What’s In YOUR Beer? Or, The Dangers of Dumbassery

My thanks to the contributors and to John Kleinchester for help with photos.

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A few weeks back, an entrepreneur (in this case a modern-day version of a snake oil salesperson) who calls herself the Food Babe used her website to malign the brewing industry. 

She accused brewers of employing a host of “shocking” ingredients: GMOs! Beaver anal glands! Corn syrup! GMO corn syrup! Carcinogenic caramel coloring! Etc.

She claimed to have conducted a substantive “investigation” into beer ingredients and when breweries declined to confirm/deny, concluded that beermakers had something to hide.

Courtesy of John Kleinchester

Courtesy of John Kleinchester

Worse — as it if could be worse — many in the craft brewing community spread her tale via Twitter and Facebook.

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I’m not a beermaker and have zero science background (alas) but even I could tell that her claims and charges were nonsense.

Bare minimum, this one fact set off my alarm bells: She relied on information from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. If you’ve read Ambitious Brew, you know that I have zero patience with CSPI. For thirty years, that group has railed against the alcohol industry and lobbied for neo-prohibition. As a source of information, it’s untrustworthy, unreliable, and constantly shows a somewhat shocking disregard for science (weird, given the group’s name).

So why should I bother with her nonsense?

First, as many of you know, I’ve spent the past seven years writing a history of meat in America. Thanks to that project, I’m tuned into the “food debate” ongoing here in the United States and elsewhere. And what I can tell you is that a) the food “debate” is mostly a shouting match; and b) much of the information being tossed around is inaccurate (often intentionally so in order to score points).

But I’ve also learned that this kind of “discussion” is extraordinarily counter-productive and, frankly, even dangerous: When big groups like Greenpeace, for example, use lies to gain ground, we’re all damaged. Misinformation creates paranoia and fear.

So, yeah, bugs the hell out of me to see stuff like the Food Babe writes.

The hostess (Budweiser lager bier). Library of...

Library of Congress

Second, and because of my awareness of the food debate, as soon as I read the Food Babe’s screed, I thought

“Oh, man. I can see it coming: Some brewers might decide to use this kind of crap to score points with consumers and one-up their competition. Result: a purity war erupting in the craft brewing industry. Nothing good can come of this.”

Especially because, as I noted above, people who should have known better spread the Food Babe’s crap as if it was gospel.

So, meddlesome broad that I am, I reached out to some brewers, both professional and amateur, and asked if they’d help set the record straight. No surprise, given the kind hearts and generosity that are the hallmarks of craft brewing, I got an immediate response. Much of what follows are their responses to the question “What’s in Your Beer.” 

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But before I turn it over to them, allow me a few words about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Many people who preach a GMO gospel, either for or against, base their view less on fact than on ideology. GMO haters are particularly vociferous and, alas, sadly ignorant of basic facts about this technology.  Worse, many organizations, both non- and for-profit, cater to nonsense and misinformation as a way to promote their causes/industries.

Why do I know this? Because about six months ago, I decided to educate myself on the subject of genetic modification — and promptly fell into the house of mirrors that passes for “information” on GMOs.

Weeks of digging and reading ensued, but eventually I found websites and organizations that dispense sound, factual information (and so was able, finally, to form an opinion based on substance rather than deceit).

I encourage all of you to do the same, but I’ll spare you my lengthy search:  If you’re interested in learning about GMOs from informed, honest, accurate sources, I recommend these two websites:

The Genetic Literacy Project.

Biology Fortified.

I also recommend Nathanael Johnson, the new science writer at Grist, an online environmental magazine. Until recently, Grist ran the usual nonsense crap about GMOs. But this summer, Grist hired Johnson and he launched a series looking at the GMO discussion in an objective manner.

His work is first rate and I recommend all his posts. The first one is here.  But if you visit page at Grist, you’ll find other parts of the series (just scroll down), as well as a recommended/not recommended reading list. (And, no, Smith’s Seeds of Deception does not make his recommended list. That book is total bullshit.)

So that’s my take on GMOs. (I note here that my contributors to this post begged off on dealing with GMOs because, they told me, they weren’t knowledgable enough to comment on them. I appreciate their candor. Would that others were equally honest about their ignorance; better than than a rush to judgement.)

With that, I turn this over to skilled brewers who want to help you, the consumer, navigate the Food Babe’s ignorant contribution to the food debate. Read as much or as little as you want (the contributors cover different parts of the terrain.) And as always: Thanks for reading. (And if you like what you read, please tell your friends.)

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Courtesy of Mitch Steele

Courtesy of Mitch Steele

Mitch Steele is the Brewmaster for Stone Brewing Co. Since graduating from UC Davis in 1984 with a Fermentation Science degree, he has brewed at some of the largest and smallest breweries in the world.

After starting his brewing career in 1988 on a 14 bbl system at the San Andreas Brewing Co. in California, Mitch joined Anheuser-Busch in 1992, managing Brewhouse and Fermenting operations in 3 different breweries, and developing new beers as part of the Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group in the mid 1990s.

Mitch joined Stone Brewing Co. in 2006 and has managed the brewing and packaging operations at Stone as the company has grown from a 48,000 bbl operation to 175,000 bbls in 2012. He is the author of IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale.

Mitch’s response to the Food Babe:

In her piece, the Food Babe wrote:

“Ingredient labeling on food products and non-alcoholic beverages is required by the Food and Drug Administration. But a whole other federal agency regulates beer, and not very well. The Department of Treasury – the same folks who collect your taxes – oversees alcoholic beverages. That probably explains why we know more about what’s in a can of Coke than a can of Bud. You can also thank the alcohol industry, which has lobbied for years against efforts to require ingredient labeling.”

All alcoholic beverages are monitored by the TTB, the Tax and Trade Bureau, formerly an agency within Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. TTB has strict rules regarding beer ingredients. Any beer made with “non-traditional” ingredients, mean anything other than malt, water, yeast and hops (as well as some adjuncts) must go through a strict formulation approval by the TTB before the beer can be brewed.

Brewing with the steep IMG_2644

Brewing with the steep IMG_2644 (Photo credit: tomylees)

So the insinuation that brewers can put anything in their beer and not label it is false and absurd. There is government authority on what brewers can use in their beers. And I can say that the FDA IS involved with brewing at an increasing rate.

The Center of Science and Public interest is a well-known Neo-Prohibitionist organization, so any publication from them has to be taken with a grain of salt. Their stated goal is to eliminate alcoholic beverages and adult drinking. As such, their list can hardly be considered objective.

Taking the ingredient list one-by one, and basing my comments on 25+ years in the industry, working for small and large craft brewers and for many years at Anheuser-Busch:

1.       MSG: Never heard of anyone using this in beer. [Maureen’s note: for a recent superb look at MSG, see this piece by John Mahoney.]

2.       Propylene Glycol is a food grade substance used for external chilling systems in most breweries. It is a better, safer cooling agent than Ethylene Glycol, which is highly toxic. The only way propylene glycol could get into beer is by a leak in the cooling system. When I was at Anheuser-Busch, we tested our beers regularly to ensure that it was glycol-free. We also sampled and checked every glycol jacketed tank annually. I have heard of some beverages where small amounts glycol were added to add body or flavor, but I have not heard of this being done in beer.

