For thousands of years beer served as food and medicine; it had antiseptic, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. The health benefits of beer not only come from the grains and yeast but also the hops. Hops contain a flavonoid called xanthohumol that strongly suppresses CYP1A2 (suppressing is good), a liver enzyme that metabolizes various environmental procarcinogens such as heterocyclic amines (created during high heat cooking of meat or fish), nitrosamines (pesticides, cosmetics), and aflatoxin B1 (mold) that can lead to cancer. Hops are also a potent phytoestrogen due to 8-prenylnaringenin; something that mitigates losses in bone density and reduces the intensity of hot flashes in post-menopausal women
Beer is also slightly protective against radiation. Radiation, such as you experience when flying, is another risk factor for cancer, as it may damage cellular DNA. In one study, human volunteers were asked to drink two beers a day, and then X-rays were irradiated to blood samples collected three hours after beer consumption. The results showed that the frequency of chromosomal aberrations in lymphocytes after beer consumption was significantly lower than that before beer consumption. This effect was not attributable to alcohol, but to the compounds in beer.
Before the Beer Purity Law 500 years ago this year, other herbs were used in beer instead of hops. According to the book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, before the use of hops in beer, gruit ale was the beer staple made primarily with sweet gale, bog myrtle and yarrow. These herbs were mildly narcotic and some were considered aphrodisiacs. Due to these qualities, it was under extreme interrogation by the Protestant church. Unhappy with partying habits of the Catholics, the Protestants played a role in the banning of certain herbs and replacing them with hops, a known sedative.
If you filter the yeast out and pasteurize the beer, however; you lose most, if not all of the b-vitamins and probiotics as well as the yeast. While you will keep the benefits of compounds in barley and hops with filtered and pasteurizing, you are losing out on a major source of nutrition due to the loss of the vitamins, minerals, and probiotics.
Colonial beers were cask or bottle conditioned. When beer is “Bottle conditioned” yeast left over from the brewing process are put into the bottle with the beer to promote carbonation. Yeast inhibits oxidation and contributes complex flavors as it breaks down slowly in the bottle. Like good wine, Bottle Conditioned beer will mature over time and become better with age. With age, bottle-conditioned beers develop a rounded, smoother mouthfeel, and over the course of years, often take on winey, vinous flavors.
The flip side to this is that a pasteurized beer will certainly last longer when it is tapped than an unpasteurized beer. This is why the big three US brewers (Budweiser, Coors, and Miller) pasteurize even their keg beers. During the packaging process non pasteurized draft beers are sterile filtered and chilled to the point that any surviving bacteria, which could ferment the beer, become dormant. Kegs are kept cold (< 50°F) from the brewery to the point of dispense.
So here on the eve of Pesach, I will remind you that leavening is good for you, and unfiltered, unpasteurized beer is full of leavening. So as you scour your home for anything with yeast in it, leave the unfiltered beer somewhere out of sight for when the holiday ends. This brewer even went to the trouble of selling his chametz to “save the ales.”