Are Electrolyte Beers the New Recovery Drink?
While drinking beer and watching a sporting event is as ubiquitous and American as apple pie, the same can practically be said about enjoying the cool taste of a brew after hiking a 14er, going uber hard on a long run or completing a full-day ride on your bike. Hike, bike, swim, run, rock climb — whatever your activity of choice, we can get behind enjoying fermented refreshment after a life-affirming sweat session.
Across the country, brewers are beginning to take notice. A handful of breweries are crafting beers that are (at least in theory) beneficial to you post-exercise. You already know that you need to hydrate after a day of activity, but you also need glycogen (which stores carbohydrates in the body) and protein. On really hot days when your shirt is dusted with a thin white layer of salty sweat, it’s likely that you’ve lost a lot of sodium, and you’ll need to replenish. Evil Twin Brewing, Harpoon Brewery, Zelus and Sufferfest are just a few of the brands experimenting with beers featuring nutrient-rich ingredients to help you recover.
While electrolyte beers are not officially recognized as a beer style by the Brewers Association, it makes sense that smaller brewers are the ones creating these drinks. “Small brewers have long sponsored active events in their communities like weekly fun runs, bike rides and road races,”says Jess Baker, editor in chief of CraftBeer.com, a website for beer lovers published by the Brewers Association. “People with active lifestyles no doubt love reaching for a beer after a good sweat, like after those weekend long runs, bike rides and softball games.”
Most of the beers crafted with electrolytes or intended to be imbibed after a sporting activity are relatively new. Baker cites Dogfish Head’s SeaQuench, Mispillion River’s War Goose and Sufferfest’s FKT as examples of the trend emerging in the past two years. While their popularity is increasing, such beers are not exactly mainstream just yet. “It’s safe to say [that electrolyte beers] haven’t yet come close to the popularity of something like the juicy or hazy IPA, which could merit creating a new style,” Baker says. With the continuing evolution of brewing and tastes, the picture may be much different two years now.
PSA: Don’t take this as an excuse to imbibe on health grounds. Studies show that beers with greater than four percent alcohol can delay recovery, so if you’re really looking to improve your fitness and compete at the highest level, drinking alcohol isn’t the best decision. When we reached out to dietitians and sports nutritionists for their thoughts, the response was less than positive. “I have nothing on the benefits of beer post-exercise… only diminishing returns,” says Susan M. Kleiner, PhD, RD, FACN, CNS, FISSN and author of The New Power Eating.
“Alcohol has always been known for its negative effects towards exercise; due to a number of factors — lack of nutrients — the body recognizes it as a toxin,” says Dan Churchill, chef of Under Armour and co-founder of Charley St. in New York City. “Adding electrolytes to alcohol is very interesting as this would naturally help facilitate recovery, particularly in endurance events. I have not seen any supportive evidence when you put the two together. In theory, whenever the body has a toxin in its system, it is the priority to rid that toxin before focusing on any other task.”
But if you’re just looking to have fun, kick back and enjoy a beer post-run, why not do it with a beer that, if nothing else, gives you the illusion of being healthy? To explore the trend further, we decided to gather up a few electrolyte beers and try them for ourselves after long runs, bikes and hikes. Here’s what stood out.
Best Pale Ale: Sufferfest FKT
Sufferfest has found a niche as the beer active people can reach for even if they’re gluten intolerant. This year, Sufferfest launched its Beer with Benefits program. FKT and Repeat (two styles from the series) are brewed with nutrients and electrolytes. The beers naturally contain potassium, sodium, iron and fiber, which is why you likely crave a beer after a workout. Same reason a Gatorade tastes so much better after you’ve worked out really hard. Your body needs salt and carbs.
The FKT (or fastest known time) is a pale ale brewed with black currant. At first pour, you can see the bright color is tinted and a softer orange than the other beers we tested. It’s 5.5 percent ABV and brewed with salt to help restore your magnesium and potassium stores, as well as black currant, which pumps vitamin C into your system.
Best Kolsch: Sufferfest Repeat
Compared to the FKT, the 3.5 percent ABV Repeat Kolsch went down much smoother, tasting like a beer we could easily drink all day long during a long cornhole tournament, or after hill repeats. It’s brewed with bee pollen, which you can taste at the very end of each sip — it’s a subtle sweetness, which some testers described as spiciness. Filled with antioxidants, bee pollen is also anti-inflammatory.
Best Light Beer: 26.2 Brew
The relatively new 26.2 launched just in time for anyone running the Boston marathon to celebrate with. At 4 percent alcohol and just 120 calories, it’s a refreshingly light beer. The team worked with Shelley Smith, a brewer and marathoner (of course), to develop the recipe. Himalayan sea salt and coriander give the otherwise low taste beer it’s crisp flavor. And when you drink, you’ll be in good company — Meb Keflezighi, Olympic marathoner, and Des Linden, 2018 Boston Marathon winner — both celebrated recent wins (and low-key runs) with this brew.
Best Tropical Pale Ale: Zelus Race Pace Beer
Zelus offers five different beers: Lyte Speed, Race Pace, Light into Dark, Long Run and Competitor IPA. The goal with all of them? Mimic the same great taste of regular beer, but with lower alcohol levels that no one would notice. All are five percent or lower ABV, and the opposite of what most craft brewers are doing right now (lots of double IPAs and high ABV levels out there). Everything is sold in a 16-ounce can that’s hydro-friendly, as founder Geoff Pedder shared with us. He worked with Jon Goldstein, Ph.D., to create the same mouthfeel and taste of beer, but with less alcohol. Our team really enjoyed the Lyte Speed and Race Pace; citrusy beers that were quite smooth going down, they’re ideal to drink after any race.
Best Hazy Pale Ale: Harpoon Brewery Rec League
Rec. League wins best can design for sure. Harpoon created it for your active friends who secretly harbor a desire to wear their roller skates around a disco ball every single weekend. The limited-release hazy pale ale, brewed with nutrients like buckwheat kasha and ground chia seeds, clocks in at 3.8 percent ABV. Our team found it smelled very citrus-y and felt quite light going down. The electrolytes come from sea salt and potassium, added later in the brewing process so that they last through the brew.
Best Session Sour Beer: Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale
With 4.9 percent ABV and 140 calories, this sour brew is a blend of three types of beer: Kolsch, Gose and Berliner Weiss. Long respected in the microbrew community, Dogfish Head added lime peel, black limes and sea salt to furnish a refreshingly light aftertaste. After a long trail run, this beer is exactly what you’ll want.
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