3.       Calcium DiSodium EDTA: Not sure what this is or why anyone would add it to beer

Beer-Every-Day!

Wikipedia

4.       Sulfite preservatives are generally not added to beer. Ironically, the Food Babe’s website features a photo of her drinking wine, one of the most heavily sulfated beverages in the world. Sulfur is applied to grapes and to wine at many stages throughout the winemaking process.

The TTB requires sulfur labeling at levels over 10 ppm. Yeast generally produce 3-5 ppm sulfite naturally during fermentation, so adding sulfite as a preservative is what will take you over 10 ppm. No brewery in the United States uses sulfites in beer. The practice is rare worldwide, and the beer would have to be labeled as “contains sulfites” if sold in the US.

5.       Dextrose and Corn Syrups are used primarily by big brewers usually to lighten flavor, and in some cases to reduce production costs. Dextrose powder is a common ingredient in craft brewed double IPAs. In England, most ales are made with the addition of brewing sugars (which contribute flavor and fermentable sugar), and have been made that way for well over 100 years. Most Belgian Trappist beers are brewed with a portion of candi-sugar syrup. Brewers use corn, rice or sugars because the sugars are almost 100% fermented by yeast. Consumers are not drinking “corn syrup.”

The use of “adjuncts,” such as rice or corn began in the United States in the 1800s because American malt was of suspect quality and sometimes resulted in harsh, heavy beer. At the time, big brewers were located in the midwest —St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati — where the summers are brutally hot. American consumers wanted a lighter, more refreshing beer. Brewers added adjuncts to compensate for the kinds of barley/malt they had access to.

Courtesy Library of Congress

Courtesy Library of Congress

6.       Dyes: I know of no brewer using dyes in their beer. Doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, but I suspect it is very rare, if at all.

7.       Caramel coloring: Primarily used by English brewers, though it’s possible that some “dark” versions of mainstream beers include some kind of caramel coloring —though you don’t see those beers anymore. Michelob Dark, made by AB, got its color from black malt, not food coloring or caramel coloring. I can’t verify her claim that  Newcastle’s caramel coloring is highly toxic. She would need to say exactly what they use to substantiate that claim.

8.       Isinglass and gelatin have been used for well over 100 years in beer (and in wine) as clarifying agents. These compounds attract solid material in the beer, which then clump together and sink to the bottom of the tank, leaving the remaining beer crystal clear.

Carageenen, made from natural seaweed, performs a similar function to the Isinglass and Gelatin: It’s added in the brewhouse to help get solid proteins to settle out of the wort. Again, it does not remain in the wort, or in the beer.

The key point, however, is that this material stays behind in the tank. It’s not in the final beer product.  English brewers commonly use these clarifying agents. Most American brewers use synthetic versions that do the same thing. In both cases, the clarifiants are not present in the final product.

9.       Natural Flavors: Many fruit beers are made with natural flavors. That’s the only way to get certain flavors to the desired level in some beers. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. But the process would require TTB approval, and I know for a fact that they do a ton of due diligence on any natural flavor that is being proposed.

10.   Foam Control: Some big brewers who use more adjuncts (eg, corn, rice) than hops use foam stabilizers. Beer foam is primarily made up from proteins from the malt and tannins from the hops. Reducing the amount of malt or hops in a beer can make the foam head appear weak. Again, anything added to beer is subject to formula approval and scrutiny from the TTB.

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Courtesy of Todd Parker

Courtesy of Todd Parker

Todd Parker has brewed professionally for 14 years (and homebrewed for 24 years) in California, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Virginia, working in brewpubs and medium-sized microbreweries. He has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in biology.

Todd’s response to the Food Babe:

Information about our food is a vital concern, however demagogery and muddying the waters with unsubstantiated claims and statements like X can be made with poisonous X (even though it can be made safely and non toxicly other ways) does not further the discussion and damages the conversation.

We are craftsmen who take pride in our products and would never take a shortcut that might jeopardize the quality of our products. 

So for consumers’ edification, we craft brewers use this, and why:

Water: obviously, and we might add items like gypsum or chalk to it to replicate the water character of different regions

Carbohydrates — materials that yeast converts to alcohol: mainly malted barley, but we might use smaller quantities of other grains as flavorings, including wheat, rye, oats, tef, buckwheat, quinoa, spelt, rice, wild rice, amaranth, triticale, kamut, or corn.

Courtesy of John Kleinchester

Courtesy of John Kleinchester

Brewers also use other sugars: molasses, honey, candi sugar, piloncilo, jaggery, maple syrup, or date, beet or palm sugars, and even fruits and vegetables. Such sugars make up only a small portion of our carb sources and flavorings.  Some brewers might use high fructose corn syrup to lighten the body of their beer, but it’s not a common ingredient.

While we cannot guarantee that nobody uses GMO products, they are not generally available to the majority of brewers. Most craft brewers are against their use and will never use them.

Herbs/spices/flavorings: hops are the main herb used. [Some brewers use] various spices like coriander, cinnamon, ginger, mace, nutmeg, chiles, vanilla, coffee, woods, flowers. They are not common ingredients, but may be used to create unique flavors.  Also fruits and vegetables can be used.  While some may use artificial flavors, most likely the market can taste it and it will not be very successful.

Microorganisms (convert carbs to CO2 and alcohol): While there are two main types of yeasts used, ale and lager yeasts, a handful of brewers use wild yeasts and bacteria. No human pathogens grow in beer: alcohol and pH inhibit their growth.

The Boston Beer Company, chartered 1828

Wikipedia

Other Aids/Process Chemicals:

** Dyes are not commonly used, although some will use a legal dark food coloring called Sinamar [made from roasted malt]  to make Black IPAs.

**EDTA: never heard of its use in beer.

**Sulfites and Preservatives: not common in the industry.  Many breweries have some form of date code on their beer to ensure its freshness.

**Finings (designed to precipitate out charged particles):

Carageenan aka Irish Moss: this is a seaweed added to the kettle to help precipitate out charged particles.  Through stable isotope studies, it does not leave the kettle with the wort, it settles out with the precipitated particles. It is even allowed in Germanys Rheinheitsgebot.  It is very common to use.

Isinglass (fish swim bladder protein):  a traditional English ingredient that is not used as much anymore because of better products available as well as concerns with vegans.  It pretty much stays in the fermenter and does not leave with the beer.

**Filter Aids:

PVPP, Silica gel: expensive, but used as a fining and as a filter aid that gets strained out in the filter. More common in bigger breweries.

**Filter Media:

Diatomaceous Earth: the fossilized remains of single celled algae.  It is either embedded in filter pads or as a powder that is used on a filter. The dust is a carcinogen, but it is hydrated for use in the filter and stays in the filter after the clear beer leaves. Perlite is a volcanic soil used like DE, but less hazardous as a dust.

