Live longer with a beer a day


Beer helps against kidney stones and heart problems, gives you a nice clear skin and is recommended for sports persons. Provided, of course, that you don’t have too much of a good thing. Professor Dr. Manfred Walzl, neurologist at the mental clinic in Austrian Graz, runs through some of the wholesome effects.

Beer is ‘in’: no fewer than three thousand research projects and studies on beer have been conducted to date. Some of them also concern cancer. Some really fascinating work has been done in this connection in Japan, the United States and Germany. The substance xanthohumol, which is present in hops, seems to have an anti-cancer effect one hundred times that of green tea and soya. The U.S. has even granted authorization to place ‘anti-cancer beer’ on the market.

In Poland and the Czech Republic beer is prescribed and state-refunded for the treatment of urological conditions, because research has shown that beer is an effective weapon against kidney stones. Beer also has an antibacterial effect, which is useful against helicobacter infection in the stomach.

Manfred Walzl thinks it is unfair that beer is said not to be good for sports persons. The famous Czech marathon runner Zatopek drank beer every time he ran, because, in his experience, beer helped to restore muscular capacity in times of stress and also saved the muscles from damage.

The pantothenic acid and vitamin B complex in beer also makes your skin smooth and supple. Cleopatra already had a fair idea, so she changed her asses’ milk for a beer bath. The cosmetics industry also discovered a long time ago that beer shampoos and rinses are good for the hair.

All these effects are of course only healthy so long as beer consumption remains within sane and sensible limits: the limit for men being set at one litre per day, and half of that for women.

Professor Walzl is currently researching the effect of beer on the fatigue ascribed to beer. By measuring the diameter of the pupils it was demonstrated that beer does not induce fatigue. On the contrary. This research will soon appear in print.

Source: Gesellschaft für Öffentlichkeitsarbeit der Deutschen Brauwirtschaft e.V., Bonn; interview with Prof. Manfred Walzl.


New, gluten-free, tasty, nourishing beer


Ever heard of quinoa beer? Probably not, because the experimental brewery Andelot has only just perfected the brew and got it ready for placing on the market. Someone who has in fact heard of it is ‘beer architect’ engineer and microbiologist Roger Mussche, who attended the birth of the latest odd-men-out in the extensive range of Flemish beers. He told us the wonderful tale of the new, gluten-free beer.

What is quinoa, and why is it the main ingredient in a new type of beer?
Roger Mussche:Quinoa is a sort of cereal that, until recently, was unknown in our region. It’s grown in the high Andes, where it’s been a staple diet of the people of the mountains for the past six thousand years. It’s known as “the rice of the Incas”, a cereal that can resist severe weather conditions, cold and aridity at great heights. The protein content is twice as high as that of other cereals, the iron content is up to six times greater, and it contains loads of minerals and vitamins. It came to be known in our regions via the ‘fair trade’ circuit. The Spanish conquistadores prohibited its cultivation in former times, because they held quinoa responsible for the fierce resistance the Incas offered them. But the crop survived, and many smallholders in Bolivia and Peru still make a living from it today.

How did you become involved in attempts to use quinoa as the basic ingredient for beer?
Roger Mussche:The story begins with an African from the historic Lunda Empire of Central South Africa, now spread over Angola, Congo and Zambia. His name is Henrique Kabia. (Roger Mussche learnt that his friend had died in an accident in Switzerland on the very of this interview). In Africa, traditional beers are brewed by wise women, ‘mamas’. Kabia’s great-great-grandmother was one of their number. They brewed beer from palm nuts. The art was handed down from generation to generation, until Henrique also eventually inherited the traditional brewing method. In 1993 he arrived in Holland as a refugee, after a long period in France, where he had turned his hand to brewing again in his back garden. That finally led to the marketing, under the brand name Mongozo, of two beers: Mongozo Palmnut and Mongozo Banana.

Mongozo palm contains 7% alcohol and is made from the African palm nut. It is the modern version of traditional beer from Angola. Mongozo banana is a tropical fruit beer, brewed according to an old tradition that comes from the Massai, who live in East Africa. It contains 4.8% alcohol. It has a Max Havelaar quality mark, which guarantees that the farmers in developing countries have been paid a fair price has been paid for their bananas. So there was always a connection with ‘fair trade’ projects in the developing countries.

