There is nothing quite as stereotypically British as ‘going down the pub’ for a swift half. But, beyond the tradition, are there health benefits from supping one of the UK’s oldest, most popular drinks?
Beer is an alcoholic beverage made primarily from grains, with four basic raw ingredients – water, malt, hops and yeast. In traditional Western brewing, production begins with ‘malting’, which is extracting simple sugars from the complex-carbohydrate grains, so that yeasts can ferment it into the end product. This requires isolating and activating certain enzymes and, in a process called ‘mashing’, results in a sticky, sweet liquid called wort. The wort is then boiled and hops – herbaceous plants that contribute much of the flavour, and act as a preservative – are introduced. The final stage is fermentation, in which yeast is added and the beer is left to brew. In traditional methods, fizziness comes from the carbon dioxide the yeast produces.
The quality of the malt, yeast and hops can make a marked difference to the flavour and integrity of the beer. Smaller independent micro or craft breweries place an emphasis on the best sourcing of raw ingredients, and aligning with the most traditional brewing techniques. In the current artisanal foodie renaissance, these beers are exceptionally popular. If you’re keen to home brew, Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation (Chelsea Green Publishing, £22.50), is a good starting point.
But, how does beer stack up nutritionally? Forget the beer-belly label – that’s usually due to poor food choices, unless you drink gallons of the stuff. Beer provides small amounts of B vitamins and potassium, as well as some fibre and, depending on the quality of the hops, is a source of antioxidant polyphenols that can help protect against free-radical damage to the body. There are better food sources than beer – but a glass here and there can be beneficial, it seems. Chin-chin!
Craft Beer Festivals – A celebration of the best of the modern beer culture, held in London, Bristol and Edinburgh over the summer. They also feature live music and delicious street food.
Laverstoke Organic Lager – Organic and biodynamic, these makers nourish the terroir so the soil has just the right bacteria and yeasts for the barley and hops to be at their best (ocado.com).
Brewed Awakening by Joshua M Bernstein (Sterling Publishing, £16.99) – Marking the resurgence of craft beer-making, from home brewing to nanobreweries. A revolutionary read.