For a comprehensive look at the ingredients craft brewers use, visit  Brewers Supply Group and click the link for its 2013 Resource Guide, or visit Country Malt Group and check out the list of ingredients and supplies that company offers.

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Courtesy of Michael Copado

Courtesy of Michael Copado

Michael Copado, known as “revvy” on the popular beer forum homebrewtalk, is an avid and award winning homebrewer, as well as a student of brewing history. His online recipes are some of the most popular brewed on the forum.

Michael’s response to the Food Babe:

Sugar is fundamental to the process of making beer: The beer’s yeast feeds on the sugar and converts it to alcohol.  Put another way, it’s incorrect that beer contains “corn syrup.” Thanks to hungry yeast, that syrup and other sugars are gone by the time you enjoy your beer.

That’s an odd concept to grasp: When we drink an alcoholic beverage, we’re not  necessarily drinking the ingredients used to brew the beer. Rather, the finished product contains sugars converted into alcohol by the yeast.

Brewers typically use three types of sugars used in the brewing process; complex, simple, and non-fermentable. Most beers contain some combination of all three; that combination provides beer styles with their distinctive flavors and “feels.”

Courtesy of John Kleinchester

Courtesy of John Kleinchester

Complex sugars are the most difficult for the yeast to convert into alcohol. Most complex sugars come from the grains used to make beer, such as barley or wheat. During the mashing process, malted grains are soaked in warm to hot water to allow the tiny starch granules in each cracked kernel to convert to sugar.

Brewers also use simple sugars, which yeast converts quickly and easily to pure alcohol. Simple sugars contribute to alcohol content without making a thicker, heavier beer. The higher the percentage of simple sugars, the more drinkable a beer will seem.

Sometimes brewers use unfermentable sugars, the most common being lactose (milk sugar), which gives beer a creamy mouthfeel and a slightly sweet taste. Lactose is a common addition to milk stouts (as opposed dry stouts, such as Guinness.) “Chocolate” and “cream” stouts are typically made using lactose. Most home brewers (and probably many commercial ones) add it during the boil (which insures the lactose powder is sterile) but it may also be added during the bottling process.

The less fermentable or unfermentable sugars contribute to the final taste/finish of the beer, affecting its “body” (a perceived heaviness to the beer), mouth-feel (thickness on the tongue and throat as you swallow it), and flavor. (Regardless of what kind of sugars are used, all drinking alcohol, or ethanol [ETOH], has the same chemical formula, CH3CH2OH.)

The best way to understand the role sugar plays in the brewing process is by comparing two different beer styles of similar alcoholic “strength.”

Kleinchester 5

Courtesy of John Kleinchester

For example, do a comparison tasting of Sierra Nevada’s Big Foot Barleywine, and Green Flash Brewing’s Tripel (or two other styles with identical alcohol content).

Both beers clock in at 9.6% alcohol by volume. But the barleywine seems heavy and full compared to the tripel, which seems smoother and more “drinkable.” (In fact, a triple can be a “sneaky drunk” amongst beer fans: it’s as smooth and easy to drink as a lager or pale ale but contains nearly twice the punch.)

Both beers are “high gravity”: they’re made with complex and simple sugars; those contribute to their high alcohol content by volume. In barley wine, most of the sugars come from grain. In a tripel, however, up to thirty percent of the fermentable ingredients come from simple sugars.

Try the same experiment with your favorite domestic lager, such as Budweiser, and a craft brewery’s pale ale. Budweiser has an abv of about 5%, but it has a lighter body than the pale ale because it’s made using rice syrup. (Rice and corn syrups are called “adjuncts,” a brewing term for something other than grain added to the beer.)

Brewers use different combinations of grain, time, and temperature to create beers with different bodies, different alcohol content, and ultimately different flavors. Some beers will be drier, and some will be sweeter.

But the important point is this: Yeast eats those sugars and converts them to alcohol. Your beer doesn’t contain corn syrup.

Finings:

For information on the long-time use of finings as a preservative, see this this example from a BBC source about life in World War II:

” Mother used to put eggs down in Isinglass, a preservative solution, in large crocks when eggs were plentiful. They didn’t have the flavour of fresh eggs but were very useful for cooking. And of course there were dried eggs useful for cooking – some good cooks claimed they could make a decent omelette with dried egg.”

Here’s  a video presentation of the use of isinglass. Fast forward to 5:25.

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Courtesy of Steve Parkes

Courtesy of Steve Parkes

Steve Parkes is the owner and lead instructor at the American Brewers Guild Brewing School. Steve graduated over 30 years ago with a degree in Brewing Science from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh Scotland and has been brewing ever since. With his wife he owns the nation’s premier brewing school for craft brewers as well as Drop-In Brewing Company in Middlebury Vermont.

He has built breweries in England and America, and consulted on numerous brewery projects here and overseas. He has held officer positions with the Brewers Association (BA) and the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA). He wrote the chapter on Brewhouse practices for the Handbook for the Specialty Brewer published by the MBAA, and contributed several entries to the Oxford Companion to Beer. In 2009 he won the Russell Schehrer Award For Innovation in Craft Brewing presented by the Brewers Association.

 Steve’s response to the Food Babe:

Propylene glycol is a food additive that manufacturers use mainly as a sweetener that cannot ferment. Back in the 80s some Austrian wine makers were caught adding it to wine as a sweetener to try and mimic the more expensive late harvest German wines. It’s use to make both Mountain Dew and Cream Soda.

Brewers, however, use it primarily as a food grade refrigerant. Why is it on the list of approved ingredients? Every production process aid is listed regardless of whether it’s in the final product or not.

The beaver dam

Wikipedia

Beaver anal gland, aka Castoreum. Castoreum is used to mimic the flavor of vanilla, and raspberry and legal to use as a “Natural Flavoring.” It’s unlikely that many or any brewers use Castoreum. Only 300lb is used annually (harvested from dead beavers). Much of it is used to manufacture perfume. If the Food Babe uses Chanel, Lancomme and Givenchy, she’s probably dabbing beaver anal gland extract behind her ears daily. Castoreum itself is not specifically listed on the TTB’s list of approved ingredients; instead it’s a “natural” flavoring that can be added to beer. 

The problem lies in the TTB labeling requirements. If a brewer makes a raspberry beer using natural flavoring, her label must read “Ale Brewed with Natural Flavorings.”

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Kleinchester 4

Nathan Heck has 18 years of professional brewing experience in a variety of settings from brewpubs to large regional breweries, and devoted a year trying to start his own brewery in Massachusetts. He most recently worked for Harpoon Brewery and is now exploring new career opportunities. Nathan earned a certificate in brewing technology from the Siebel Institute in 1995 and his MBA from Northeastern University in 2003.

Nate’s response to the Food Babe:

The Food Babe’s list of “acceptable” ingredients is misleading for a couple reasons. She presents these substances as if they are frequently used by brewers, and because she couldn’t obtain full ingredient lists from the breweries she spoke to, she implies that there is some sort of cover-up going on.

**Monosodium glutamate, the much maligned and feared food additive. Much of that fear is unjustified. Both the FDA and the AMA have determined MSG to be safe for consumption.

