By Matt Allyn & Matt Bean, Men’s Health
Beer makes you feel good. You knew that. But you don’t realize just how good. Recent research has revealed bioactive compounds in beer that battle cancer, boost your metabolism, and more. And these benefits come on top of the oft-touted upsides of moderate alcohol intake: clot prevention, cleaner arteries, and reduced stress. Just in time for the summer, we set out with a stack of studies, a panel of parched testers, and a full fridge to find the best-tasting, healthiest brews available. Enjoy.
Best Hops Delivery Vehicle: Avery Maharaja Imperial India Pale Ale
Hops help cut the sweetness in a beer, delivering a crisp citrus-and-pine kick to the back of your tongue. But the cone-shaped hops flower is more than just a flavor savior. Researchers have shown that it’s also a significant source of cholesterol-lowering, cancer-fighting, and virus-killing compounds called polyphenols. What’s more, “Just one 12-ounce beer a day decreased fibrinogen, a clotting factor, and increased albumin, which is very important for protein metabolism,” says Shela Gorinstein, Ph.D., a researcher at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and the author of a 2007 study on the bioactivity of beer. In our taste test, the winner was a smooth, fruity India Pale Ale (IPA) brewed with 8 pounds of hops per barrel. It boasts 80 times the hops of a mass-market lager.
Runner-Up: Southern Tier Unearthly IPA
Also Try: North Coast Brewing Red Seal Ale, Harpoon IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Stone IPA, Two Hearted Ale
Best Low-Cal Beer: Beamish Irish Stout
The typical low-cal beer is run through a deflavorizing machine on its way to the bottle. “Most of the calories come from the alcohol content and whatever residual sugars may be left after fermentation,” says Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery. We sought a brew that would go easy on the waistline without disappointing the palate. Darker beers have a major advantage here: They’re relatively low in alcohol and have thick, creamy, smoky finishes. When the cans were emptied, Beamish stood tall. It contains about 130 calories per 12-ounce can, but with a full flavor and sturdy dark-chocolate notes.
Runner-Up: New Belgium Skinny Dip
Also Try: Sam Adams Light, Guinness Draught, Sprecher Micro-Light Ale, Mahr’s Bräu Leicht, Shiner Light
Best Organic Beer: Wolaver’s India Pale Ale
The German Beer Purity Law of 1516 restricted “true” beer to three ingredients: water, barley, and hops. Today’s megabrewery beers are anything but pure. A 2003 FDA study found that 27 percent of barley and 32 percent of nonorganic wheat products carried pesticide residues. What’s worse, a loophole in the USDA organic-certification standard allows pesticide-grown hops. Our winner, an IPA with a pleasant aftertaste, is made with wheat from organic farms near the brewer’s Vermont facility. “We track every detail of every organic ingredient,” says Max Oswald, a Wolaver’s spokesman.
Runner-Up: Butte Creek Brewing Pilsner
Also Try: Peak Organic Amber, Dupont Foret, Old Plowshare Stout, Orlio India Pale Ale, Samuel Smith’s Organic Ale
Best Alterna-Brew: He’Brew Origin Pomegranate Ale
Novelty beers can be cloying — you can’t drink more than one — and few of the added ingredients pack health benefits. In our taste test, our top pick featured the antioxidant-laden superfruit, pomegranate, shown to combat cancer and lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and heart disease. In a 2006 UCLA study, for example, men who drank a glass of pomegranate juice every day reduced prostate-cancer cell growth by 12 percent. Brewers dump more than 150 gallons of pomegranate juice into every batch (equivalent to 10,000 pomegranates, or half of a fruit per bottle), giving the final product a rasp- berry-like flavor that allows the malt and hops to come through.
Runner-Up: Dogfish Head Black & Blue
Also Try: Barons Black Wattle Ale, Rogue Juniper Pale Ale, Lindemans Framboise, Kelpie Seaweed Ale
Best Bottle-Conditioned Beer: Brooklyn Brewery Local 1
With bottle-conditioned beers, brewer’s yeast is added right before the bottle is closed, reigniting the fermentation process. The result: deeper flavors, extra effervescence, and, it turns out, many health benefits—the yeast is a rich source of B-complex vitamins, protein, and minerals such as chromium. “German doctors used to prescribe bottle-conditioned wheat beer to patients with vitamin deficiencies,” says Oliver. As a probiotic organism, yeast helps your body break down nutrients, regulates your digestive system, maintains your nervous system, and even helps modulate blood-sugar levels. Oliver’s Local 1 won with a balanced blend of spices and subtle malt flavors. Bonus: Its brewmaster uses twice the yeast.
Runner-Up: Southampton Grand Cru
Also Try: Ommegang Hennepin, Tripel Karmaliet, Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Hell, Allagash White, La Fin du Monde
Best Dark Malt: Trappistes Rochefort 8
The smooth, deep finish of a dark malt develops during the same high-temperature roasting process that fuels the formation of antioxidants. “Dark beers are loaded with them,” says Joe Vinson, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Scranton. Vinson showed in a 2003 study that stouts, porters, and browns contain more than twice the antioxidants of lagers, on average. What’s more, “The antioxidants in beer are better at reacting with toxic free radicals than the ones in antioxidant vitamin pills.” The Rochefort’s creamy cocoa and caramel notes won us over.
Runner-Up: Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
Also Try: Alaskan Smoked Porter, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown, Anchor Porter, Shakespeare Stout, Ayinger Celebrator