There aren’t too many absolute truisms in beer, but one thing is for certain: “Everyone likes beer, they just don’t know it yet.” Unfortunately, not everyone can enjoy beer due to dietary restrictions related to medical conditions and lifestyle choices. For these individuals, knowing whether a beer is safe to drink or not can be a challenge, especially in the United States where brewers are not required to list ingredients or nutritional information on their packaging. For more insight on who can and can't drink beer from Down The Road, we contacted Kristin Thomas, Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner & Founder of Thrive by Food to help you better understand which products are best suited for you and your dietary needs.
What’s In Beer?
In its purest form, beer is comprised of four basic ingredients: malt, hops, yeast and water. As brewers continue to innovate and evolve their craft, there are more unique ingredients in beer than ever before, and individuals with dietary restrictions should be vigilant to take the time to dig in to the specifics of their pints.
“Malt” is the generic term for any malted grain. “Malting” is the process of germinating and then roasting grain to produce fermentable sugars and enzymes that form the alcoholic base of beer. These grains can include, but are not exclusive to: barley, wheat, rye and oats. Barley is the most commonly used in brewing due to its high diastatic potential, meaning it contains large amounts of enzymes that help yeast convert the grain’s sugar into alcohol, while the other cereal grains contribute more to appearance, aroma and flavor. While malted grain is safe for most people, it does contain high amounts of gluten, and should be avoided by anyone who is advised to maintain a low or no gluten diet.
Hops are the flowers from a hop plant or Humulus lupulus, a member of the Cannabaceae family. That’s right, hops share a common ancestry with cannabis and hemp. Hops contain alpha acids, which contribute to the bitter flavor profile of some beers and also help with stability and shelf-life. Hops also contain essential oils, which impart an array of flavors to beer, from piney to fruity to spicy and citrusy. Hops are safe for most diets, but some cases of hop allergies have been reported. Symptoms are typically mild, including headaches, and light rashes. Individuals who are hop sensitive should avoid heavily hopped beers, such as IPAs and Pale Ales, as these likely contain raw hop compounds from dry hopping, which contain high concentrations of hop-derived allergens.
Brewers yeast, or saccharomyces, is present in nearly every style of beer on the market. This ubiquitous organic compound is actually a fungi, which consumes sugar and processes it into alcohol. Although most of the yeast in any given batch of beer falls out of suspension as part of the brewing process, any unfiltered or unpasteurized beer will contain some yeast. Whether brewers yeast is good for you or not depends a lot on your unique biology. Some people benefit immensely from this fungi, as it is rich in vitamins and minerals, and take it as a nutritional supplement. However, some individuals are allergic to brewers yeast and can experience abdominal cramping, digestive issues and headaches. If you are sensitive to yeast, it is best to avoid beer that hasn’t been pasteurized.
Drink or Don’t - Specific Health Conditions and Beer
Celiac Disease and Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Although significantly different biologically, the diets for people with Celiac Disease and those who are merely gluten sensitive are nearly identical. For these individuals, gluten should be avoided at all costs. It is possible to make a beer-like beverage using gluten-free ingredients such as corn, millet or quinoa traditional beers are never fully gluten free. All malt contains gluten, therefore any beer brewed with malt will have gluten, and people with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity should steer clear.
Individuals who are lactose intolerant lack specific enzymes that aid with the digestion of milk and milk-based derivatives. Consumption of products made with dairy trigger an array of digestive issues in people with lactose intolerance, though several products exist to assist with digestion. Most beer is safe for people with lactose intolerance, however, some beer may be sweetened with lactose, which is an unfermentable sugar. Some brewers use lactose to add sweetness to their beer that cannot be converted into alcohol by residual yeast. If you are lactose intolerant, be sure to avoid any beer sweetened with lactose such as Milk Stouts, lactose (or milkshake) IPAs, dessert sours and cream ales.
Yeast infections of any kind can be exacerbated by consuming any product with live yeast cultures in it. According to Thomas, candida can be agitated by saccharomyces, the most common yeast in beer.
Histamine intolerance is a condition characterized by the diminished capacity for histamine degradation. Put simply, individuals who are diagnosed with histamine intolerance have difficulty processing and detoxifying histamines. Thomas, who works patients diagnosed with histamine intolerance, advises anyone with this condition to avoid any and all fermented food and drink, including beer, which can cause dangerous reactions involving the body’s histamines.
Specific Ingredient Allergies
Yeast - avoid any non-filtered, non-pasteurized beers. Every beer from Down The Road is unfiltered and we do not pasteurize.
Hops - Avoid IPAs, Pale Ales and anything advertised as “dry hopped.” Almost all beer contains some amount of hops, but it’s the mostly the really raw stuff that triggers hop allergies.
Stonefruit (peaches, apricots, cherries, etc) - Check the ingredients and avoid fruited beers. Down The Road plainly lists any fruit in their beers, but be extra careful with their fruited sours as they contain more raw forms of these ingredients. Note that some beers may be described as tasting of different stonefruit, but unless we specifically say that it contains fruit juice, then those flavor impressions come from hops and not actual fruit.
Nuts - Some beers include nuts and nut extracts. If you have a nut allergy, avoid any beer brewed with peanut butter, hazelnuts, pecans, etc. Down The Road does not currently use any nuts in their beer, including the Hooligan Nut Brown, which has a nutty taste, but does not include any actual nuts.
Drink or Don’t - Lifestyle and Religious Choices
With the exception of beers brewed with lactose, vegans don’t have much to worry about since most beer does not contain any animal products. As mentioned in the lactose intolerance section, vegans should be on the lookout for any “sweet,” “cream,” “milk,” or “dessert” beers as they may contain lactose. Down The Road does not currently produce any lactose beers, but that doesn’t mean we never will.
Every beer brewed at Down The Road is vegetarian-friendly.
Beer is low in fat but very high in carbohydrates and calories. Most beers contain well over 15 grams of carbohydrates and 150+ calories. If you maintain a low to no carb diet, any beer, not just Down The Road beer, is definitely off the table.
Down The Road does not currently produce any non-alcoholic beer options, but we serve an array of non-alcoholic beverages at our taproom including craft sodas, Kombucha and nitro coffee.
The short answer is this: all Down The Road beer contains gluten and is high in carbohydrates and calories. None of our beer is pasteurized or filtered, so it all contains hop oil/particulate and live yeast. Some of our beer contains fruit that people may be allergic to, and we haven’t brewed with lactose or nuts yet, but that doesn’t mean we never will. Stay vigilant, stay informed and remember that it’s always safer to ask than to guess.