More important, glutamates occur naturally in foods that I’m sure the Food Babe would wholeheartedly endorse that we eat more of, like tomatoes and mushrooms.

But glutamates occur naturally in yeast and as a byproduct of beer fermentation. Beer “can contain” MSG because glutamate occurs naturally in its production: glutamate combines in small amounts with sodium ions present in wort and fermented beer, and not because evil-doing brewers are adding it.

In all of my years making and fermenting wort, I have never added MSG to any of the products I have made.

Courtesy of John Kleinchester

Courtesy of John Kleinchester

** Bisphenol-A, or BPA: Laboratory studies have indicated that this can be an endocrine disrupter and have some other deleterious health effects.

Human beings, however, are not mice and the European Food Safety Authority has found that humans metabolize BPA differently than our four-legged counterparts and in a way that counters BPA’s ability to mimic estrogen. Studies have shown that BPA is potentially harmful to developing fetuses and very small children. That’s why it is no longer used in the manufacturing of baby bottles and things like sippy cups.

Brewers are aware of the controversy surrounding BPA. But does it warrant a place on the Food Babe’s list when it is used to make things like grocery receipt paper? No. The leaching that she worries about has been shown to be minimal. According to New Belgium Brewing Company’s blog:

“The amount of BPA migrating from can coatings would result in the consumption of less than 0.105 micrograms (0.000105 milligrams) per kilogram body weight per day. This level is more than 475 times lower than the maximum acceptable or ‘reference’ dose for BPA of 0.05 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day, which was determined to be the safe life-time exposure dose by the USEPA in 1993.”

It should also be noted that the primary source of BPA leaching comes from heating and re-heating the plastic, and time. Beer is packaged cold, stored near room temperature at its warmest and is typically consumed within a few weeks to a couple months of packaging, hardly enough time for significant BPA pick-up.

Finally, an important distinction: The Food Babe implies that brewers are adding BPA to the beer somewhere in the brewing process and are trying to conceal its use. This is not true. Brewers like New Belgium and Sly Fox are very aware of their consumers’ concerns about BPA and are working with packaging manufacturers to come up with some type of BPA-free can.

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doppelbock mash

Courtesy of Eric Sorensen

Eric A.C. Sorensen is a Regional Brewmaster in the Midwest with Rock Bottom Restaurants & Breweries at West Des Moines, IA . He has more than two decades of experience in beverage production. Originally educated as a Social Anthropologist and Linguist at UCSD with graduate work at the University of Virginia, he added courses in brewing, viticulture & enology at UC Davis.

He studied brewery engineering, quality control & analysis, sensory evaluation, and microbiology at the Siebel Institute of Technology while working at Mad River Brewing in the brewhouse and cellars. As an apprentice brewer at Lost Coast Brewery & Café in Eureka, CA, he quickly advanced to Lead Brewer. With his wife he founded a winery that produced a variety of fermented beverages under the Golden Angels Cellars, Galvey & Clarke and Humboldt Cider Co. labels. According to Julia Herz, the winery was ahead of its time and an inspiration to mead and cider makers who followed in the Sorensens’ footsteps.

Finings, filtration and Flavor

Fine it!

For centuries, beer makers have used “finings,” as they’re called, to remove yeast and protein hazes that occur in fermented beverages. These clarifying materials do not carry over into the beer in any appreciable amount, so no one but the most militant vegan can protest their use. Nowadays, some brewers prefer the complexity and character of unfiltered beers, because filtration can strip out more than just protein and yeast. But finings offer a way to create clear brews preferred by many consumers.

One common fining material is isinglass, which is made from the swim bladders of tropical fish. Yeast cell walls carry a negative charge but isinglass is positively charged. The difference in the electrical charges allows the yeast to settle to the bottom of the brewery’s tanks or the casks from which it is served. Gelatin finings achieve the same purpose, and winemakers use egg whites to settle yeast.

Auxiliary finings may be used in the kettle or tank to remove proteins from the beer through the opposite interaction. Carrageeenan, somtimes known as Irish moss, is a an edible seaweed used in the wort copper to allow protein to precipitate later in the tank. Boiling the wort coagulates some of the grain proteins and they can be removed in the kettle or whirlpool along with the hops, but others are more complex and may require alginates extracted from other types of seaweed or bacteria. (Carrageenan is also used in making ice cream.) Finings and auxiliary finings cannot be added together or they lose their effectiveness.

Some brewers use finings while making cask beer; cask beer re-ferments in the firkin or pin and the yeast needs to be settled quickly so it can be served fresh. Good cellarmanship demands the cask be decanted so that the “bottoms” (yeast and protein) are left behind and don’t get in the way of a good pint.

Courtesy of Eric Sorensen

Courtesy of Eric Sorensen

Rock Bottom Breweries are on the vegan watch list because we sometimes use isinglass. Some of our brewers use a product called Alginex before filtering so they don’t have to use as much diatomaceous earth (more on DE later). A well-made and lagered or aged beer will drop “bright,” but many brewpubs don’t have the time or tank space for such luxuries.

Strip it out

Filtration is a mechanical method of clarifying liquids in general and beverages in particular.

Sheet, plate, and frame filters are widely used in the craft beer industry. Sheets are paper embedded with keiselgur or diatomaceous earth (DE), a powdery mineral that is  the fossilized remains of diatoms, a variety of marine algae. DE, graded by size and porosity, is used to filter different materials from the beer.

DE is also be used in lenticular, candle, and plate filters of various configurations to remove yeast and proteins from the beer. The downside to using this is disposal. It can be a carcinogenic health hazard if inhaled. It’s also sharp, even at a microscopic level. (You wouldn’t believe what DE looks like under a microscope.)

Another graded earth, perlite, which is volcanic, is also used as a filter aid. Like DE it is porous, but less prickly than DE. Some versions have a flavor all their own which can pass into the beer or wine.

Cross-flow or ultra filters are also gaining use in brewing: cartridges with a cluster of porous spaghetti-looking tubes embedded in them. Turbid beer is pumped through the cartridge and clarified beer passes through the walls of the tubes while the flow keeps the surface from blinding and it is recirculated back into the product tank. The unfiltered beer is continuously pushed through the cartridges until only protein and yeast are left behind. But because filtration can remove desirable flavor compounds from the beer, breweries who can afford to do so have switched to centrifuges.

Glycol in beer?

Glycol as ethyl or propylene is a common anti-freeze and as propylene, is used in the refrigeration systems of many small breweries. Glycol, whose freezing point is lower than water or beer, is employed as a circulating refrigerant to maintain tank jackets at the proper temperature. Attemperating the glycol in the refrigeration system is done via a compressor running Freon through air cooled coils or sometimes ice banks or water towers. Larger breweries tend to use ammonia as their refrigerant of choice.

But that glycol only ends up in the beer if a tank leaks. That’s an engineering problem. As part of our troubleshooting section in brewing school, we studied the example of a beer whose gravity increased after finishing fermentation. Propylene glycol is more concentrated than most wort or beer and tastes sweet. (I’ve gotten a mouthful fixing a refrigeration line and I don’t recommend drinking it, but it is an ingredient in many intimate lubricants.)

