Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Natural Beer Please

  • Select beer that has been brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot (the German beer purity law). Most German beer is brewed according to this purity law. The Reinheitsgebot ensures that beer is only made from barley, hops, water, and yeast. No additives or other ingredients are used when a beer is brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, although certain artificial brewing aids such as PVPP (polyvinylpolypyrrolidone) can be used as long as they are filtered from the finished beer. PVPP is relatively safe[1][2], but there is a risk that detrimental chemicals may originate from such unnatural compounds, such as bisphenol-A (BPA) that has been found to leach from polycarbonate food and beverage containers[3]. Many ingredients that are not allowed by the Reinheitsgebot can be completely natural. Such ingredients include rice, corn, herbs, spices, and mineral salts.
  • Look for ingredients listed on labels. Ingredients may be listed on bottled and canned beer. This is a strong indication that the brewer strives to or indeed does only use natural ingredients. But there is no absolute guarantee that only the listed ingredients are used because beer is not regulated like food by the US government. Therefore, there is a chance that ingredients may be excluded. Also check to see if the label states that only natural ingredients were used to make the beer.
  • Be wary of light beer and verify that it has been brewed with natural ingredients. Light beer may be produced using industrial enzymes[4], although many breweries such as Anheuser Busch use natural enzymes. The industrial enzymes more completely break down (hydrolyze) the carbohydrates that are derived from the grain that is used to make beer. The fully hydrolyzed carbohydrates can be completely fermented by the yeast, leaving very little residual carbohydrates in the finished beer. The completely natural enzymes that are usually used in the brewing process are provided by barley malt and wheat malt. Industrial enzymes may be derived from bacteria or other sources and are processed into a usable form. Such enzymes are not synthetic, but it is unlikely that most people can consider beer to be made with these enzymes to be completely natural.
  • Look for unfiltered, hazy beer. Various additives, brewing aids, and modern technologies can be used to make beer look clear and brilliant. Perfect filtering can, however, be conducted purely with natural, inert diatomaceous earth (the primary filter medium) if sophisticated equipment is properly utilized. Diatomaceous earth is the fossilized skeletons of ancient algae. Compounds that are used to clarify beer and aid filtration can be used early as well as late in the brewing process. PVPP and carrageenan may be added to to boiling wort, while PVPP and other compounds can be added later in the beer making process. PVPP is a non-toxic synthetic plastic, while carrageenan is extracted from seaweed. Some people may want to avoid carrageenan as it has been associated with certain health conditions and is a refined, processed product. The PVPP should be completely removed by later filtration, but some types of plastic, especially when heated, can contribute carcinogenic compounds[5]. Certain types of filters may be made of plastic material and filter aids can be impregnated or dosed with PVPP, but this should be much less of a concern as beer is filtered cold. Silica gels are often dosed into cold, fermented beer to clarify it and aid filtration. Silica gels are synthetic but non-toxic and relatively safe. A common form of silica gel is used to absorb moisture in packaged food, and is found in little packets that clearly state that they are not edible.

    • Beer can also be clarified using natural ingredients. Traditional British ales, as well as many other beers, are often clarified (fined) with isinglass. This is merely collagen (protein). This collagen used for brewing is actually the ground-up swim bladders of sturgeon, and if anything is nutritious, but notvegetarian. Gelatin can also be used to clarify beer.
  • Hops growing in Yakima, WA
    Hops growing in Yakima, WA
    Avoid beer packaged in clear bottles. A relatively large amount of beer is made with light-stable hop extracts. Such extracts may be used with beer that is packaged in clear bottles because clear bottles provide no protection from harmful light that causes beer to become skunky (see How to Prevent Skunky Beer). These hop extracts are used in the place of actual hops (whole flower or pellet hops), and are made by reacting hop alpha acids (and sometimes beta acids) with certain chemicals. Such hop-derived manufactured compounds include tetrahydro-iso-alpha-acids and hexahydro-iso-alpha-acids. Beer that can become skunky when exposed to light is typically packaged in protective brown bottles, but is also found in less protective green bottles.
  • Choose beer that contains living yeast. Beer that contains living yeast in the bottle may be relatively natural because harmful additives or preservatives that may be present would kill the yeast. Live yeast produces carbon dioxide, and therefore bottle-conditioned beer that is carbonated naturally in the bottle must contain living yeast. Unfiltered beer will contain yeast, but may not contain living yeast. Kegged beer may be unfiltered and contain living yeast, but is usually carbonated before it is added to the keg.
  • Find beer that has been naturally carbonated. There may be unwanted contaminants in industrially-produced carbon dioxide. Yeast produces carbon dioxide that naturally carbonates beer. Naturally-carbonated beer may be bottle-conditioned with living yeast, carbonated by yeast before bottling in pressurized fermentation tanks, or carbonated using recovered carbon dioxide that is stored in pressurized tanks. Large breweries are able to recover and purify naturally-produced carbon dioxide from fermenting beer using sophisticated equipment. This carbon dioxide can then be used to carbonate beer. Beer that has been naturally carbonated before bottling need not contain living yeast, and can be clear and brilliant.
  • Determine the risk for chemical contamination. Many cleansers, sanitizers, and other chemicals are used during the beer production process. Traces of such chemicals can be found in finished beer, and different breweries use different types of chemicals. Large breweries analyze their beer for contaminants using sensors and sophisticated laboratory techniques to ensure that the product has not been adulterated. Cleansers are typically rinsed from the inside of brewing vessels and fermentation tanks, but sanitizers are typically not rinsed, as the rinse water can introduce unwanted microorganisms. Remnants of sanitizing chemicals do make it into finished beer, but the active chemical compounds that kill microbes are oxidized or otherwise neutralized and converted into harmless compounds. Nevertheless, the sanitizer does introduce unnatural compounds to the beer. Some breweries such as Anheuser Busch use pure steam to sanitize vessels and tanks, thus minimizing or eliminating chemical contamination.
  • Choose beer that is brewed in archaic breweries or with old equipment. Historic breweries (such as those found in Europe) that use vintage equipment may brew beer using natural ingredients, processing aids, and components. The brewery equipment may lack plastic components and chemicals may be used sparingly. Old brewing equipment that is made of copper, iron, and wood may be incompatible with many modern chemicals, thus eliminating the use of certain potential contaminants. The beer made in such archaic breweries may not be filtered or overly processed. However, such equipment may be a source of organic, natural contaminants such as potentially toxic copper salts.
  • Select organic beer. Organic beer will be made almost entirely from ingredients that are free of pesticides and other chemicals. However, not all organic beer is made solely from organic ingredients. In the US, organic beer may be made using 95 percent organic ingredients. Certain non-organic ingredients may be used for the remaining 5 percent of the total ingredients. Conventionally-grown hops and certain other non-organic ingredients are allowed. Check with breweries to determine if their beer is made using only organic ingredients, and determine if they use processing aids, additives, or chemicals that may not be desirable.
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