The teamwork with Kabia, supported by the know-how and experience of the Ghent School of Brewers KAHO-St. Lieven, with Prof. Aerts, was evidently highly productive. The idea was conceived to brew beer with a basis of quinoa, which is completely gluten-free. A brewing method was developed with KAHO–St. Lieven to brew a Mongozo-Quinua. All Mongozo beers are brewed by the Huyghe Brewery in Melle. At the request of the market, a gluten-free, four-cereal beer is brewed in the bio-certified Andelot brewery in Lochristi, namely chica beer. Brewing quinoa, rice, buckwheat and sorghum creates particular problems, due among other things to the very fine structure of quinoa, which is very difficult to grind. The final recipe is almost exclusively based on quinoa. And that’s how Mongozo quinia came into being.

The quinoa seed comes from Anapqui, a national organization of quinoa growers in Bolivia that delivers approximately 60% of the raw material. The beer contains 5.9%, has a typical beer taste, and the aftertaste is delicious without being overwhelmingly bitter. It undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle and is not physically stabilized, because no additives are used to remove the proteins and the polyphenols. The result may be a touch of cloudiness, like you get in a ‘witteke’, but that has no effect at all in the taste formation.

When will the new Quinoa beer be available in the commercial circuit?
Roger Mussche:The product has only just been tested. True, it already has a gluten-free certificate and a biocertificate, but production has not yet started for the domestic market. Export, yes. We want to put the beer on the market via the ‘fair trade’ outlets and the bioshops. It has to be pointed out that the return on quinoa beer is rather lower than for malt beer. So it will cost more. It must also be stressed that Mongozo beers are made exclusively with exotic and/or biological ingredients that are bought from farmers in developing countries for a fair price.



Caroline Walker (UK): “Always read the professional literature on beer and health with a critical eye.”


During he 29th international symposium of the European Brewery Convention in Dublin (17 – 22 May 2003), Caroline Walker (doctor in biochemistry, UK) held up to the light the medical literature on the effects of moderate alcohol consumption on the health.

What do you think about the influence of moderate beer consumption on the health?
Caroline Walker : “The influence of moderate beer or wine consumption on the health is often overestimated. Our health is much more influenced by way of life and lifestyle than by alcohol consumption, moderate or not. It is also especially difficult to compare the effects of beer and wine with each other. Studies show that wine drinkers often keep to other modes of living than beer drinkers. Beer drinkers usually have lower socio-economic status, they smoke more often, are more prone to obesity, do less sport and have less healthy eating habits than wine drinkers. Nor is that all, some researchers have come to the conclusion that beer drinkers are more extrovert than wine drinkers, they are thought to be verbally more aggressive and lie more, … Ascribing such differences to drinking either beer or wine is, of course, completely wide of the mark, and shows that we must be careful when interpreting medical studies.”

So medical studies are not always credible?
Caroline Walker : “Absolutely not. Some studies even border on the absurd. One research team showed, for example, that drinking beer attracts flies. They came to this odd conclusion after an experiment in which drinkers and non-drinkers had their gnat bites counted. And an explanation was thought up: drinking beer increases perspiration, and that attracts the insects. It sounds plausible, but it remains highly fanciful. A single study is nowhere near sufficient to support any such connection. Another even more ridiculous research revealed that drinking beer protects us against cosmic rays. A good definition of just what, precisely, “cosmic rays” are supposed to be was nowhere to be found in the research. And yet studies like these find their way into the specialist publications, alongside rather more serious work. You can only conclude that not everything that is published is actually true!”

But the influence of beer-drinking on cardiovascular diseases has been proven ?
Caroline Walker : “Yes, indeed. The beneficial effects of moderate alcohol consumption as regards the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are very convincing, because they have already been demonstrated in numerous studies. The more studies that point in the same direction, the stronger the connection. The difference between beer and wine consumption on these diseases is less clear however, because many other life factors are involved, which tends to give conflicting results. On the whole, we can now say that alcohol taken in moderation is good for the heart and arteries and reduces the risk of diabetes.”

Beer is also supposed to protect against dementia?
Caroline Walker : “The first studies do in fact point in that direction, but it’s still too early to jump for joy. More research is needed to confirm this effect. And we don’t yet really know exactly what starts up the process of dementia. Doctors know that lesions in the brain can lead to dementia, but what causes these lesions is still a mystery. If you don’t know exactly why a disease happens, it’s more difficult to know for certain which factors influence that process.”

Does beer make you fat?
Caroline Walker :“If you drink too much of it it’s bound to make you fat. We can’t deny the phenomenon of the beer belly! Although other factors such as eating habits are also involved. Then again, it’s also true that beer doesn’t make you fat as long as you drink in moderation!”