There is an ingredient used in making some beers that contains glycol. Grant Johnston was working on making a fruit beer that could be made quickly for the brewpub in Marin, CA. Grant asked a local company, Mane California Brands, which makes natural fruit flavoring, to design a series of concentrated fruit flavors that could be added to his Grundy tanks a gallon at a time. California Brands uses glycol as a carrier for the flavorings since alcohol added in those amounts would be against ATF (now TTB) rules. Personally I prefer using juice concentrate if I am not going to use fresh fruit, but at least one brewery I have worked for still uses natural fruit flavoring.

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Thanks for reading, friends! Namaste.

Ginger Namaste

74 thoughts on “What’s In YOUR Beer? Or, The Dangers of Dumbassery

  1. I saw the infographic that came out of all that crap. The first thing that caught my eye was the claim about Isinglass. From a vegan stand point I can see that being an issue. But other than that it is a common ingredient that has been used for ages.

    I have found people that get all riled up about cheese or lacto fermentation. They don’t understand what it is they are hearing so they get upset thinking someone is trying to pull a fast one.

    Sometimes it amazes me what people throw a fit about. I agree that they need to gather more credible information to make informed decisions.

    • Heh. Yesterday by coincidence, I ran across an article about vegans and isinglass. And all I could think was: “Man, if being a vegan means you can’t eat 1/100th of an ounce of dried fish bladder, well — I’m glad I’m not you.”

      SEriously, though, what prompted this blog entry is part/parcel of life in our digital age: there’s so much complete idiocy out there and people fall for it 100%. Ugh! (And thanks for reading and commenting. Much appreciated.)

    • The lacto thing is a funny one.

      On one hand the same groups often tout how healthy yoghurt with live cultures and enzymes are; but then when the same live cultures are used in beer, its a bad thing??!?

      So much hypocritical logic but that’s what happens with ideological issues when everyone is forced to “choose a side and shout”…

      We need “ideology buy-back” programs where you show up and turn in your ideology in exchange for balanced, rational discussion and free science! (Or a version of the technology that turns down the volume during commercials applied to social networking sites…)

      Adam

      • ‘We need “ideology buy-back” programs where you show up and turn in your ideology in exchange for balanced, rational discussion and free science!’

        Sign me up.

    • DonS, I thought I caught that before I sent it in. Sorry, and for brevity, I did not go into the specifics of how it is made. It is designed to color the wort (food), so I felt as far as a food coloring it is the only one most brewers would use.

      • Not baggin’ on ya, Todd. Just a correction to let others know that even this “coloring” source is actually an all-malt ingredient. Much like the German technique of adding very dark malts only near the end of a mash to extract color without associated tannins, or do I remember that correctly?

  2. Great post! I always love it when someone points out the questionable research techniques of pseudo-science, especially when it involves food and beverages.

    The whole MSG thing still baffles me, it can best be described as mass hypnosis. Study after study has shown that there is nothing to the claims of people who insist that they are affected by it. Blind taste tests between food prepared with MSG and dishes that aren’t, repeatedly show no statistical difference in reactions, including subjects who say they are sensitive to it, but don’t react when fed it.

    • Thanks! I tried to break up the text, which, yes, IS long, with photos. I think that helps a lot. Plus, those who read to the end get to see a bottle of Namaste!

  3. I love your rant.

    So many foodies (et. al.) hold the binary Manichaeistic view of the world: there is a struggle of good and against evil. Corporations are not good (a debatable point but it seems to be the given) thus they are evil, ergo, these chemicals (that I can’t even pronounce) have been placed in my beer to harm me for their evil profits.

    Your post is a public service.

  4. Nicely researched and written post (although too bad we have to give her any more traffic). Is it too much to ask for the offending blogger to excercise self-editorial control and take down her post? Probably it is. Her entire website seems to be of similar low quality information. Sigh.

    • We (the contributors and I) debated whether or not to link to her site. Some said yes; others no. In the end, I decided to do so because I wanted people to see how easily a slick operator can fool people. Her site makes her seem legit, you know? And she’s peddling nothing but the stuff she’s selling.

    • I commented her as directly as I could warning her that AB InBev is very litigious and this could be seen as libelous if she in fact did as little research as I think she did 🙂

  5. The problem with GMO is not what is created, but *why* it’s created. GMO crops are frequently created so they can survive being heavily dosed with weed-killers, insecticides and fungicides. Growing GMO following the text book produces large harvests of good-looking but frequently dull-tasting crops. It’s tough on the soil and organisms (including human organisms) that come in contact with them on the wrong day. While corn is frequently GMO in North America, Barley tends to be non-GMO.

    • Yes and no. That’s only one of a gazillion reasons that GMO crops are created.

      One of primary reasons for GMO is to increase yield; which keeps food prices lower and allows us to continue to feed our rapidly growing global population.

      The reason for GMO is the same reason that farmers have been selecting the best growing plants for thousands of reasons; make a plant that grows better, can grow in many different soil conditions and weather conditions, is resistant to disease and pests. This has been done by farmers simply selecting the best growing plants and propogating them for thousands of years.

      It was then done more intelligently and at a larger scale by manually crossing varieties to produce new varieties and running them on test plots. (This is why it often takes over 10 years to introduce a new variety.)

      -If you can identify the individual genes that are responsible for the attributes that you’re hoping to get lucky and cross into a new offspring the traditional way, you can do it a lot faster using GMO techniques. Many of the GMO techniques are VERY selective like this, but others, which mostly used to be fiction but are now becoming a reality like splicing in genes form completely different organisms are a bit more concerning. GMO techniques are likely to be required to enable us to continue to feed a rapidly growing population at anything resembling affordable prices. (GMO techniques help us keep ahead of the supply / demand curve that would cause prices to become unaffordable by increasing supply; increasing yeild is probably better than increasing acreage by slashing and burning more rain forest… (Choose your poison.)

      We have barley that can grow in sandy soil and barley that can grow in wet soil; barley that keeps a lower protein content even in warmer climates enables us to have more brewing-grade barley because more of the world can grow it.

      We have hops that are resistent to the mildews that often kill or stunt them and hops that grow rapidly with large cones that don’t fill your wort kettle with seeds (and cause you to have to pay for the seeds by weight), we have new interesting and delicious tropical fruit flavors from our new GMO hops.

      -Having offspring is by definition a process that performs genetic modification. What you’re really saying is “I’m against certain forms of genetic modification”. -Now we have a starting place to have a more detailed and more honest discussion.

      Adam

      • It’s very easy for me as someone living in the 1st world, rich and happy with super markets EXPLODING with relatively inexpensive food to say “I don’t want to eat GMO food”, BUT why should I get to make a decision that means that someone in the 3rd world just doesn’t get to eat, or can’t afford to eat?

        -We should allow them to make that decision. My food snobbery shouldn’t cause someone else to starve; this is what the decision to outright ban “GMO” crops looks like.

