I’ve learned to believe a lot of impossible things since I moved to Seville: eating more often helps you stay thin, for instance, ham lowers your cholesterol, and afternoon siestas make it easier for you to sleep at night. But I had to scoff last week when my friend Rena said, over a couple of frosty brews, “Have you heard? Now they’re saying that beer is better at rehydrating you than water.”
“Right. And grapefruit is more fattening than chocolate.”
“No, seriously. There was some study...”
Obviously Rena was delusional, or someone had been pulling her leg. All the same, when I got back to my home office, I looked it up. And there it was: “Beer after sport is ‘good for the body” announced the mainstream press. Campus bloggers crowed, “There is a God. Beer rehydrates better than water (seriously).”
The groundbreaking humanitarian study was, of course, conducted in Spain. Professor Manuel Garzon of Granada University had students do strenuous exercise on a day with high temperatures (40 degrees Celsius/104 Fahrenheit), then gave half of them a pint of water, the others a pint of beer. In a press conference afterwards, Garzon announced that those in the beer group were rated as rehydrating – to quote the technical term he used – “slightly better.” It turns out beer has electrolytes and calories which replenish those we’ve sweated away; water does not. Hence beer’s slight edge when it comes to helping the body to recuperate after athletic excess.
But before you decide to replace your water cooler with a keg, I should point out that this applies only to a single pint after a strenuous workout. In larger quantities, beer serves as a diuretic, making you lose fluids. At what point does beer stop helping you hydrate? Clearly additional research is needed, and I’m sure scientists won’t have any trouble recruiting volunteer subjects.
Of course, in a way, the entire population of Spain is a good test study. When I first moved to Seville, I expected nights out would be spent sipping the kind of earthy red wines Hemmingway wrote about. Instead, I found the brutally hot summer weather makes nearly everyone here opt for beer, the colder the better. A tiny, hole-in-the-wall bar called the Tremendo was the first in Seville to invest in equipment for chilling beer to just above popsicle temperature, and although others have now followed suit, on steamy nights people still line up outside the Tremendo for the pleasure of that first icy swallow.
When I was a newbie in Seville and expressed a preference for a glass of white wine at the start of an evening’s revelry, Spanish friends would inevitably make jocular comments about how I was heading fast toward inebriation. I thought they were insane, of course, until I noticed that their words held a kernel of truth. Beer did ease me into a sociable evening more gently than wine. I developed a theory that because we live in a climate that leaves us all chronically dehydrated much of the year, beer’s higher liquid-to-alcohol ratio works to our advantage. That may be part of it, but now I know that it also helps balance electrolytes and replenish lost calories. In fact, it’s practically a health drink.
So Rena, I’m sorry I ever doubted you. Beer is better than water when you’re in urgent need of rehydration. And now that Seville’s temperatures are soaring to levels similar to the conditions of the Granada study, I’m forecasting a flurry of frosty pints in the near future. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to the next health breakthrough made by Spain’s selfless scientists. I’m keeping my fingers crossed they’ll find a way to convince us all that chocolate really is less fattening than grapefruit. Cheers.
There's a moment in every one of our better journeys when Rich and I have the sensation of stepping off the well-lit path into the unknown. During next summer's train trip through Central and Eastern Europe, I suspect that moment will come when we arrive in the Czech Republic. We'll be traveling without reservations, just a Eurail pass and an iPad full of information about possible destinations, one of which is Prague.
Browsing through articles about Prague, I kept reading about a traditional local libation known as becherovka, which is said to taste like Christmas, being heavily laced with anis and cinnamon. And apparently it packs a wallop like New Year’s Eve. “I got so drunk I forgot where my bedroom was and fell asleep next to the dog,” blogger Katka Lapelosa recalls. Yikes. I hate nights like that.
So when we get to Prague, I’ll most likely be sticking to beer and wine, especially after reading recent horror stories about black market becherovka, absinthe and other spirits being spiked with methanol. This resulted in deaths, hideous injuries and a temporary ban on the sale of all hard liquor, sending a shockwave through the nation that has the world’s second-highest rate of hard-liquor consumption (Moldova holds the top spot). The ban has now been eased to allow the sale of spirits manufactured before January 1, 2012, so it is once again possible to drink enough bechrovka to wind up sleeping with the dog. But I think I’ll give it a miss anyway.
The Czech Republic has the highest consumption of beer in the world (take that, Moldova!) with citizens downing an impressive 161 liters per person per year. With Prague’s beer halls offering pints for the equivalent of under $1, it’s considerably cheaper than bottled water. You can’t afford not to overindulge.
Beer drinking enjoys a long and prosperous history in the region. Monks were brewing it back in 993 AD, and in 1785 Adolphus Busch gave the world Budweiser Bürgerbräu, or Budweiser Bier, in the city of Budweis – or as the Czechs prefer to spell it, Budějovice.
Czech wine isn’t such a worldwide phenomena, but it enjoys a robust local reputation, thanks to the tireless efforts of the man we now know as “Good King Wenceslas.” This noble monarch is credited with launching the region’s wine industry back in the 9th century. No wonder they made him a saint and wrote a Christmas carol about his kindness! And as if that wasn’t enough honor for one man, they also made him the patron saint of sausages. Prague’s Wenceslas Square is filled day and night, with – as the blogger from Czech Please puts it – “crowds of people gathering around sausage stands and paying homage at these altars of indigestion.”
So much to look forward to! Can’t wait to make your acquaintance, Prague!
Header photo by Jitka Erbenová
I'm an American writer living in Seville, Spain and traveling the world with my husband, Rich. We've recently completed a five-month Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour, exploring the world's favorite cuisine to discover more about European culture — and our own.
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