Your conclusion.
Caroline Walker : “Our health is influenced first and foremost by our way of living, with our eating habits, physical exercise and body weight as the most important influencing factors. Whether or not you drink beer in moderation makes little difference! Beer doesn’t compensate for any unhealthy eating habits, such as fatty meals. As long as you drink in moderation, you needn’t worry too much about your drinking habits. So enjoy yourself!”

Marleen Finoulst
EBC Dublin, 21 May 2003


Bob Vansant (psychotherapist): “Alcohol can help against depression”


Millions of depressives reach for the bottle to face up to their depression or its effects. We might ask the question whether many people who drink are not, in fact, depressive. Up to a certain level alcohol must have a helping effect against feelings of depression. That at least is the opinion of Bob Vansant, psychotherapist and author of “How can I help? Dealing with other people’s depression”

What part does alcohol play in a depression?
Bob Vansant: “On the one hand, depressives often find alcohol to be an easy-access means to ease the pain of a depression but, on the other hands, it is precisely a means that can intensify the depression. So it’s an antidepressant and depressant at the same time! Alcohol has to do with psychology. Depression has to do with insecurity, loneliness, anxiety, doubt and independence. So the link between the two is a close one. In much the same way as frequent casual sex brings no lasting self-respect, frequent and habitual alcohol consumption will not bring pleasure, peace of mind or fulfilment.”

How can alcohol act as an antidepressant?
Bob Vansant: “Alcohol can help the depressive to relativize and take the mind off the inner stress and underlying problems for a while. However, the next day the real life issues come home to roost and you have to start drinking again in order to relative them. So you can end up in a vicious circle and then, of course, you’re on the wrong track. It is common knowledge that alcohol slows our reactions. I think that very many people drink precisely in order to slow down! So, alcohol acts to a certain extent as a tranquillizer in these hectic modern times.”

But other people become aggressive under the influence of alcohol.
Bob Vansant: “Depression often involves repressed feelings, which may include anger and aggression. Alcohol acts as a release mechanism for this choked-back anger. Some alcohol users are in fact aggressive, others are not. They start to cry and cannot express their pain. In and of itself, alcohol does not cause anger, aggression or sorrow, but it encourages these feelings to rise to the surface. In this sense, alcohol is a better antidepressant than a good many suppressant medicines. Many depressives can shake off “the blues” much more easily after a couple of beers, something they are unable to do under normal circumstances. Alcohol therefore seems to be a useful therapeutic instrument in the treatment of depressives, as long as it’s correctly dosed and supervised.”

Persons with depression find it harder to use alcohol intelligently.
Bob Vansant: “Depressive persons do, in fact, have the tendency to use alcohol in a rather more chaotic, uncontrolled fashion. But it’s not mere coincidence that so many millions of men and women and so many millions of others should spontaneously reach for this means. Artists, poets, writers and musicians have been using alcohol for centuries as a means of inspiration to give form to their emotions. Persons with a depression would perhaps be better advised not to drink alcohol, but to have it administered intravenously (directly into the bloodstream) by the doctor, in controlled doses. It is perhaps the ideal agent to bring out bottled-up sadness and aggression.”

What role can the depressive’s environment play?
Bob Vansant: “Very many depressives drink alone, in silence and loneliness. They would do better to drink in a pub. Pubs should be reassessed. Having a chat over a glass of beer is very beneficial for our emotional and social well-being. You always have to ask why a depressive person drinks so much. Instructing, forbidding or controlling has a counterproductive effect. Each drinking behaviour is different, because each individual, each background, each history is that too. Never try to convert the person concerned to give up alcohol, but try most of all to help by addressing the underlying problem. We must attack the cause, not the symptoms.”

Marleen Finoulst

Hoe kan ik helpen?
Omgaan met de depressie van anderen.
Bob Vansant
Standaard Uitgeverij ()


Increasing number of daily drinkers in Belgium


The number of daily alcohol drinkers in Belgium is rising sharply: from 8 to 12.4 percent between 1997 and 2001. “It’s no drama”, says Dr. Stan Ansoms, who treats alcoholics, “the underlying alcohol consumption is decreasing, and as long as its evenly distributed, I wouldn’t call it a cause for alarm.”

The National Institute for Statistics (NIS) published the figures of a health survey carried out by the Wetenschappelijk Instituut Volksgezondheid. In 2001 it probed 9 290 Belgians regarding their alcohol consumption. The findings were brought out with a similar study in 1997.

We showed the results to Dr. Stan Ansoms, head of addiction counselling with the Alexian Brothers in Tienen and chair of the Association for Alcohol and Other Drug Problems (Vereniging voor Alcohol- en andere Drugsproblemen (VAD)).

