How Common Are Bugs in Craft Beer?
Did you know there are roughly 10 Quintilian insects alive at any given time on the planet? That's a lot of bugs. Thankfully the FDA won't let any sort of insect infestations find their way into our craft beer right?
Wrong. In fact, if you just opened up a beer, I'd bet my mortgage that you're drinking bugs along with it!
A Bit of Interesting History On Bugs and Beer Brewing
We know that yeast is one of the most resilient organisms on the planet. It can be found just about anywhere, and while not all strains of yeast are suitable to ferment a batch of beer, there are several strains that can, and will provide fruity profiles to your beer. The real question is, did you know that this fruity character is because of insects?
If I had to guess, 9.9 Quintilian of those 10 Quintilian are fruit flies. Of course I'm exaggerating a bit, but the point is, they're pretty much everywhere. You know what else is everywhere? Yeast. And here's the kicker, that's not entirely a coincidence. Yeast love fruit flies because they are a great way to transport it to a new source of sugar. As if that weren't enough, yeast actually evolved to release a fruity aroma that attracts fruit flies right to them. The smell is connected to a gene, that produces different levels of the fruity aroma. In studies, the yeast with the most fruity aromas drew more fruit flies than those with less. Well maybe a fruit fly or two snuck its way into a snifter, but other than that, you're not directly drinking bugs, so why would I bet on that? Because that's not all.
Let Me Bug You About the Bugs in your Hops
That's right, that double IPA you just ordered at the bar was probably processed with a bunch of bugs in it. But the FDA! They wouldn't let me drink insects! Oh but they do, in fact, up to 2,500 aphids per 10 grams of hops are allowed by the FDA. Let's do the math.
In the least hop forward beers (under 30 IBUs), there is about 453 grams of hops per beer barrel (1 pound per barrel). Let's say for varieties sake, the entire amount of hops used only had half of the allowable number of aphids per gram (1,250). That comes out to 566,250 aphids per beer barrel, or 1,800 aphids per bottle of beer. Now before you freak out and throw your beer glass at the wall in terror, that comes out to 0.01 ounces of bugs in your beer.
Coffee And Other Fruits
Your cold-brew coffee stout and favorite fruit beers also have bug components to them in addition to any hops. The FDA says that up to 10% of all coffee beans harvested are infested by insects. It's too hard to remove them, so they are roasted and ground with the coffee. And since stouts can have a higher IBU to balance the bold maltiness, you're also getting an extra dose of aphids from the hops.
Another commonly known insect in fruit combo is wasps and figs. If you're unaware, wasps lay their eggs inside of the fig, but are then die in the fig, and the wasp is broken down completely by the fruit. The fruit is then harvested and turned into (Fig) Newtons, Holiday Pudding, or fruit beer.
Most fruits have some levels of insects or mold allowable in circulation, so it's very likely that most fruit beers still get their daily dose of bugs despite being less hoppy.
No Bugs for Me! I Only Drink Light Lagers!
Three words. Ten Quintillion insects. Corn is one of the most widely grown crops I can think of. But instead of insects, there are insects and rodent hairs in corn and cornmeal. These are at levels of 1 or more whole insects per 50 grams, 25 insect fragments per 25 grams, and 1 or more rodent hairs per 25 grams. Note: You also can't avoid the rodent hair intake even if you've sworn off Budweiser for all eternity. It's also in the grain!
The bottom line is this. You're drinking bugs, and you're eating them too. It's a bit creepy at first, but you never noticed before, and you've been doing it your entire life. You'll continue to eat them, and that's okay. So the next time you see a wasp nose dive into your boil kettle, remember you're not really any worse off in the "bugs in your beer department" than you were before.
The FDA allows these things as they are not a health or quality issue. But the next time you want to creep your friend out, slip that aphid number into conversation the next time you share a cold one.