Last week you read in our blog about the hottest whole grain trends of 2015. Number 13 on that list was ancient grains. Not only are ancient grains popping up on tables at home and at restaurants, but they are also being featured in a very popular holiday beverage: beer!

In addition to the holiday work parties, family parties, and performances to attend, around this time of year my friends begin participating in countless holiday themed running events including the Ugly Sweater Run, Winter Classic, and Yulefest. At each one of these celebrations, the beer is often flowing. It was the custom of serving pints at the end of races that had me thinking about beer’s past, present, and future. How did beer become a staple at these events? Isn’t beer at odds with running and health? What kinds of grains go into beer, anyway?

I didn’t have to hunt too hard to see why consuming beer after races may have become a tradition.  Some archeologists, botanists, and science writers claim it was beer, not bread that motivated our ancestors to start cultivating grain some 10,000 years ago. Beer brought groups together for celebrations and rituals even way back then, so why not today? After all, races are celebratory social gatherings, which have coincided with beer-drinking for centuries. In fact, beer has historically been seen as a nutritious beverage that fostered social bonding within communities. It was beginning to make sense…

When you think of beer, you probably don’t immediately think “nutritious”, but beer is actually made from those same healthy whole grains that the WGC promotes, and there are a lot of positives to drinking beer in moderation, as a Registered Dietitian recently explained in Runner’s World. Heart-healthy ethanol, B-vitamins (including folate), even a bit of silicon for bone health – who knew?

So what grains go into brewing beer? Here’s a brief history lesson for you: The brewing of beer using grains such as wheat, barley, rice and corn can be traced back at least to 3500 BC – even further according to those scientists above. The reason that the majority of beers nowadays use malted barley as their grain base is due to the German purity law, Reinheitsgebot, which strictly regulated the price and ingredients of beer at the start of the 16th century. Ingredients were restricted to barley, hops, and water only, resulting in the extinction of the variety of grains used in beer. Changes in Germany rippled outward, and affected beer traditions worldwide.

However, a European court of justice repealed the Reinheitsgebot in 1987, allowing a wide range of ingredients to be added back in! Great news, as these days you can find numerous libations made by craft brewers from a variety of ancient grains, such as amaranth, originally from Mexico, and sorghum, a native of Africa. Some of these include Hopworks Urban Brewery’s Organic Survival 7-Grain Stout from Oregon, Dogfish Head’s Pangaea from Delaware, and the sorghum beers from Massachusetts breweries Hopsters in Newton and Ipswich Ale Brewery in Ipswich.

What are your favorite craft beers made with unusual grains? Email me your recommendations so my friends and I can be ready for our next race!

It’s worth mentioning here that beer is not for everyone, and when consumed should be done so in moderation. Excessive consumption of alcohol is harmful, not healthy. Drink responsibly and enjoy safe, happy, and healthy holiday festivities!





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