The number of daily alcohol drinkers up from 8 to 12.4 percent

That may seem a lot, but I wouldn’t call it alarming. The underlying alcohol consumption has fallen by fifteen percent. That’s a positive trend. If the daily drinkers drink one or two glasses each day, then they don’t have a problem. I see it as a shift towards the drinking habits of wine-producing countries such as France.

Men still bigger drinkers than women

That’s traditional. But the difference is becoming smaller. Just as with other social phenomena, women are now catching up with the men. 25 years ago you’d have one alcoholic women to every nine men. Now one in three alcoholics is a woman.

Despite recent panicky reports, teenagers and young adults between 15 and 34 do not seem to be drinking more regularly

I’d be cautious there. The alcopops are quite a problem. Admittedly, young people drink maybe once a week – the night they go out – but they often get very intoxicated. The risk of alcohol poisoning and traffic accidents is always just around the corner. They’re also starting to drink at an earlier age.

The over-55s are the biggest group of problem drinkers, and the over-65s are the biggest daily drinkers

Campaigns quite rightly concentrate on prevention among the young, but we may have neglected the older groups. It would be a good idea to launch campaigns for the different age groups around alcohol, combined with the use of drugs and medicines.

The lower and higher educated drink more often than the middle group

I see the opposite in the addiction centre. That’s where I get to see the middle group. The lower educated are simply less inclined to seek help. The higher educated put up more rational resistance.

The number of problem drinkers stands at 6.8 percent. The NIS is unable to make a comparison with 1997 because no other questions were asked at the time. However, it appears that 9.1 percent drank six glasses once a week or more in 1997. What do you think?

The figure is correct. I calculate 3 percent of alcoholics and 15 percent of risk drinkers. These are the heavy regular drinkers who consume more than five units per day and those who drink because of personal difficulties. I would set my percentage of problem drinkers somewhat higher.

Source: De Standaard, 28/02/2003, Tom Ysebaert


The Portman Group helps to prevent misuse of alcohol in the UK


The Portman Group is not a trade association, but a pan-industry organisation whose purpose is to help prevent misuse of alcohol and to promote sensible drinking. An independent company, limited by guarantee, The Portman Group was set up in 1989 by the UK’s leading drinks manufacturers, which together supply the majority of the alcohol sold in the UK.

‘Sensible drinking’ – isn’t that a contradiction in terms?
The Portman Group: “Don’t be misled by the bad image alcohol sometimes attracts. Like air travel, it only hits the headlines when something goes wrong. Alcohol misuse is a problem for a minority. The majority of those who drink do so responsibly.”

Isn’t it a bit dreary though?
The Portman Group: “Thanks to research studies, we now know much more about how to drink in a way that is compatible with a healthy lifestyle.
We also know more about the health and other risks we run if we ignore that information. So ‘sensible drinking’ is a way of enjoying the pleasure and the benefits, but avoiding the hazards and the harm.”

So how much is OK to drink each day?
The Portman Group: “That depends on whether you’re male or female. Most men are OK for 3 to 4 units a day, most women for 2 to 3. But if men consistently drink 4 or more units a day, the health risks start to accumulate. The same goes for women who consistently drink 3 or more units a day.”

Units? What on earth are units?
The Portman Group: “Units are a way of measuring how much alcohol you’re drinking. A unit is 8 grams of pure alcohol, if you want to be scientific about it. But the amount of alcohol in any given type of drink will obviously depend on how big the glass, can or bottle is, and how strong the drink is.”

I’m no Einstein. How can I keep track of my units without being a whiz-kid at maths?
The Portman Group: “Luckily, most drinks come in fairly standard sizes and strengths. So it’s quite easy to keep an accurate enough tally – if you’re drinking out, that is. If you’re having spirits or wine at home, though, you’ll need to be more alert, as you can bet you’ll be helping yourself to larger servings than the pub or restaurant would give you! The examples in The Portman Group’s leaflet ‘It all adds up’ give the most workable unit ranges, to the nearest half-unit, for the most common drinks in the most common servings. You could use that as a ready reckoner.”

Surely different people can tolerate different amounts of alcohol?
The Portman Group: “Of course there are individual differences. Some people shouldn’t drink at all. Children under 16 should not assume these guidelines apply to them either, as their bodies have not yet matured enough to deal with alcohol in the same way as adults. But the scientific research on which the guidelines are based does enable advice to be given both to men in general and women in general.”

Are there any other exceptions to the rule?
The Portman Group: “People involved in certain activities where safety and control are paramount are advised not to drink at all. Driving is an obvious one. Before swimming or other active physical sports is another no-go area for drinking. And you shouldn’t drink if you’re about to operate machinery, go up ladders or do any kind of work which requires you to have your wits fully about you.”
“Taking certain medications is also incompatible with drinking alcohol.”

