Beer Matters

A little of what you fancy does you good

You may remember the story in The Nine Tailors of Lord Peter Wimsey standing in at the last moment to enable the band of Fenchurch St Paul to go for their record length of Kent Major. Alf Donnington, the publican, had provided “the usual” and the ringers availed themselves as the Rector relieved them from their ropes in turn. Not permissible under today’s rules of course, but how very civilised (and probably vital to one’s sanity when faced with the prospect of another six or seven hours of Kent TB)!

It would seem Dorothy L. Sayers knew a thing or two about beer. It was she who coined the phrase “Guinness is good for you” while working as a copywriter at S. H. Benson’s advertising agency. That phrase became one of the most successful slogans of all time and no doubt provoked rival stout maker Mackeson to come up with “It looks good, tastes good and by golly it does you good”. Sadly in these politically correct times advertisements are not allowed to say that beer is good for you - even if it is!

Various researchers have suggested that moderate drinkers have a better life expectancy than teetotallers. Although they may differ on what constitutes moderation, the general implication seems to be that the limits we have been set as recommended maxima are in fact the optimum amount to drink. According to the much-quoted Danish study (Copenhagen Institute of Preventive Medicine) which began in 1976 and published its findings nearly 20 years later, the downward curve is a gentle one and you have to drink a fair amount (about 70 units a week) to be worse off than a total abstainer. But, so much for alcohol in general, what about beer in particular?

Max drinking a pint of Winter Warmer

Earlier this year the Beer Academy ( produced a report “Beer, the natural choice?” which explains some of the health-giving properties of our national drink. Beer is rich in B-group vitamins, dietary fibre and antioxidants. It also contains significant amounts of silicon, which plays an important role in the synthesis of collagen and increases bone density. This is nothing new, of course; in past centuries even children drank “small beer”, not only because it was safer than the often contaminated water but also because it was a valuable source of nutrients. The monks of Orval referred to their beer as “liquid bread”. Until quite recently doctors were wont to prescribe stout to patients recovering from illness or otherwise in need of sustenance.

The report stresses that British beer is a wholesome product. And it generally always has been, apart from a brief period in the middle of the last century when various undesirable additives became commonplace until the CAMRA-led consumer revolt prompted a return to more traditional ways. Nowadays, as I mentioned in my last column on Sambrooks, most British brewers take a pride in the quality and provenance of their ingredients. (So undoubtedly do the Czechs and Belgians, while the purity of German beer has been protected by the Rheinheitsgebot since the 16th century.)

As for the myth of the ”beer belly“, it’s official: beer doesn’t make you fat. It contains no fat or cholesterol and, measure for measure, fewer calories than other drinks. (Beer does of course have a tendency to make you hungry, but we needn’t go into that now.)

And just in case you are worried about those units, when you drink beer, whether it’s pints in the pub or bottles at home, it’s easy to know exactly how much you’ve had (compared with, say, pouring yourself a couple of gins or having your dinner host top up your wine glass again). The report also praises community pubs and raises some interesting points about drinking in a social setting being far better for your emotional wellbeing than drinking alone.

So there you have it. This Christmas you can raise a glass of something rich and heart-warming or hoppy and refreshing knowing it’s good for your body and soul.

Maximus Bibendus

Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.

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