        The science and it’s implications, like most things, are very nuanced; this is why in decades past scientists with ethical mandates performed independent research and decisions makers made decisions based upon that research. *Sigh, some day we’ll exit these new intellectual dark ages into a new enlightenment and we’ll let experts be experts again.*

      • As Dr. Florence Wambugu of Kenya said, “You people in the developed world are certainly free to debate the merits of genetically modified foods, but can we please eat first?”

    • I’m not sure where you got your information from but you’ve got it the wrong way around. I think you need to read the links towards the top of the article regarding GMOs and look for good quality GMO articles rather than all the scare mongering out there.

      One of the major reasons GMO crops are created is to use **LESS** pesticides and weed killers. The are often modified to be resistant to PESTS.. not pest controlling chemicals.

  6. Here in Washington, before label approval is granted, the brewer has to explain and justify every damned ingredient in the bottle. It’s that way in several states. But the simple reality is that FoodBabe, who admits in the first sentence that she’s “not a beer drinker”, conveniently neglects to differentiate between mega-brewers whose sole motivation for making beer is naked profit and don’t really care about what they have to dump in it, and the country’s 2500 small, independent craft brewers, ALL of whom realize that getting caught using ANY of the ingredients FoodBoob has a problem with (except for the naturally-derived clarifiers Mitch Steel mentioned) would be the instant death of their brewery. But Miz Know It All draws no distinctions and now the nation’s craft brewers will have to answer questions about her insipid claims.

    I have more of a problem all the time with these wildfire rumors and lists, nearly universally generated by people who have limited or no knowledge of their subjects, that sweep the web and are given legitimacy by sheer weight of attention paid. “Best Of” beers, beer towns, breweries, and regions as complied by bicycling writers. Profiles of the breweries in Portland as written by a self-help author who admits having a limited knowledge of beer. The list of these little atrocities goes on and on, while the nation’s beer bloggers, most of whom know their subject as a prerequisite of even starting a blog, struggle to get read. Do yourself and the brewing culture a favor: check out the profiles of authors of pieces like this BEFORE you bother to complain about them. In MOST cases, their rantings should just be ignored…and the sooner we all learn how to do that, the better off we’ll all be.

    • As I noted in the essay, the problem with the Babe’s screed that people who like craft beer started passing it around as if it were true and as if it offered a way to distinguish “big” brewers from craft brewers. Had knowledgeable people ignored it, I probably would have done the same. Alas, that wasn’t the case.

      Also: I can safely say that “big” brewers don’t use nasty crap in their beer either. They can’t afford to do so anymore than craft brewers can.

      • I’ve noticed the same thing on the forums some homebrewer/beersnobs have used that uninformed piece of crap to further justify their hate of macrobreweries. Saying “this is why I homebrew an ONLY drink craft beer.” That burns me even more, homebrewers SHOULD know better. They still think there’s some “separation” between the product that they look their noses down on and what a craft brewer or we homebrewers make. We here know IT’S THE SAME. It’s the same ingredients, it’s the same processes….the only differences is scale…and the fact that the Macro Breweries make a beer that a lot of snobs look their nose down on. Geez, I’ve wanted to slap supposedly knowledgeable folks silly.

      • Hasn’t been my experience at all. In fact, in the firestorm of response that followed my anti-Budweiser rant in The Pour Fool, one of the chemical engineers from AB emailed me and admitted using additives as part of his defense of the beer’s “purity”, claiming that several of the taboo substances Food Babe mentioned were healthy and necessary parts of the “good Brewery’s” process. AB has never shied away from doing whatever it takes to maintain their product’s squeaky-clean appearance and even if they claim they don’t, anymore, How far does a rational person trust that?

  7. As a homebrewer myself, I appreciate you responding to this particular topic in an informed way. It’s really disappointing to see someone with a forum to discuss problems, get so caught up in sensational nonsense as Food Babe has in her article.

  8. Thanks for taking what I’m sure was an incredible amount of time to write this article.

    A couple of edits: the liquid food grade colorant that is often used in Black IPAs and Schwartzbiers is called “Sinamar” not “Cinnamar”. It is permitted per the German brewing laws because it is made from cold-steeped dehusked black malt. It is not an artificial product at all and technically can be used to make an “all malt” beer.

    One subject area that is REALLY worth discussing here that I didn’t see covered was the use of triploid hop varieties. Many of the really new and interesting hop varieties are “triploid” varieties or crosses that at least involve a triploid variety; that is to say that they’ve been genetically modified so that they contain 3 sets of chromosomes.

    Most hops in nature are diploids and have 2 sets of chromosomes. A chemical is used to create a tetraploid hop, which has 4 sets of chromosomes. These tetraploids are crossed with another diploid of another variety to end up with a cross-bred triploid hop. This results in a hop that has bigger cones but is sterile and has no seeds; these hops often grow faster and produce more cones.

    Willamette, Mt. Hood, Ultra, Liberty, Crystal, Galaxy, Green Bullet, Riwaka, Pacific Gem, Sticklebract, NZ Super Alpha, Topaz, Celeia, and probably a great number of the new proprietary hop varieties are all triploids.

    If they grow better and produce more and better tasting hops, personally I don’t care but avoiding the discussion about triploid hops, and whether they’re “genetically modified” or not is a huge missing piece of this article. (They have an extra set of chromosomes on purpose; it’s pretty hard to say that they’re not GMO.)

    I would be pretty surprised to find that the mega lager breweries aren’t at least TRYING to genetically modify their yeast strains so that they have certain traits; they’re certainly sponsoring tons of research in this area… (See the recent discovery of a “beer heading gene” that was found in the Weihenstephaner lager; if this gene can be spliced into other beer strains (ale strains), it would result in beers that have a larger and longer-lasting head which consumer research has shown turns into a preference which turns into greater sales. (Especially when head formation and retention is the weakness of the US mega lager strains because of the low protein levels from adding corn and rice and low hop levels…)

    Again, it’s great that you’ve debunked the false and damaging “Food Babe” article, but it would be great if we could have additional discussions about how the brewing industry seems to be embracing some things that consumers might not agree with. (Personally if it makes better beer and crops that can feed more people, I’ll happily consume GMO and pesticide sprayed grain, hops, and yeast strains (well not pesticide sprayed yeast strains, BUT consumers should be informed that its happening, IMHO.

    Thanks again, great article!
    Adam

    • Adam, I corrected the Sinamar mention (Todd pointed it out to me earlier). As for the rest: as I noted in the essay, stuff like this can get out of hand very quickly. I, too, hope that craft brewing as an industry will also be willing to discuss — intelligently and rationally — all the problems you mentioned. This whole “pure food” thing has, in my view, gotten out of hand and tipped over into crap like the Food Babe posted. Not good for anyone!

      • Agreed.

        But right now this part of the article is a bit misleading:

        ” While we cannot guarantee that nobody uses GMO products, they are not generally available to the majority of brewers. Most craft brewers are against their use and will never use them.”

        Most brewers DO use GMO triploid hops and most craft brewers actively embrace them.
        (I’m not so sure that the majority of craft brewers realize that these great growing hops even are GMO products.)