Why shouldn’t women drink as much as men?
The Portman Group: “A woman drinking the same amount as a man of exactly the same size will get intoxicated faster because she has a lower proportion of water in her body weight. This leads to a higher concentration of alcohol in the body tissue. Women’s average weight is lower than men’s in any case. And just for good measure, the scientists also think that women’s bodies break alcohol down more slowly than men’s, so alcoholic drink has a longer-lasting effect.”

Is it OK to drink in pregnancy?
The Portman Group: “If you’re pregnant – or planning to be – then you’ve got to be sensible for two. The guidelines say that no more than 1 or 2 units once or twice a week should be the benchmark for you. Drunkenness should also be avoided, which should be easy enough if you’re sticking to those guidelines.”

I thought drinking red wine every day was supposed to be good for your heart. There must be some good news in here somewhere…?
The Portman Group: “Well, the reference to red wine is a bit of a red herring. The good news is that it’s any kind of alcohol, not just wine or red wine, that can have a significant protective effect on your heart. The bad news for all you strapping young twenty- or thirty-somethings out there is that the health benefit only kicks in for men over 40 and for women after the menopause.”

Does that mean we can drink more as we get older?
The Portman Group: “Afraid not. It’s important to remember that the maximum health advantage for the heart for men over 40 and women past the menopause comes from drinking between 1 and 2 units a day. Drinking more doesn’t increase the benefit.”

It’s all so complicated. Wouldn’t it just be easier – and more honest – to get everyone to drink less?
The Portman Group: “Some people believe that if less alcohol were consumed by the population as a whole, there would be fewer alcohol-related problems. But this doesn’t necessarily follow. Take the example of deaths caused by drink-driving in the UK. The numbers have dropped dramatically without the overall level of alcohol consumption going down. This has been achieved because people have responded positively to well-communicated messages about their behaviour. By the same token, people are more likely to continue drinking sensibly, or begin to drink sensibly, if they are informed by a general public health message which they can interpret in relation to their own personal behaviour and choices. They don’t want to feel punished or guilty or nagged because of other people’s over-indulgence, when they are doing no harm to their own health.”

Are you seriously telling me that the drinks industry supports sensible drinking. What’s in it for them?
The Portman Group: “You could put that the other way round: what’s in it for the drinks industry if it does nothing about the way a minority of people misuse its products? The major alcoholic drinks companies set up The Portman Group in 1989 because they were genuinely committed to promoting sensible drinking and helping to prevent alcohol abuse. Our policies and work are carried out irrespective of the commercial consequences to the industry.”

But they wouldn’t fund The Portman Group if you weren’t helping the industry, would they?
The Portman Group: “Exactly, and we believe that promoting sensible drinking, as well as being a worthwhile activity in its own right, is also in the long term interests of the industry. Call it enlightened self-interest. If consumers and the industry can both benefit from the same approach, perhaps being sensible is not such a dreary idea after all. Being responsible and getting pleasure are not mutually exclusive activities. Sensible drinking is one way to do both.”




Prof. Ivo De Leeuw speaks out on behalf of moderate alcohol consumption


Thursday, 30 May saw the baptism of the Brussels Beer and Society Information Center. The auspicious occasion was marked by an address by Professor Ivo De Leeuw (endocrinologist, Antwerp University Hospital) advocating the importance of a moderate alcohol consumption for elderly diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The Radio 1 current affairs programme “De Wandelgangen” featured the following conversation with Prof. De Leeuw.

Kristel Mariën (VRT): Drink a few beers a day, and you live longer and in better health than a total abstainer. Or so many recent scientific studies would have us understand. People who drink in moderation are less prone to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease. That, at least, was what Professor Ivo De Leeuw told Filip Heymans.

Prof. De Leeuw: It has, thus far, been proven that, if you respect these limits, there is less risk of myocardial infarction and thrombosis of the main blood vessels and, perhaps, might even procure slight decrease of blood pressure. Many studies seem to corroborate this; scientific analysis would appear to support the case for the defence.

Filip Heymans (VRT): And yet alcohol is still commonly associated with all manner of disorders, such as cancer of the oesophagus, stomach cancer. Is there really no influence?
Prof. De Leeuw: Well, yes. But don’t forget. We’re talking about moderate alcohol consumption. The increased incidence of certain cancers such as, say, premature frequency of cerebral haemorrhages are clearly only evident when the subject has the habit of drinking to excess. This is frequently associated with social factors, as the phenomenon appear to be more prevalent among the lower social classes.

