Even though it’s September, Germany is currently celebrating Oktoberfest, an annual two-and-a-half-week beer festival and fun-fair that dispenses over 2 million gallons of beer each year.
Many drinkers know about the potential downsides of beer consumption — alcohol addiction and hangovers, for instance — but we asked a registered dietitian, a licensed counselor and two brewers at “the first gay brewery in the world” about the potential health, psychological and community benefits of beer.
The Health Benefits of Beer
Studies of the health benefits of beer have linked the ingestion of two 12-ounce beers a day (for men) to boosts in “good” HDL cholesterol, a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, thinner blood (for avoiding clots) and a lower risk of stroke. The American Heart Association backs most of these findings, but adds that you can also get similar benefits through exercising and eating vegetables.
Manuel Villacorta — a registered dietitian, nutritionist, founder of Whole Body Reboot, an online wellness and weight loss program, and former contributor to healthygaylifestyles.com — rarely ever tells clients to cut beer from their diet entirely, but will suggest that they reduce their consumption if it conflicts with their health goals, like trying to cut down on their belly fat, for example.
“If you’re constantly putting alcohol in the system, you most likely stop fat loss completely, even if you’re eating fewer calories to lose weight,” he says.
While most people pay attention to the high calories in beer, Villacorta pays more attention to a person’s metabolic rate, which is how quickly the body processes nutrients put into it.
“Your liver can only detoxify alcohol at a slow rate. So if you are drinking faster than the liver can actually filter it out, you intoxicate, and there have been cases where people actually die of intoxication.”
A person’s metabolic rate varies by factors such as genetics, exercise and age.
Light beer will reduce your carbohydrate intake, Villacorta says, but it won’t reduce the amount of alcohol in your system. And while beer has carbohydrates the body can use to create energy, he wouldn’t recommend using beer to take the place of other nutrient rich carbohydrates.
“You’re cutting out a lot of good nutrition by cutting out fruits and drinking beer instead,” he says. For instance, fruit and multigrain bread can contain fiber, antioxidants or other nutrients like potassium or vitamin C that beers often lack.
The Psychological Benefits of Beer
“When you take any mood- or mind-altering substance, the benefit is that it lowers inhibitions that keep us from putting ourselves out there. Beer can do just that and help hush the noise of shame that tell us there’s something inadequate about who we are, and we feel more confident to have more of a voice and be seen,” says Matthew Dempsey, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor with a popular YouTube channel covering topics such as slut-shaming, racism and body image.
“Any alcohol or drug is neutral in reality, not good or bad,” he continues. “The intention and practice behind its use is what can be problematic. Drink too much, too frequently and never give yourself a chance to push through some social fears and prove with no substance that you’re just fine … then we probably got some problems on our hands. Time to make an appointment with me.”
He acknowledges that alcoholism is a problem in the LGBTQ community because we’re a marginalized group with disproportionate levels of shame and feelings of inadequacy because we grew up in a world that told us we weren’t normal and something’s off or broken.
“Fuck that,” he says, “so not true, but we internalize those messages. Anytime we deny that, we push the shame further down and need more substances to help us open up more so we can meet the natural human need to connect.”
If you find it hard to socialize in large groups of strangers unless you’ve had a beer or two, Dempsey says it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s normal to feel some discomfort around a lot of people, especially people you don’t know or don’t know well. “Humans have a natural aversion to anything unknown,” he says.
Dempsey adds that social anxiety can sometimes come from self-talk that we’re not cute enough, smart enough, funny enough or (fill in the blank) enough. “Though irrational, shame and feelings of inadequacy are common fears for everybody,” he says.
Dempsey adds that once you’re aware of your fear, you can start to challenge that false narrative by re-writing the script. “Take what you now are more conscious of and aware as irrational and get your ass out there anyway,” he says. “Experiment with waiting at least 30 minutes before grabbing a drink. If you’re still that uncomfortable, then have one. At least you’re trying anything new and maybe you’ll surprise yourself with how comfortable you can get on your own first.”
If you continue to struggle with socializing without alcohol, Dempsey suggests checking in, going to to therapy, finding support groups, opening up and being vulnerable with friends.
“Whatever ways we can start connecting more meaningfully with others, as uncomfortable as that can be at times, is the key to a positive self-concept and will organically decrease the need for substances or anything else external to boost our self-esteem and ability to be more social,” he says.
The Social Benefits of Beer
It’s no accident that some of the first rumblings of the modern LGBTQ rights movement started in bars like The Black Cat and The Stonewall Inn. Gay bars have long provided a safe space where LGBTQ people can let down their guard, experiment and connect with others.
But bars and breweries have also provided a common meeting ground and a bridge to other beer drinkers and community activists, regardless of their sexuality, says Chris Daigneau, Assistant Brewer with the Hillcrest Brewery Company, a San Diego beer-maker that touts itself as the “first gay brewery in the world.”
Hillcrest Brewery is gay-owned and operated, most of their staff identifies as LGBT and they serve up beer with innuendo-filled names like Crotch Rocket, Banana Hammock and Pearl Necklace.
They’re located in the middle of San Diego’s gayborhood — near the starting point for the city’s annual HIV Walk and Pride parade — and work with community organizations like the San Diego LGBT Community Center, Mama’s Kitchen (an organization that prepares and delivers food to people living with HIV) and the HIV-fundraiser Red Dress Party.
Every year they also create a Red Ribbon Ale and release it on World HIV Day with proceeds going to the Scripps HIV Research Center.
Shaver, Hillcrest Brewery’s Head Brewer, says the visibility of openly LGBTQ brewers and drinkers in the larger community remind others of our presence and community contributions, challenging stereotypes about who (and where) we are.
At beer festivals attended by Hillcrest Brewing, Shaver has occasionally heard less accepting people say, “Oh, this is good beer for a gay beer.”
Though he hears that a lot less now than he did when he first started working with the brewery two-and-a-half years ago, he says, “I was always like, ‘That’s fucked up. It’s good beer for a beer.’ That’s been my go to response whenever anybody says that, no matter who they are.”
Daigneau adds that the communal aspect of bars has less to do with consuming alcohol itself — although he has been happy to see different sub-groups in the LGBTQ community, like sports teams and leather groups, drink at his brewery. Rather, he believes that it’s the safe space, welcoming spirit and ability to meet others that give breweries, bars and festivals (like Oktoberfest) their positive community appeal.
Featured image by izusek via iStock