Beer and the Body

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Three weeks ago I was tailgating with a large group of friends on our college campus. Our senses were surrounded by: tables butted together and loaded down with tailgating food, laughter, an abundance of beverages, sizzling meats on the grill, the college band, rain in the air, cheering, traffic, children playing, and, conversations of every nature.

Seated under the back edge of one of the canopies was my friend, Todd. Getting a glimpse of one another we waved; we hadn’t seen each other since late spring. Chit-chatting he inquired how my job was going and I replied how much I enjoyed my work and even contributed to a food blog. Todd leaned back, raised an eyebrow, smiled, and, said “A food blog? How does that work? What do you write about?” I smiled back and informed him that there were endless possibilities as to what I could write about and that inspiration comes from many sources, such as: my own experiences, reading material, television and radio programs, attending events, listening to others, and on, and on, and on! I said, “I cannot give health advice, but, I can quote someone or make reference to another source if the information adds to the body of my blog.”

It was obvious that the wheels were turning in Todd’s mind about this concept of writing a blog. Leaning back again, he said “I have a challenge for you!” “Okay, tell me about it!” I replied. He said, “I know someone that says they become more intoxicated when consuming light beer as opposed to regular beer. Why is that?” Hmmm, I was puzzled right then because I didn’t believe that was a possible scenario. I asked, “Does it have anything to do with the hops?” I was grasping at straws, I didn’t have any inclination as to a reason….Todd didn’t know either. My turn to lean back…”I accept your challenge Todd. I’ll find out what I can and once I finish a blog about this subject I’ll let you know.” GAME ON!

Back at work, in between other responsibilities, I began gathering information about beer to learn as much as I could. Historical notes from and tell the myriad of beverages referred to as “beer” has been made for centuries. Germans consume the most beer at about 40 gallons per person (hmmm, I wonder if Todd’s friend is German…I should’ve asked) per year. The United States ranks fourteenth in the world in beer drinking. Early attempts at brewing occurred around 7000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, but, the true origin of beer is only a theory. Egyptians and Greeks brewed alcoholic beverages using various methods, but, the term “beer” was not present in early languages. The Babylonians offered brewing recipes and there are various references to beer in the Bible. The English word “beer” seems to stem from the Celtic word “beor,” which referred to a malt brew made by monks at a North Gaul monastery. In the Middle Ages, beer became a staple when people began to live in cities where close quarters and poor sanitation made clean water difficult to find. The alcohol in beer made it safer to drink than water. Also, Monasteries were the leading producers of beer, and monks are credited with many early brewing techniques, such as the addition of hops to improve the aroma and help preserve the beer. In Germany, in the 1400s, a type of beer was made that was fermented in the winter with a different type of yeast. The beer was called a lager, and, in part due to Prohibition, a variation of this type of beer is dominant in the United Sates today. Bottled beer was introduced in 1875 by the Joseph Schiltz Brewing Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city famed for its breweries. Canned beer first came on the market in the 1930s. Starting in 1920, for 13 years, a constitutional amendment banned the production of alcoholic beverages in the United States. Prohibition forced most breweries out of business. By the time the laws were repealed in 1933, only the largest breweries had survived. These breweries sought to brew a beer with universal appeal so that it could be sold everywhere in the country. Then came World War II; food was in short supply and with many of the men overseas, breweries started brewing a lighter style of beer that is very common today. The vast majority of light beers have been watered down and contain only slightly less alcohol. The downside, light beers have been stripped of their flavor, aroma and body.


Not forgetting Todd’s friend…I began looking up everything I could on: light beer, regular beer, absorption rate factors, factors that affect intoxication, how beer is made, your body and alcohol, physical impacts of alcohol, ingredients / malting / mashing / boiling / fermentation / bottling & aging, and, drink equivalencies. There wasn’t a word, sentence, or, paragraph that supported any notion that it was possible to become more intoxicated on light beer than regular beer. So, what was Todd’s friend experiencing? How could she believe she was more under-the-influence drinking a light beer compared to drinking regular beer? Was it STATE-OF-MIND? I reflected back to a time when I was in high school and my friend and I decided to go to the drive-in. We ordered a pizza to pick up on the way and I contributed chilled sparkling juice; juice, not wine. The pizza was incredible and we topped it off with the sparkling juice. My friend started to get a little giddy and then said to me, “I can’t believe how tipsy I am on this wine!” I looked down in to my red Solo cup, looked at her and replied, “me either considering we’re drinking sparking JUICE!” She stopped mid-giggle and said, “what?!!” “That’s right,” I said, “juice!” She sobered up right away.