VRT: And what would you regard as moderate alcohol consumption? How much can a body drink and still be regarded as a moderate drinker?
Prof. De Leeuw: Well, I’d say you should never exceed 40 g alcohol per day. In layman’s terms, that means two, or perhaps three glasses of beer per day for a man. But a woman should drink less, because her liver simply can’t take it.

VRT: You said: well, about three glasses a day. Some people would call that borderline alcoholism. So, are there no negative psychological effects?
Prof. De Leeuw: OK, it’s true. We consider the negative psychological effects as a risk factor. But that seems to concern only a very small group of beer-drinkers, at least as far as concerns Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic. And, from all I’ve seen and heard, 94% of regular beer-drinkers do indeed keep within the limits.

VRT: You’re talking about beer-drinkers. Is there a difference between your preferred drink? It’s generally supposed that red wine is healthier than any other kind of alcohol.
Prof. De Leeuw: All that red wine stuff is based on sort-of weighty studies, inter alia in the big wine-growing countries such as – surprise, surprise – France, that would give us to understand that regular, daily, consumption of red wine has a beneficial effect as regards reduction of the risk of cardiovascular disease. Well, now we discover that the stuff responsible for those effects belong to a category referred to as anti-oxidants and flavonoids. Lo and behold! The same substances are present in other alcoholic beverages, such as beer. Speaking of beer, beer is even richer in certain of these substances. Thanks to the lovely hop.

VRT : Cardiovascular disease, which you were just talking about, has some kind of connection with obesity? And alcohol, well beer, is often blamed for expanding waistlines?
Prof. De Leeuw: Yes. It’s been shown that alcohol embarrasses the elimination of fat in the body. So if you eat more when drinking, you stack the fat. Fat will gather in the abdominal cavity, and happily spread wherever else it can. Hence the beer belly. Yet, the analyses show that the quantity and frequency of drinking makes all the difference. If you drink in moderation, you won’t grow a beer-gut or pile on the pounds. Better yet: recent Belgian research would seem to suggest that moderate consumption of beer helps women keep in shape. “Fine for the line”.

VRT : Conclusion: drinking does more good than harm?
Prof. De Leeuw: It’s not so either-or, you know. I mean,you wouldn’t tell a total abstainer to start drinking beer and wine, would you? There’s no single study that I know of that says, beyond any possible doubt, that you get healthier if you drink nothing at all or if you get, shall I say, overenthusiastic.

VRT – K. Mariën: Softly, softly says Professor De Leeuw. Anyone wishing to know more can visit our website

Source: VRT Radio 1, De Wandelgangen, 30-05-2002


Interview with Prof. Freddy Delvaux, Brewing and Malting Laboratory, KU Leuven


“Beer is an important product, it would be naive not to study it.” It’s rather peculiar, wandering about in a lab and suddenly being confronted with a wall of beer crates, a “Primus” tray or a back fitting full of beer glasses. Everything here is obviously to do with beer, but that doesn’t mean that the minds are fuddled. On the contrary, as illustrated by Professor Freddy Delvaux and graduate student Kevin Verstrepen in rather infectious manner.

“Leuven is a beer city. But this lab has a fairly recent history. The tradition of brewery research was interrupted for a while after the splitting of the university. Professor Jean de Clerck, an undisputed world authority, moved with his lab to Louvain-la-Neuve, and there was no real successor. Around 1990, when Professor Goedseels was director of studies here, the link to history was reforged.” Professor Delvaux was working in those days at Stella/Interbrew, but allowed himself to be persuaded to ally his technological expertise with scientific research at the K.U. Leuven. “The only problem was that was literally nothing there, no apparatus, no staff, no money. Fortunately, however, there were some good contacts with a number of breweries that drummed up the starting capital via consultancy to buy the basic equipment for the lab. Over the past ten years we have managed, step by step, to put K.U. Leuven back on top of beer research.” “The close connection with the industry is, of course, fairly typical for all engineering establishments but, in our case, it is very explicit. In recent years we have had to very consciously do what had to be done to counterbalance the industrial “problem solving”, via an accent on fundamental research. But, even there, the link with the industry is never really far away. It’s inevitable. We have contacts – and contracts – with some thirty breweries, and it would make absolutely no sense to just throw them overboard and aim solely at research. Naturally, the contacts also entail risks. First, we get the scientific bodies and funds telling us to go and look for our research money from the industry: a product such as beer is less ‘researchogenic’ than, say, heart disease or genetics. And, secondly, the direction of our work towards the industry means that our best researchers run the ‘risk’ of being bought away. Quite a lot of our graduates don’t reach the finishing line, simply because they are offered attractive jobs in one or another allied brewery. We are now trying to contain that partially by setting up our own spin-off, but we still have to settle a few matters first.”
“A lot is happening here with relatively limited resources. There are about fifteen staff, two part-time assistants, and then mainly graduate students and a number of project engineers for the technical side of things. The teaching given here is intended for the students of our faculty and for the industrial world. Each year we give them an intensive English-language lessons package a professional tasting course. Unfortunately, because of the high material requirements – to learn to brew, you need a brewery, … – besides the bio-engineering students, we can accept only a few external students per year. Given the growing number of final-year students each year wishing to do their degree project in our laboratory, the “Master in Malting and Brewing” programme comes under pressure.”

