Isinglass, Cochineal, GMOs: What’s in Your Beer?

Ever wondered what’s in your beer? Or are you one of those people that trusts that beer manufacturers know what they’re doing and pop open a can or bottle to enjoy its contents without giving much thought to what’s actually in that can or bottle? In any case, you might be interested to know that making beer involves more than just water, barley, hops and yeast. In some cases, some of the stuff that “floats around” in your beer just might give you the heebie-jeebies and may even cause you to reconsider beer as your favorite drink.

Beer has been around for thousands of years and is currently the third-most popular drink after water and tea, which also makes it the most consumed alcoholic beverage. The popularity of beer is defined by a bunch of factors, including its taste and relatively low alcohol content, which usually gives a person a nice buzz without the fear of getting wasted (unless it’s a strong beer or is consumed in large quantities). However, beer also has some disadvantages to other products. One of the most harmful effects of beer is its contribution to weight gain. Beer contains a lot of empty calories (a regular beer can have as much as 200 calories) and very little nutrients. It can also interfere with blood sugar levels, which may cause signals to be sent to your brain telling you that you’re hungry and causing you to eat whatever you can find when you don’t really need to.

Because beer has been around for so long and has even become the national symbol of some countries and cities, it has had a long time to evolve. Whereas beer was originally brewed on a domestic scale by individual households, it currently represents a global business dominated by several large multinational companies like Anheuser Busch Inbev NV (ADR) (NYSE:BUD), which has a market share of over 30%, and Molson Coors Brewing Co (NYSE:TAP).

Since one of the keys to success in any business is to build a product that is better or at least different from others, many companies have implemented changes to their beer manufacturing processes over time. This is especially the case for smaller companies that don’t have the resources to compete with large corporations like Anheuser Busch Inbev NV (ADR) (NYSE:BUD) and Molson Coors Brewing Co (NYSE:TAP), which is why they have to focus on uniqueness.

Ievgenii Meyer/

Ievgenii Meyer/

In their pursuit of that uniqueness factor, some beer makers might have gone too far. For example, an Oregon-based brewery released a beer that was made with yeast that was cultured from the beard hairs of its brewmaster. Other examples of strange ingredients used to brew beer include bull testicles, squid ink, and even the poop of a civet that feeds on coffee beans (which is also used to make coffee, naturally).

However, most companies settled for more traditional ingredients in order to create a diversified portfolio of beers, which is why in almost every supermarket you can find strawberry-flavored, orange-flavored, banana-flavored, and other similarly-flavored fruity beers. I’ve even come across vodka-flavored beer, probably for people who see some meaning in the popular Russian phrase that “beer without vodka is a waste of money”, but don’t have the balls to actually mix the two.

On the following pages we examine isinglass, cochineal, and GMOs to find out what’s in your beer.