    • Years ago a laboratory developed a yeast strain that wouldn’t produce diacetyl. Its still sitting on the shelf because no brewer in Europe wants to be known to be brewing with a GMO yeast. The articles I read trumpeting the innovation of the new yeast and benefits it may confer brewers, were from the press and I read no claims from brewers. I believe that brewers will resist GMO yeast for a while yet, which is a pity because diacetyl provides a brewer no benefits, although brewers have become adept at controlling it with traditional processes. As for the triploid crosses to produce new hop varieties, that has been happening since the 70s and we’ve seen some marvelous hops as a result. I take your point about genetic modification being involved, but I believe the issue most people have with GMOs is the insertion of genetic information from different species into the genome of another. Rather than an elaborate cross pollination shortcut.

  9. A fantastic article! Thank you, Maureen. And thanks to the many professionals and homebrewers who contributed to this intelligent and thorough response to such a biased and poorly informed article. With all the dumbassery out there online, it’s so satisfying to see the craft beer community come out in such numbers to fight the hobgoblins of sensationalism and misinformation. Cheers to all involved.

  10. Reblogged this on Batch-22 and commented:
    Recently, Food Babe wrote a post decrying “chemicals” in beer. Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew and who is a great ranter, took on some of Food Babe’s assertions. She also got some of her friends in the microbrewing business to take on other assertions. The result is a great read. Additionally, the comments are also worthwhile.

  11. A refreshingly rational and informed report that stands apart from the unfortunate ridicule that is the current internet beer discourse.

    One quick note on Mitch’s reference to the sulfur used in making wine:

    There is a growing number of winemakers who use no sulfur at any point in the winemaking process. Naturally occuring sulfur from the grapes and from fermentation often results in an amount greater than 10 ppm, thus requiring the “contains sulfites” warning label.

    Thanks for your work!

    • MOST American winemakers don’t sulfite, anymore, because winery sanitation has gotten efficient enough that ADDED sulfites are rarely necessary. But the whole concept of a “sulfite-free wine” is a categorical impossibility. Below 10 PPM, for sure, but natural sulfites cannot be totally eliminated, so those bottles labeled as sulfite-free are themselves a deception. The feds allow a winery to call 10 PPM and under sulfite free but there are still sulfites in the wine. They can’t be completely removed. But the whole hysteria about sulfites came about in the first place because of the mistaken idea that it’s sulfites that cause red wine headaches, when MOST red wine headaches, according to the NIH, are caused by enzymes in wine that activate histamine receptors. It’s usually more of an allergic reaction that anything inherently harmful about sulfites.

  12. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument (blogging is renowned for inaccurate reporting) I believe that a full list of ingredients should be displayed on alcoholic beverages as they are on every other packaged food. That would eliminate these kind of arguments and allow the public to be properly informed.

    • A Budweiser can does list all of the ingredients used to make the beer. Guesses about what they may be up to behind the scenes when they’re brewing it are usually wrong.

  13. Pingback: What’s In YOUR Beer? Or, The Dangers of Dumbassery | Bier Battered: Tasting Notes of the Random Pint

  14. Pingback: Biodiversity or What the “F” is a Pluot – 10th Day Brewing

    • Thank YOU, Bill, for stopping by to read. I am still into beer…. I think my next book will be about the craft industry (in some way). If you get a chance to read the meat book, let me know what you think. And tell your friends!

    • It’s not carcinogenic if used as it’s supposed to be used. BUT if it gets in the air and you breath it, it is extra special not good for you. (Lots of teeny tiny cuts to your lungs.) -It’s a brewery inhalation hazard; it’s NOT a carcinogen.
      –Although an article did come out recently showing that some of the deposits that contained DE that were being used in the brewing industry DID have rather high levels of lead in them; lead is certainly carcinogenic.

  15. Please drink responsibly, i.e. beer from your local craft breweries. However, if mega-brewery swill is your thing, don’t let us stop you (that will leave more for those of us who prefer the micro-brews).

  16. I don’t know how common it is in the industry, but I do know that some brewers using a foam stabilizer that includes propylene glycol alginate (PGA), such as Stabilfoam or Biofoam K.

    • I’ve done a little research on this, the most common anti foam one that we use, which many of us homebrewers know as “Fermcap-S” is simethecone based. It’s the same stuff as most anti-gas over the counter medications. If you or your child take or have taken any of the following. All you really are ingesting, if any actually gets through the end of the process after being left behind in the trub of the boil kettle, the yeast layer of your fermenter and your racking into the bottling bucket or keg, is a highly highly highly dilluted amount.

      Alka-Seltzer Anti-Gas
      Anti-Gas
      Anti-Gas-80
      Baby Gas
      Bicarsim
      Colic Drops
      Colicon
      Degas
      Equalize Gas Relief Drops
      Ez2go Zero
      Flatulex Drops
      Gas Aide
      Gas-X
      Gas-X Extra Strength
      Gas-X Liquid Extra Strength
      Gas-X Maximum Strength
      Genasyme
      Infantaire Gas Relief
      Little Tummys
      Maalox Anti-Gas
      Maalox Anti-Gas Extra Strength
      Majorcon
      Maximum Strength Mylanta Gas
      Mi-Acid Gas Relief
      Micon-80
      Mylanta Gas
      Mylanta Gas Relief Geltab
      Mylaval
      Mylicon
      Mytab Gas
      Pediacare Gas Relief
      Pediacare Infant Gas Relief
      Phazyme
      Phazyme 125
      Phazyme Maximum Strength
      Phazyme Ultra
      Phazyme-125 Softgels Maximum Strength
      Phazyme-95
      Rx-Act Gas Relief Extra Strength
      SonoRx

      It’s also in,
      French fries
      Chicken nuggets
      Fish fries
      Some sodas
      Frying oils
      ALMOST anything where foam becomes a problem…Shampoos, soaps, dishwashing powders and on and on….

      Chemical action and pharmaceutical effects
      Simethicone is an anti-foaming agent that decreases the surface tension of gas bubbles, causing them to combine into larger bubbles in the stomach that can be passed more easily. Simethicone does not reduce or prevent the formation of gas in the digestive tract, rather, it increases the rate at which it exits the body.[3] However, simethicone can relieve pain caused by gas in the intestines by decreasing foaming which then allows for passing of flatulence. Simethicone is not absorbed by the body into the bloodstream, and is therefore considered relatively safe. National Institutes of Health (NIH)[4] reports there are usually no side effects when simethicone is taken as directed. Although simethicone has also been promoted as a treatment for colic, randomised controlled trials have not demonstrated efficacy for such use.[5][6]

      Simethicone solutions of differing concentration also have industrial applications for reducing foaming in certain chemical processes.

      The use of simethicone can help reduce visual obstructions caused by intestinal gas during ultrasounds of the abdomen, although it has no effect on extraluminal gas outside the colon.

      Simethicone is used in some detergents when foaming is unwanted.