Wide-ranging research

“Our research is quite diverse. The first branch or our research is concentrated on basic materials. In concrete terms: we are looking for better malts. For anyone who doesn’t know: malt is a germinated and “oasted” barley. And for anyone who doesn’t know what oasting is: it’s a kind of kiln-drying process. The taste of the beer naturally depends very much on your basic ingredients. But they in turn can influence the storage life of the product. Brewers have understandable reasons for wanting to add as little as possible to their beers. So it all comes down to finding a winning combination of taste and storage life that also gives good flocculation, the right cloudiness and so forth, using ingredients that are as natural as possible. The use of alternative ingredients and the application of secondary fermentation in the bottle can probably also open new perspectives here.” “The second area of research concerns fermentation, the heart of the brewing process. Wort, the malt infusion, is brought together with yeast cells that break down the sugars in the wort. This produces carbon dioxide, ethanol and a series of flavourings. Our research into fermentation is mainly concentrated on the aeration phase. That’s strange really: oxygen is pretty much taboo in brewing, because it accelerates oxidation and spoils the taste. Air is, however, necessary at the beginning of the fermentation process. This is usually a case of pumping oxygen into the wort, but there are important reasons for oxygenating at yeast-cell level instead. This is known as yeast preoxygenation. The second form of fermentation research is actually our showpiece. If it works, it will start a revolution in the brewing process. For centuries, brewing has been done in batch form: you do something in the first vat and, once the process is completed, you run it all on to the second vat, and so on. Of course, this method works well enough, but it forces you to set up very large installations, and it’s difficult to guarantee a constant quality. Through continuous fermentation it should be possible to tackle the brewing process as a single whole, in a sort of moving belt. That’s more compact, and much easier to control. It’s been proven to be possible at lab scale, but the step up to industrial-scale production is still rather large.”
“Our third area of research is directed towards understanding and, more particularly, controlling flocculation – the clustering of yeast cells at the end of the fermentation process. This has consequences for many properties of the beer. We are also conducting intensive research into the formation of smells and flavours by the yeast. And how do you control the many aspects of the fermentation process? This is very international and interdisciplinary research in which we co-operate, for instance, with professors Thevelein and Winderickx from the laboratory for molecular cell biology, and with the universities of Oxford, Stellenbosch and Otago.”
“Our last-mentioned field of research is actually a carry-over from earlier research. A few decades ago, some beers still contained rather a lot of nitrosamines, toxic substances formed during the oasting and kiln-drying of the malt – not that it made you seriously ill, but it was undesirable. That’s hardly still the case these days, but the apparatus and expertise is now applied in certain tests on other food products. Incidentally: beer is at least as healthy as red wine, if you drink in moderation, that is. It has a demonstrably positive effect on the heart and the blood vessels.”

Students learn beer-drinking

“Our lab is a little unusual with, for example, its close connection with the industry, but also, of course, the object of our research. The outside world is probably having a good laugh at our expense, but that doesn’t worry us. Beer is an important product, and it would be naive not to study it. The apparatus to detect and quantify the many hundreds of components and volatile substances is not only very expensive, but also demands a high degree of technical expertise. That’s why our graduates have no problems finding work in the sector.”
“A ‘nice beer’ is clearly a question of taste. Despite the usefulness of all the physical and chemical analyses, the flavour – taste and smell – of our numerous beer varieties is still the main criterion. We pay close attention to the sensory side of beer-drinking, tasting if you will. That is, of course, partially subjective, but many aspects can still be quantified and learnt. We always need ‘connoisseurs’ and fine palates. We even train them. Twice a week we hold tasting sessions – double blind, in dark glasses, without speaking to each other, in order to be able to judge as objectively as possible. To be admitted, our students must first learn how to taste. The course lasts approximately one year, during which they train to taste ‘chemically guided’. If a brewer asks us to judge his product, we, or our tasters, must be able to tell him something about the taste, but also about the technical aspects behind the taste. Our panels must therefore be well trained. And is that always pleasant? I should say so. Commitment to this work and the projects is especially high in this lab. Could this be perhaps because we combine the pleasant and the useful?”

