I’ve been drinking craft beer for the better part of 4 years (it’s part of my day-job, afterall) and it’s taken me up to this point to really understand the why’s and how’s behind craft beer hangovers. Through these 4 years of experimentation, I’ve learned that it’s not as simple as “hydrate,” “drink less alcohol,” and “take your b-vitamins.”
So in an altruistic effort to help my fellow man drink craft and avoid hangovers, I’ve decided to put on paper and share my operating system for craft beer, and how I optimized my craft beer drinking for minimum hangovers and maximum fun.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO DRINK CRAFT BEER WITHOUT A HANGOVER? A LOT OF N=1 EXPERIMENTS!
Hangovers are, in my opinion, craft beer’s biggest problem. The inexperienced public is completely uneducated about craft beer alcohol content, ingredients, brewing methods and everything-that-can-go-wrong in making, transporting, selling, storing, and drinking beer.
Lack of knowledge about craft beer is forgivable. Craft beer as we drink it is very new. We’re used to watered down, low ABV (alcohol by volume) light beers that are often made with rice and corn instead of malt. We consume in those beers cheap hops rather than potent, fresh and expensive hops. And the yeast strains used are often weak, water-down yeast strains that are recycled over and over and over again to minimize brewing expense. The name of the game is “cheap” all while maintaining a specific flavor for years on end.
Craft beer, on the other hand, can pack both a drunk punch, and an unexpected dietary load of robust yeast strains, fresher and more potent hops, malt, and more exotic chemistry soups created by potent yeast and grain involved in fermentation. The average supermarket craft beer can range anywhere from 5% to 8%, vs. 3.5-5% for domestic lagers, and contain a much greater range of chemical features that will impact hangovers in a way a can of Miller Lite won’t.
There are a lot of variables to keep track of. Here are the high-level categories I keep in mind when selecting beer: BREWING, AGE, STORAGE & SUPPLY CHAIN. Or, BASS, for short.
- BREWING PROCESS – The location and water supply, brewing process, and ingredients (skill of brewer, quality of ingredients, brewing process, style of beer, etc.). You want good water supply, preferably fresh from a powerful natural filtration system (as example: mountain range-fed natural spring system).
- AGE – How old is the beer? Fresher is almost always better unless we are speaking of ageable beers like imperial stouts or sours. Was the beer brewed yesterday? One week ago? One month ago? Three months ago?
- STORAGE & SUPPLY CHAIN – Was the beer properly refrigerated and stored? Was it properly stored even before it came into your possession? Was it exposed to sunlight? Were there large temperature fluctuations in the storage area? Are you getting the beer close to the source? Are you getting the beer from a restaurant or bar that regularly cleans their lines?
All of these things can easily affect a beer and transform a beer from enjoyable and hang-over free to OUCH! ANGRY! HANGOVER! RAR!
Your personal biology plays a big role too! Some of you out there can crush Dogfish Head 120 Minute all day, no problem. Others are less lucky. There are TONS of considerations here and each person who wants to enjoy craft beer is responsible for figuring this mess out for their own biology.
ON TO ME!
Over time I’ve developed a beer-drinking formula to minimize hangovers and MAXIMIZE FUN. Here are some notes from my beer-drinking operating system:
- I drink fresh beer. I always check canned/bottled-on dates. Young fresh beer, for the most part, is going to yield less hangover potential. Take away: Check dates, drink fresh beer.
- When I drink draft beer, I ask when the keg was tapped and when the lines were cleaned. Dirty beer draft lines can contain gross accumulation of stuff that I don’t want to consume. Take away: be that guy at the bar. Ask when they cleaned their lines.
- I only drink Ales. Lagers crush me for whatever reason. I’m not entirely sure why. It has something to do with the yeast used and the metabolites of ale yeast vs. lager yeast. Take away: you might respond differently to Ales vs. Lagers. Test it out.
- I avoid malty, carbonated beers with low hops. I consistently feel terrible when drinking amber ales and golden ales, but weirdly enough I do fine on very high ABV beers with low carbonation like Imperial Stouts and Imperial Porters, so I don’t think it’s necessarily the sugar content. I think it’s the sugar content without the preservative power of hops and/or alcohol, and I also think there is a possibility that something funky is going on with my bodies reaction to carbonated beverages. Another data point: la croix gives me headaches. Take away: hops and alcohol preserve beer, so counterintuitively these ingredients may actually help you avoid hangovers brought on by spoiled beer, as long as you don’t consume too much alcohol. Test it out.
- I avoid sours. Sour beers are ales fermented with bacteria, usually lactobacillus. Something about the bacteria and/or the metabolites of the bacteria mess my head up. Take away: Sours might be an issue. Test it out.
- West-Coast style IPAs tend to have less malt and more citrusy hops. Whether it’s the water sources in California, the hops, the malt, the yeast… whatever it is, I tend to have less hangovers with West-Coast style Pale Ales and IPAs; beers that are brewed on the West Coast. BUT I spend time on the East Coast, so the supply chain has more opportunities to mess up the storage of these beers and lead to a tainted product. Take away: find some breweries and cities that you trust, and stick with them! Beer consistently comes from cities with good water supply. I’m a fan of San Francisco-brewed beer because I’ve found I can drink more of it without hangovers. Research your beer! Know where it’s coming from and the quality of the ingredients.
This all boils down to a couple of style preferences that guide all of my beer buying decisions in an effort to feel great and keep the good times rolling with friends:
- Fresh, West Coast-style Pales and IPAs from Breweries with good fresh water supply
- Imperial Stouts from Breweries with good fresh water supply
- And when trying out new beers, I keep BASS in mind and ask questions until I’m ready to test. BREWING PROCESS, AGE, STORAGE & SUPPLY CHAIN!
What are your preferences? Do you have a craft beer drinking operating model? I’d love to know how you avoid hangovers.