from that list of additives, here’s another shocker. All aluminum cans are lined either with PVC or BPA containing plastics. Neither of these is a safe acceptable Soapman-approved food surface when you look into them. So, you molecule watchers out there will want to think twice before drinking anything out of aluminum cans.
But what about draft beer?
Can I plop down at my favorite watering hole and have a nice safe draft beer in peace? Better think again. The aluminum kegs the beer is delivered in are just larger versions of your single-serve cans. Like their smaller cousins, beer kegs are also lined with an inner BPA or PVC coating. Further, the lines (hoses and taps) have to be flushed out with disinfectants every day to prevent critter growth. Yuck!
Beer glasses are almost always a chemistry experiment. While there are very few pubs that heat pasteurize their bar glasses, most are washed in strong detergent, quick rinsed in water, and dipped into a leave-on, medical-type disinfectant. This is what you get to drink when they fill you up a fresh glass. I get a much bigger hangover from the medical disinfectant than from the alcohol itself. If you care about good taste and good health, have the bartender rinse off your beer glass in clear water first.
And as long as I am being the Debbie Downer of beer this month, it is important to point out that most beer is made from municipal water. Many municipalities add fluoride to their water. This does not filter out during the brew process. Drinking fluoride containing beer may possibly have a health benefit; especially if you are a child or teenager in a fluoride-deficient geological zone (not the Northeast). You or I would probably do better without it, but, hey, everybody has an opinion.
Chloramine (this is not fancy chlorine) is a pipe disinfectant used by about 40% of municipal water suppliers. It is a mixture of ammonia and chlorine. Filters remove the chlorine, but the ammonia remains unless special two-stage filters are used, and they rarely are. Some people are especially vulnerable to chloramine and to ammonia in their drinking water. Others don’t seem to notice it.
Phew! Good thing all these chemicals are cleared through the FDA, so I have nothing to worry about, right? That, my friend, is up to you to decide. But until someone tells me definitively which chemicals are the ones giving us cancer, I am paying attention to who makes and who pours my beer. And so should you.
Thinking about all those chemicals in my beer is exhausting. I sure hope I can find a safe microbrew to chill out with after work!
Larry Plesent is a writer, philosopher and founder of the Vermont Soap Company; dedicated to replacing yucky stuff with yummy stuff for all the girls and boys who care. Thanks for reading. Learn more at www.vermontsoap.com and www.reactivebody.org.