It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m deep down in the sofa watching the footie with a few cold ones from a small fridge within arm’s reach, and all is right with the world. More than alright to be honest, because I don’t seem to be getting up as often as usual to go piss like an incontinent racehorse. Maybe my bladder is super strong today, but just maybe it’s the beer.
I’ve smugly stumbled on a great craft beer from near Valencia called Er Boqueron, which is made from the purest Mediterranean sea water. It unassumingly contains one of the best mineral contents of any beer yet to rehydrate as you drink, and unbelievably it’s really refreshing, tastes a little hoppy, and comes with an alcoholic kick. It even helps replenish electrolytes after sport, and seems to be accidentally making ground on the impossible quest for one of the holy grails of brewing: a tasty, alcoholic beer with not too noxious a hangover.
Most tellingly for Er Boqueron, produced in La Socarrada brewery in Xativa, a recent Taiwanese study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that drinking treated deep ocean seawater (partially desalinated and meticulously filtered, like in Er Boqueron) decreases recovery time after intense physical exercise associated with fatigue. It has a better mineral balance of sodium, potassium, zinc, and magnesium for recovery than much of the unregulated sports supplement market (if you go easy on quantity, more later).
Most importantly is how good it tastes. The makers say it’s great paired with tapas, Asian food, fried fish, charcuterie, and Spanish ham. But hey, don’t just take their word for it. (Nor mine, considering my burnt-out palate.) It’s been awarded two gold stars for exceptional taste by the blindfolded, tooth-extracting standards of Europe’s top chefs and sommeliers at the International Taste & Quality Instititute (iTQi). Trombone please. It even nudges the booze scale at an ideal level, at 4.8 percent, to feel pleasant warmth creeping up your spine but not nuke your whole being like a rich Belgian craft beer.
Healthwise, this is the tip of the iceberg in a giant sea of medicinal ale. Researchers at Granada University in Spain claimed that some beers could help the body replenish fluids better than water or Gatorade. There’s science on this round the world, (though often in countries with high levels of beer drinking per capita). A 2013 study in the Czech Republic (which lead the world in swilling sauce) found that there is no link between quantity of beer quaffed and circumference of waist. Meanwhile, researchers from Australia’s Griffith University’s Health Institute, impatient for the sober pill to come onto the market, have been also desperately seeking a way to avoid a hang over or drink hydrating beer after playing footie. They brewed two commercial beers packed with electrolytes—one light, one regular—and gave them to their happy research subjects after sweat-provoking games to test their fluid recovery. The electrolyte-rich light beer performed a third better.
It’s a slippery slope, though. In Canada, they may already have gone too far with Lean Machine’s “recovery ale.” It’s a rather token 0.5 percent alcohol, a protein-packed “fit beer” to replenish the body after a workout. Launching later this year by Vampt, Lean Machine’s plan is to market itself as a sports drink rather than a beer, though this is about as appealing as bacon tempeh or smoking nutmeg.
Beer is, however, full of anti-oxidant phenols. An extraordinary study in Germany showed that runners who were given non-alcoholic beer (rich with flavonoids) for three weeks before the 2009 Munich marathon got far less ill and had less inflammation afterwards than those fed a placebo.
In fact there’s a worryingly deliberate back-door beer movement going on here that I’m sure won’t catch on. I was recently offered non-alcoholic beer after an adventure race in southern Ireland (press trip—don’t ask) and I contentedly drank a few sips before I saw the alcohol-free label and then interrogated the promotion guy trying to pollute my body (in Ireland of all places). After all, from the lowliest shamateur to the pro sportsman, we all want a little buzz or a mini shindig with couple of beers after a hard match or a long race.
Then somehow my ears pricked up about a former cardiologist at Real Madrid talking about hydrating beer and barley drinks, then I heard about Er Boqueron being made with seawater. So I did a little research and ordered 12 bottles from a UK supplier. (You can also order in US.)
Shortly after it arrives, I decide to imbibe one in the sun at lunchtime after an eight-mile run, and my body is certainly craving the salts in the beer to rehydrate. I have a couple more. I get comfortable on the sofa, watching TV. It’s a good game, and another one slips down. My scientific test may have gone a little awry here, as my mate is not too keen on being the Budweiser placebo—he wants in on Er Boqueron. I may have had seven bottles to his five, as well as a few Buds, a large vodka tonic and a huge burger later that day. I sleep very well. The next day my head is not perfect (perhaps this was the vodka and the Budweiser) but I can function, not operate heavy machinery perhaps, but it’s exponentially preferable to the Guinness hangover I had recently.
So it could be the start of a healthy beer renaissance, electrolytes, phenols, nothing in excess—but like so many “good things” in life, it’s the dosing that counts. Evil in moderation as usual, otherwise this is just another irresponsible story spawning mendacious tabloid headlines, like “hangover-free beer.” Drinking 30 bottles of Er Boqueron may be more hydrating than 30 bottles of another beer, but you’ll inevitably be clutching at the strawpedos you used the night before and waking up like a gecko in the morning. Binge drinking is also likely to impair protein synthesis and undo all your good work, so it’s sadly better to be closer to David Beckham (nauseating teetotaller) than David Boon (former Australian cricketer who drank 52 cans on the flight to England in 1989) as far as sports recovery is concerned. That said, when it comes to enjoying oneself and seeking those “marginal gains” during that NFL Christmas party or the end-of-season soccer mum’s BBQ, you might thank the little man in Xativa for brewing Er Boqueron. He may just be the wizard of soz.