Source: Campuskrant KU Leuven, 20 June 2002. Author: Ludo Meyvis


Beer prescriptions a wash


(CNN) — It is assumed that beer drinkers celebrated Tuesday when the Wall Street Journal reported that two studies indicated moderate levels of beer may be good for your health. Before you go out and ask your doctor for a prescription for beer, however, you might want to read a little further. CNN anchor Carol Lin double-checked this brewing story with CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Should we believe this?
Cohen:Well, we called the authors of those studies and what we found was that actually that is not completely true. Sorry to disappoint anybody.

The first study, done by Kaiser Permanente, said there was no statistically significant evidence that showed that … beer drinking was any healthier for you than drinking red wine or alcohol.

In the case of a second study at Harvard, the author said … it did appear that beer helped lower blood pressure better than red wine or spirits, but you know what, we didn’t make a big deal of it … because we still think that any kind of alcohol in moderation is good for your health. We don’t think beer is any better.

As a matter of fact, let’s take a look at what these Harvard researchers said. The first one said, “We didn’t find any real difference in the type of alcohol for the prevention of heart disease.”

And the second researcher said, and I thought this was pretty interesting, “Alcohol is alcohol is alcohol.”

Now … alcohol appears to be good for your health [for] a couple reasons. It seems to lower your blood pressure. It seems to raise your good cholesterol, which is a good thing. And it also appears to make your platelets less sticky, and that’s a good thing for prevention of heart attacks and stroke.

But the key is, it has to be moderate drinking. So let’s take a look at what moderate drinking actually is.

Moderate drinking for women is up to one drink per day. That is not a lot. Let me repeat that. One drink per day. Not a lot. For men, up to two drinks per day is what can help protect your health. If people drink more than this, either you don’t get any benefit, or if you really keep drinking more, it actually harms your health.

You might wondering, one drink a day or two drinks a day, what exactly is a drink?

A 12-ounce beer, that would be considered one drink.

So not the super size kind that you get at the ballpark.
Cohen: Right, not the super malt, whatever. One 12-ounce. And five ounces of wine, either red or white, both appear to be about the same in terms of health usefulness, or a one and a half ounce shot of alcohol.

All right. OK. So either way, one drink for women, two drinks for men. Those sizes. No more benefit to beer than wine or alcohol.
Cohen: No

The bottom line?
Cohen: The bottom line. What is interesting is that everyone said, Oh, red wine is good for your heart. And it turns out that is not true either. Alcohol is alcohol is alcohol.

Source: CNN


Moderate beer consumption as healthy as wine


A study conducted at the University of New England (UNE) has shown that beer has the same positive effect as wine through the reduction of the cholesterol content and the prevention of cell death in the body.

Professor Ken Watson from the School of Biological, Biomedical and Molecular Science in UNE studied the effect of drinking on the level of antioxidant in the blood.
“Moderate drinking produces two effects”, says Watson. “There’s the alcohol that reduces the bad cholesterol and increases the good cholesterol, and there’s also the presence of antioxidants in the drink itself”. “From this standpoint, beer is just as good as wine”, he adds.
Antioxidants in wine, known as polyphenols, are present in the seeds and skins of grapes and are concentrated during the fermentation process.
They act as removers of free radicals, destructive forms of oxygen that damage the DNA and can lead to a premature ageing and death of the cell. The research by Professor Watson and his team, which was made up entirely of men, consisted of the drinking of beer and red and white wine during a series of sessions lasting two hours each. Blood samples were taken at regular intervals.
The level of antioxidants in the blood rose after the drinking of red wine and beer, but less so after the drinking of white wine.
“Thanks to our work we have exploded the myth that red wine is a more effective source of antioxidants than beer”, says Watson. “The scientific proof that moderate drinking is good for the health is now overwhelming”.
However, that does not mean that the level of antioxidants continues to increase the more you drink. According to Watson there was no further increase in the protective effect after the consumption of two standard drinks. He added that total abstainers did not have to go over to alcohol because of the advantages of antioxidants, which are present in grape juice anyway.
“This does not mean that a non-drinker or a total abstainer must take up drinking”, said the professor. “What we’re saying is that it’s good news for the moderate drinker, but moderation remains the key”.
Moderate drinking is defined as two standard drinks per day for men and one to two per day for women. Professor Watson hopes to be able to repeat his research with female subjects.