Beer for life
Can drinking it slow the aging process? A new study in Austria says yes -- but that may not be enough to help large domestic brewers.
NEW YORK (FORTUNE Magazine) - With St. Patrick's Day and March Madness soon upon us, Americans probably don't need any more reasons to toss back a few beers. But we'll give you some anyway.
Researchers in Austria and the Czech Republic -- two nations that drink more than their fair share of suds -- have just released studies that suggest that beer is an anti-inflammatory and can slow the aging process.
In a study published in the March issue of International Immunopharmacology, scientists at Austria's Innsbruck Medical University found that hops, a key ingredient in beer, affect the production of neopterin, a telltale sign of inflammation, and levels of the amino acid tryptophan (low levels are associated with more inflammation.)
Like red wine and green tea, whose health benefits have been widely reported, beer was found to reduce neopterin production and suppress degradation of tryptophan, according to the study. (Tryptophan is also commonly cited as the reason people feel tired after gorging on Thanksgiving turkey.)
"This suppression might be connected with the calming effect of beer," the researchers note, "since its normalizing effect on the tryptophan balance improves the availability of the 'happiness hormone' serotonin." And who wouldn't want happiness to be more available?
The Austrians noted, of course, that their findings should not be construed as an encouragement to drink alcohol. (Not that anyone would take it as such. No sir.)
Over in the Czech Republic, doctors have found that moderate beer consumption slows aging and reduces the likelihood of heart attacks in men.
Beer not only increased levels of HDL or so-called "good cholesterol," but also thwarted dangerous free radicals in the body that are believed to accelerate the progression of cardiovascular and age-related diseases.
We should note that the Czech study was paid for by a group of big Czech breweries. We should also note that Czech doctors, in an earlier, separate study, once reported that two beers a day could fight impotence.
Craft beers keep bubbling
Meanwhile, the stagnant US beer industry received some good news as sales of craft beers like Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head rose 9 percent in 2005, outpacing the growth of wine, spirits and even imported beer, which grew 7.2 percent over the same period.
Industry experts cited better distribution networks and more sophisticated consumer tastes as reasons behind the sales surge.
"People are drinking less these days, but they are drinking better beers," said Steve Hindy, founder and president of Brooklyn Brewery, which grew sales 18 percent last year to over 53,000 barrels.
The news was not so good for large domestic brewers like Anheuser-Busch (Research) and Molson Coors (Research), however. A new survey of beer wholesalers by Goldman Sachs found that the industry is unlikely to return to the growth rates it enjoyed between 1997 and 2004, when profits rose between 5 percent and 10 percent annually.
Instead, Goldman forecasts profit growth of just 1 percent this year, although the wholesalers are optimistic that conditions should improve down the road. Anheuser-Busch certainly hopes so: Its profits declined 18 percent last year on flat sales.
"We remain concerned about [the company's] ability to successfully grow volumes and improve pricing," wrote analyst Judy Hong in a March 13 report. (Hong has an "underperform" rating on Anheuser-Busch.)
The wholesalers were more enthusiastic about beer companies' latest efforts to fend off wine and spirits, which have been successful at wooing younger drinkers over the past few years. Co-sponsored by the Beer Institute, the campaign included humorous Super Bowl ads and a Web site entitled "Here's to Beer" that plays up beer's heritage as a social drink.
The site even has recipes for beer cocktails or "beertails," like the Michelada (beer, two dashes of Worcestershire sauce, a dash of soy sauce, Tabasco, black pepper and lemon).