Thursday, September 24, 2009

Steamworks and hangovers

Early this summer, I brought a growler of Steamworks beer to a barbecue at a friend's house. Another guest asked me, "You can drink that stuff?"

It wasn't that Steamworks' beer - in this case, Our Bock - tastes bad. It doesn't. What my acquaintance was concerned about was the widely held perception that Steamworks beer induces particularly awful hangovers.

Whether or not this perception is warranted, it presents a problem for Steamworks, a sizable regional brewery with operations in Durango and Bayfield and distribution deals in several states. Competition is fierce in the craft beer industry, and this sort of thing matters.

Repeatedly, and from different people, I've heard that Steamworks' beers produce hangovers that are especially bad. It's a widespread public perception that bears airing.

I've also heard people complain that Steamworks' beer causes, to put it delicately, digestive issues. As one man wrote on Beer Advocate: "For reasons beyond my beer knowledge, the delicious brews at Steamworks have an interesting tendency to loosen my bowels, and make me quite uncomfortable. I still enjoy visiting Steamworks regularly, however, be warned after your fourth or fifth beer."

What gives? I've heard a few theories, but I'm reluctant to tar Steamworks based on rumor.

Of course, drinking alcohol in excess is a bad thing, and hangovers are God's way of punishing you for it. This is as it should be.

I did contact Steamworks for their response. Steamworks co-founder Brian McEachron said in an e-mail:

"Give me a break. Do you really think we would do something special to our
beer to induce a hangover? Hangovers come from drinking too much.

Beer is made from four main ingredients and all four breweries utilize the
same ingredients and same techniques to create world class beer.

Do you really think that a team of award-winning brewers would allow the brew house
equipment to not be clean or present our beers to our patrons that is not
polished and delicious? I really hope that as a writer and supporter of the
craft beer you are able to see through the little mean myth and that you can
respond with tact and facts."

He noted Steamworks' many awards, like the multiple GABF gold medals for Steam Engine Lager. That's certainly laudable, although it's a separate issue.

To be clear, this post isn't intended to slag Steamworks. I like many of their beers. This is part and parcel of Beer at 6512's mission to start discussions about issues in the craft beer industry.

What do you think? Does Steamworks' beer cause particularly bad hangovers or not?


  1. It's like a Durango urban legend. I remember hearing so many people say something to that effect, that I started to believe it. That said, I've never had a worse hangover from Steamworks, drink for drink, than any other place.

  2. If I drink 5+ Pales/IPA's from ANY brewer, be it my own IIPA, Ska's Modeus or Decadent, Steamworks Conductor, RRB's Pliney the gut is going to let me know about it the next morn. Then again, I can (and have a few times this summer) sit on the Steamworks deck for 3 hours on a Friday eve and drink as many $2 Hefe's as I can get down, with minimal after effects.

    I think there are 2 mini-problems within this problem....One, many people are used to drinking very light, very unflavorful, industrobrews with very little hops or specialty grains so they are used to what is their "normal"....and B on the flipside of the first statement, many (most)craft brews are made with a myriad of specialty grains and lbs of hops per barrel; these things do take a toll on our digestive system.
    Lastly, I THINK that many craft beers, be it out of tap or in bottle, may have more live yeast than those made in Golden or old St Louy, adding additional stress to our bowels.

    This opinion is worth what you paid for it!


  3. I agree with anonymous. Hangovers are caused 90% by too much alchohol and too little water. Congeners play a role, but a small one I think (lack of food and dumb luck seem to play a bigger role than those I think).

    As far as intestinal distress- I've never gotten that from Steamworks beer.

  4. Interesting. Sadly, I've never had Steamworks, but I'm eager to spend a Friday evening on their deck and sample their beers without worry of this hangover. But I do put stock into what you and your friends feel since it happens to me to, only with a slightly wider-distributed beer:

  5. The "intestinal distress" claims are 100% true. I'm a microbrew enthusiast (I often drink beers with a lots of live yeast) and, although this is a great beer taste-wise, it will absolutely destroy your bowels if you consume heavily without having tried it before (and, apparently, built up a resistance).

    Locals affectionately call it the "steamworks shits." Just don't consume more than 3 the first time you try it, and you should, god willing, be ok.