The morning hangover—remember it? The pounding headache and nauseous sensations after a night of chugging back brew at your local watering hole are not easily forgotten. But what if the opportunity arose to forgo those symptoms, and others, by making the decision to drink beer created specifically for its health and wellness benefits?
In ancient times, before the commercialization of hops, barley and yeast in brewing, people were using ingredients found in nature to make beer—and quell ailments. Birch sap, spruce, juniper, yarrow and dandelion were some of the many plants and herbs used for fermentation, each offering its own flavour profile and healing characteristics. Stephen Harrod Buhner's Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation details beer's history, and features a collection of recipes using naturally sourced ingredients.
Erica Fraser is a fan of Buhners' work and has combined her background in biology, quality control and passion for being "sustainable and ecologically responsible" into experimenting with medicinal ingredients at Good Robot. "This is the beginning of my research and practice of it," says Fraser. "I have been learning about herbalism and wild herbs and their medicinal properties for a few years now but never in the context of beer."
NSLC's regulations don't allow product to "make any claim, directly or indirectly, which implies or attributes to any liquor, either alone or as a mixture, any healthful, nutritive, dietary, curative, sedative, or stimulative quality or properties" and therefore prevents the labelling or advertising of beers as "medicinal". But Fraser feels consumers can decide for themselves the benefits of using such ingredients.
"There is another way to brew beer," argues Fraser, citing the intensive use of energy, water and fossil fuel in grain and hops agriculture and the brewing industry. She thinks the solution requires mindful drinking, natural ingredients, and eliminating our carbon footprint as much as possible. "I know you need a sugar source, yeast and water, but having hops in beer doesn't make it a beer. It just helps preserve it."
Good Robot Brewery currently features Baba Yaga Chaga Brown beer, made with chaga fungus found on birch trees—an antioxidant, immune system booster and anti-inflammatory agent. The brewery also made the 4th Chamber (Brew-Tang), a sour ale that contains a probiotic and uses haskap berries, known for their antioxidant properties. Boxing Rock and Picaroons both make ales with heather, while Garrison has used lavender, spruce and honey, all ingredients said to have healing properties for things like inflammation.
"Taking beer a little more seriously in ways that mattered," says Fraser, "could be a great opportunity to learn about our bodies and nature."