Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Beer vs. Wine Fridays

Charles Bamforth

brewing.jpgIt’s Friday. Feeling healthy? I’m not qualified to give any dietary advice but… if you’ve been drinking wine as a healthy alternative to beer, perhaps you should reconsider. Then again, who am I to talk? That picture to the left was taken in my kitchen after a night of heavy fermentation. The result was a very tasty beer. It should be no surprise that I’ve enjoyed Beer vs. Wine Fridays. Perhaps we should let an expert take over from here — someone with a real knowledge of brewing chemistry.

Charles Bamforth on Beer and Health

Alcohol is the key ingredient for countering the risk of your arteries blocking up. Guess what? It matters not one jot whether it comes from wine or beer. You might just dwell on the fact, however, that the beer contains the more vitamins, soluble fiber and silicon, which counters osteoporosis. In fact beer is second only to bananas as a source of silicon. And much more pleasurable.

Some studies (excerpted from Grape vs. Grain)

“Dr. Cynthia Baum-Baicker, a clinical psychologist within the University of Pennsylvania Health system, has reviewed the literature on the positive psychological benefits of moderate alcohol consumption and concludes that there is reduced stress in such consumers. There is an increase in happiness, euphoria, conviviality, and pleasant and carefree feelings but a decrease in tension, depression, and self-consciousness. More so, low doses of alcohol improve certain types of cognitive performance, such as problem-solving and short-term memory. By contrast, heavy drinkers and abstainers had higher rates of clinical depression than did regular moderate drinkers. Guallar-Castillon and colleagues at a Madrid university described a study showing that people drinking wine or beer believed themselves to be healthier; in fact, the higher the consumption the better people felt they were! Perhaps this is the reason why studies in different regions variously flag up wine or beer as the more beneficial.”

“If there is a major psychological component, and the well- being is linked to the euphoria induced by one’s favorite drink, then this may explain why beer came out superior to wine in studies on the countering of coronary heart disease in beer-drinking societies, such as Honolulu, the Czech Republic, and Germany. For example, research from Czechia suggested that the lowest risk of heart attack was in men who drink between 4 and 9 liters of beer per week. Indeed, Dr. Hoffmeister of the Freie Universitat Berlin suggested that if European beer drinkers stopped taking their favorite beverage, there would be a decrease in life expectancy of two years, and a lot of unhappiness.”

Wine and beer are both fabulous drinks, and the health studies are whittling away at many distinctions. It is time though for wine to descend from its pompous pedestal and for beer to hold up its head. Which, of course, it does, with those beautiful foams, one of the most pleasing sights known to humankind. If you pour the beer into a glass, that is.

Did you know?

-Skunky flavor in beer is due to light breaking down the hop-derived materials that give beer its bitterness.

-Beer and champagne both contain a lot of carbon dioxide, but stable foam survives on beer because of the bubble-stabilizing action of cereal proteins and hop bitter compounds.

Grape vs. Grain can be found some places, and will be available nationwide May 1!

While the crazy, foamy image at the top may appear threatening, here is a tamer vision of the same batch, after the initial fermentation:

About The Author

Charles Bamforth

Charles Bamforth is the author of Grape vs. Grain: A Historical, Technological, and Social Comparison of Wine and Beer (2008). He is Professor of Brewing and Malting and head of th...

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