If you pay any attention to beer then you’ve likely seen the ridiculously stupid blog post “8 Beers You Should Stop Drinking Immediately.” It’s mostly bullshit.
The blog post tries to scare people by telling them that big brewers are using GMO corn, corn syrup, fish bladder, and something with the scary name of carrageenen in their beers. The biggest problem with this post is that it provides zero evidence that any of this is true (although some of it is), and zero context.
Ahhhhh! There are fish bladders in my beer!
Isinglass, which is made from fish bladders, has been used in the production of some beers since at least the 1700s. Isinglass is used most heavily in English ales, many wines, and all kinds of foods. In fact, isinglass has been used in food for 7,000-10,000 years. This isn’t news. The only people that may need to be concerned about isinglass in their beer are vegetarians and vegans. But even then, the isinglass doesn’t make it into the finished beer.
So what exactly is isinglass and why is it used? It’s a type of collagen, part of the structural proteins of basically every animal on this planet. Your body is full of collagen. The reason it is used in some beers is that suspended yeast cells, proteins, and other things that make beer cloudy will cling to the isinglass. The isinglass falls to the bottom of the fermenting tank taking all the cloudy particles with it. It is then left behind when the beer is transferred for bottling or kegging. This results in a much clearer beer (or wine), and the isinglass never actually makes it into the final product. .
Carrageenen sounds kinda like cancer. Is cancer in my beer? Ahhhh!
Carrageenen, known by it’s more common name Irish Moss, is a type of red seaweed. It’s perfectly natural and edible. It turns into a gel when boiled and helps to clarify the beer in a similar way as isinglass. It also does not find its way into the final beer, and if it did you could just count your beer as a serving of vegetables.
Photo Credit: seaveg.com
What about cancer causing caramel coloring?!?
Maybe I missed it but I haven’t seen any evidence that Newcastle uses caramel coloring. I’ve actually never seen a brewer use artificial coloring in a beer. And why would they? There are so many options for getting the perfect color by using caramel malt or other forms of malted barley. Variations in the malting process can contribute an incredible array of color in malted barley, much like the roasting process for coffee creates light and dark beans.
Photo Credit: wineandhop.com
If Newcastle does use caramel coloring then how do we know that they’re using class 3 and 4, which the article cites as known carcinogens? Again, the writer is making claims while offering nothing to back them up. It’s possible that the writer is correct, but you shouldn’t make big claims without equally big evidence. It’s not just wrong but you’re opening yourself up to a lawsuit if the claims end up being false.
It is possible that Newcastle is using these artificial colorings, but I’ve not yet been able to find any evidence of this. If anyone has evidence please place them in the comments.
*The following edit was added 30 Jan 2015*
Newcastle has acknowledged that they have been using caramel coloring and will be removing it. They have apparently been using it since 1927 and will soon start using roasted malts for their coloring.
* End edit*
And the propylene glycol that’s supposedly in Corona?
The big problem with this claim is that again there is no evidence to back it up. The article also only says that “Propylene Glycol is controversial, and is said to may be potentially harmful to your health.” But the FDA lists it as “generally recognized as safe”, and concluded it belongs in the same category as things like wheat starch, dill, and vitamin C.
Propylene glycol is commonly used as a food safe refrigerant/antifreeze, and not as a brewing ingredient. If it was in the beer it would likely be from a leak in the cooling system, but big breweries check for glycol before shipping their beers and routinely inspect their systems for leaks. I’ve read that some foods have propylene glycol as an ingredient to add body, but Corona wants its beer to be as light as possible. There is no reason I know of for them to intentionally put propylene glycol in their beer.
If you want to guarantee that you won’t ever come in contact with propylene glycol then you shouldn’t drink any commercial beer, should never buy food from a supermarket, or eat anything that spent time in a refrigerated warehouse.
*The following edit was added on 20 June 2014*
To see if there is propylene glycol in Corona, we can look at a Corona label from Germany. Germany requires that beer labels list absolutely everything that goes into the beer. If propylene glycol was in Corona then it would have to be listed.
Photo from Lowgluten.org
The list of ingredients on that bottle translates to: Water, Malted Barley, Corn, Rice, Hops, Papain, Antioxidant Ascorbic Acid, Stabilizer: E 405 Alginate (Propylene Glycol Alginate)
So there is Propylene Glycol Alginate (PGA) in Corona, but it’s a completely different chemical than propylene glycol. PGA is what is known as an ester. Esters are made through a reaction between alcohols and acids. In this case propylene glycol is the alcohol and the acid is alginic acid, a fatty acid that is naturally found in various forms of seaweed (who knew there was so much seaweed in beer?). PGA is an emulsifier that is typically used to thicken up certain types of food. This is definitely the first time I’ve ever seen PGA in a beer, but I have seen it used in cheap liquors. Normally you find it in salad dressing, ice cream, frosting, baked goods, cheeses, and other foods you want to thicken up. I suspect that Corona uses PGA so that their ridiculously thin beer manages to maintain its head.
If you’re worried about PGA then keep in mind that the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States have all deemed PGA to be safe for human consumption. Also, the amount of PGA that the FDA allows in beer is on average about 40% less than the amount allowed in other types of food. It is possible some future study will find PGA has some hazardous effects, but that is currently not the case.
What are the other ingredients listed on Corona? Papain is an enzyme that comes from the papaya fruit. It breaks down proteins that can make beer cloudy. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is used to protect the beer from oxidation.
If you’re worried about consuming any of these things then just avoid Corona, but you could also just avoid it because it’s a terrible beer. All of the effects of these artificial ingredients could be achieved using various brewing malts, other more natural ingredients, or using better processes. But don’t expect that any time soon because the goal with Corona is to brew as cheap a beer as possible.
*End of edit*
What about GMO corn and high fructose corn syrup?
I’m not going to argue whether or not high fructose corn syrup is safe, but some of the big brewers will use a type of corn syrup in their beers to help lighten the body and flavor, but it’ snot exactly high fructose corn syrup. What they use is more like liquefied corn that they use because it’s easier to preserve than raw corn. It is also really cheap and cuts costs. You will usually find this in American light lagers like those from Budweiser, Miller, Coors, or PBR. The thing to keep in mind here though is that the fructose is 100% fermentable and all of it is turned into alcohol and CO2 (and some other trace by products from fermentation). You are not drinking high fructose corn syrup in your beer.
Many brewers also use powdered dextrose (D-glucose), commonly called “corn sugar.” Dextrose is also used to lighten beers because it is 100% fermentable and creates a drier, lighter mouthfeel. Even though it’s called corn sugar (or grape sugar) it’s actually found in all kinds of plants, and is a primary product of photosynthesis. It isn’t fructose, it isn’t a syrup, and 100% of it is fermented by the yeast to become primarily alcohol and CO2.
Now if you’re freaked out by GMO corn then I guess it’s possible that the fructose or dextrose being used could come from GMO corn. I don’t really feel like arguing whether or not GMO foods are bad, but we’re talking about almost 100% pure forms of dextrose and fructose. Anything else in the corn has been left behind.
If you want to avoid GMO corn then skip most of the American light lagers. Stick to local craft brands, or even better, just make your own damn beer and know exactly what’s in it.
***This post was edited to correctly identify propylene glycol as an antifreeze rather than a refrigerant***
***Since writing this post I’ve discovered there is a very well researched, well written, and much more in-depth post from another blogger on the same subject. You can check it out here.***