      Simethicone is also used in the fermentation process to reduce the shearing of proteins by agitation.
      Side effects
      The most common adverse effects of simethicone are gastrointestinal symptoms, including mild diarrhea, nausea, regurgitation, and vomiting.[9]

      But the thing to remember, just like the use of finings like the afore mentioned fish bladders, is that it is left behind when the beer is racked out of the kettle to the fermenter, or if added to a fermenter it is left behind when racking to the serving vessel. It’s really nothing more than a tiny oilslick on the surface that will get stuck in either trub at the bottom of kettle or fermenter, and not mixed into the beer.

      • Like I said, I don’t know how many breweries use PGA, but if you search “propylene glycol alginate beer”, you’ll find a lot of hits on sites like alibaba selling it for brewing.

        Heck, I’m not saying that I have a problem with it or expect that it will cause any health issues. Even given the amount of beer that I drink (and I’m happily enjoying the fact that Boulevard is now distributed in Virginia), the effects of alcohol itself are going to cause me a lot more problems than any trace chemicals that I ingest.

        Of course, if I would brew more often, then I wouldn’t even need to worry about trace chemicals (other than the sanitizer…)

      • It is absorbed onto yeast cell walls and settles out with the yeast or is removed when the beer is filtered.

  17. Steve Parkes knows a lot about beer, but his information on soda is a bit dated. Mountain Dew (at least in these parts) does not contain propylene glycol. Plenty of other questionable stuff, though…

    • Several web references say it does and I remember it being listed on the label… however you’re right its not on the label now and we’ve seen you can’t believe everything you see on the interwebs. 🙂

      • Not as a separate ingredient, but as Eddy says below, it may be there as part of the ubiquitous ingredient, “natural flavoring”. And I know a lot of home-brewers use “natural flavor extracts”, especially for fruit beers. I wonder if “natural flavors” used for larger scale fruit beer brewing might contain propylene glycol.

  18. I agree that beer should be labeled with what is in the can…”Beer”! Most of the “ingredients” are no longer present or have been modified to other chemicals. She didn’t get into DMS & diacetyl, probably because they aren’t approved ingredients since they are created by heating and fermentation.
    Just like yogurt or aged cheese, beer itself is not just a compilation of the ingredients, it is a completely new substance of it’s own, created through interaction of yeast and other ingredients.
    On the other hand, many beers are now labeled with the alcohol content, which would not appear on the ingredient list. I’m glad that I get that piece of information so I can regulate how much I consume.

  19. Awesome post. As someone who is a great lover of beer and has been writing about the food wars for the last 6 years it’s really great to see someone writing intelligently about the debate.

    • Oh, the food wars… Oh. The. Food. Wars. Yeah. And: me, too. I’ve got a new book coming out soon and so I’ve been working on “enhancing” the “debate” in the food wars. Take a look (if you have time) at the two entries in my new Q&A series (one is on the site’s front page; you can find the other by clicking on Categories and then Q&A). And thanks for taking time to read the beer post. The contributors did all the heavy lifting.

  20. What an awesome well written and well researched article (and comments) by the people who are really knowledgeable about brewing and what IS and isn’t in our beer. The original article that Maureen is rebutting enraged me as well. You took a hack job by someone who was so undeserving of the fame she sought, and turned it into an informative, well deserved, trouncing of her idiocy. Bravo and thank you!

  21. Actually Doug a lot of soda’s have propylene glycol in them, you just wouldn’t find it listed on the can. The propylene glycol makes up a large part of what the label lists as “natural flavor”. I have personally seen the drums the “natural flavoring” comes in and there is not much in there that is natural except for citric acid. I have seen these drums for Mountain Dew, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper and i’m fairly certain that it is a common practice for the large non-alcoholic beverage makers.

    • I’ve been wondering about “natural flavoring”, but the stuff on the web about it can be split into two camps: (1) companies selling stuff purported to be free of such things; and (2) sites where everything not grown by hippies is going to kill you. It’s hard to get good information.

      Dow says propylene glycol is used in direct food applications as:

      * Humectant and stabilizer (in prepared fruits, vegetables and bakery goods)
      * Solvent in flavor solutions and extractions (and in food additives, such as colors, antioxidants, enzymes and emulsifiers)
      * Plasticizer and softening agent for items such as cork seals
      * Flavor extraction solvent and processing aid in the isolation of natural flavoring materials (extracting vanilla from vanilla beans, for example)

      The soda companies seem to have stopped using propylene glycol as flavor preservative (especially if the soda freezes), so it is no longer a listed ingredient. But it clearly can be sneaking in under the umbrella of “natural flavoring”, although probably not at the levels that it had previously beun used.

  22. Pingback: craft beer’s response to The Food Babe | The Bake & Brew

    • Thanks for that re-blog, Inky Beer. Love your site! If you’re in Denver for GABF (and I gather from your site that you’re a fan of the fest…), I’ll be signing books again this year at the GABF bookstore. Stop by and say hello.

  23. Why no ingredients list though? As a person who suddenly started developing hives, it would have been nice to be able to get an answer about ingredients. I might have been able to pinpoint the exact cause a bit faster. Maybe before going into anaphylactic shock. Obviously, I no longer drink alcohol because I know my allergens are in some (not all) beer, but since they are above informing their customers….I’m no longer a customer.

  24. I am SO impressed with this article. Well done! Good for you and I love that you researched your way out of the “smoke and mirrors” of anti-GMO propaganda. I once found myself in that house of horrors but also found my way out. This was a very informative article and since I love beer, all the better. Poor me a brewski. Cheers!

    • Hey, thanks, Julee. I have to say that when I set out to understand GMOs one winter afternoon, I had NO NO NO idea what I was getting into. First I was puzzled. Then I was flabbergasted. And then I was confused. My analogy is that it’s a carnival fun house….

  25. PGA is an obvious source of propylene glycol in beer. It is commonly used, even by ‘craft’ brewers to help with head retention and texture. Isinglass and gelatin finings arrive at the brewery heavily preserved with sulfites. It is an obvious source of ‘added’ sulfites in beer as opposed to the naturally ocurring ones. it is also not uncommon to exceed the recommended application rate for ‘difficult to fine’ beers. These sulfites are not ‘left behind in the tank bottoms’.

    EDTA is often part of the formulary of commercial beer antioxidants. The most common antioxidant in the brewing industry is Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Ascorbic acid in the presence of free metal ions will actually catalyze oxidation. By adding EDTA to the antioxidant preparation, these free metal ions are chelated. EDTA is measurable in many commercial beers. Even some ‘craft’ beers who use this ingredient.

    Just like other fermented foodstuffs, the ingredients in beer are transformed by the process. Notwithstanding that reality, I believe all ingredients should be listed on every commercial product you may think of ingesting, just like they are with fermented yogourt or cheeses or meats. I’m tired of obfuscation of the truth by idiots like the person who wrote the article fuelling this discussion but also by the ‘craft’ brewers themselves.

  26. I saw this shared on Foodbabe facebook post. I am getting pretty tired of the low quality information. Fantastic article and great comments too.

    • Irene, moi aussi. As I noted at the very beginning of the post: false “facts” do no good for anyone. Thanks for reading — and again, the brewers did ALL the heavy lifting. I’m so grateful to them.

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