So, if Todd’s friend says she is more intoxicated by light beer, then what is in beer?


  • Barley (sometimes wheat, rye or other products)
  • Hops
  • Water
  • Yeast


What is the process for these ingredients to make beer?

HOW TO CREATE BEER (condensed version)

  • The MALTING Process – once the barley is harvested it is heated and dried and then cracked.
  • The MASHING Process – steeped in hot, but not boiling, water for about an hour; end result is a sweet, sticky liquid called wort.
  • The BOILING Process – once the barley is mashed, the wort is boiled for about an hour while hops and other spices are added several times.
  • The Fermentation Process – the sugar (wort) plus yeast equals alcohol and Co2.
  • Bottling and Aging – alcoholic beer has been made, but, it is still flat and noncarbonated. The flat beer is bottled, at which time it is either artificially carbonated like a soda, or if it’s going to be ‘bottle conditioned’ it is allowed to naturally carbonate via the Co2 the yeast produces. Allow to age from a few weeks to a few months.

Side note… The majority of brewing equipment is stainless steel, with the exception of the brew kettles which are copper.

According the Rev. James E. McDonald, C.S.C., Center for Student Well-Being there are many factors that influence your body’s ability to absorb and tolerate alcohol. Gender, happens to be one of them. Women have less of the enzyme dehydrogenase that breaks down alcohol in the stomach contributing to higher blood alcohol counts than men drinking the same amount of alcohol. Hormone levels also affect the body’s ability to process alcohol, and, women will experience higher blood alcohol counts drinking their regular amount of alcohol right before menstruation. Women tend to have a higher percentage of body fat and a lower percentage of water.

How are you feeling? Optimistic? Down in the dumps? The Center also notes, mood. Your mood plays a role in how alcohol affects you. If a person is feeling depressed or anxious prior to drinking these feelings can increase or become exaggerated. Remember the enzyme dehydrogenase? Well, depression, anxiety and anger are stress emotions and these can also lead to a change in the enzymes in the stomach resulting in how a person processes the alcohol.

The less a person weighs, the more you will be affected by a given amount of alcohol. For people of the same weight, even the same gender, individuals with a lower percentage of body fat will have a lower blood alcohol count than those with a higher percentage of body fat. The absorption rate of alcohol is slowed if the alcohol content is higher because the alcohol irritates the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract. An individual’s digestion process also is a factor; no matter the size of the person the liver will only digest one standard drink per hour. This center recommends eating foods high in protein, prior to consuming alcohol, to slow down the processing of alcohol in the system.

If you don’t feel well you may be dehydrated and this may result in a higher blood alcohol concentration. Keep in mind the effects of alcohol will intensify if you are fatigued. What medications are you taking? Medication and alcohol are drugs and there may be possible interactions. How fast a person consumes alcohol will determine how quickly the blood alcohol concentration will rise.

There is another factor the Rev. James E. McDonald, C.S.C., Center for Student Well-Being pointed out that I find interesting and never considered. The center states that numerous studies over the past decades have determined that a person’s preconceived expectations of alcohol determines the affect more so than the amount of alcohol. For example, people who set out to get “drunk” tended to get drunk even on look-a-like drinks.

There is a significant trend in our society today to turn food and beverage products in to light products. Beer is not exempt from this frenzy, with considerable media hype, light beer is now the most popular alcoholic beverage.

So, Todd, I feel I’ve met your challenge by providing substantial reasons why your friend responds differently to light beer than regular. I composed a humorous IN CONCLUSION sentence, but, my boss just gave the raised eyebrow look and I hit backspace a few times. CHEERS!

Credit Given To: Todd Trace from Bishopville, Ohio; Lisa Simons and Jeff McDonald from Glouster, Ohio; Todd’s anonymous friend;;;; the Rev. James E. McDonald, C.S.C., Center for Student Well-Being;