Thirty years or so ago during the early 1980’s, when I was living in Maidstone, a friend who was older, and much wiser than me came out with a statement that was pertinent then, and still holds true today. He was describing the morning after a night spent drinking Shepherd Neame beers, back in the day when the company’s beers were worth drinking, and when they also had a considerable presence in Kent’s county town.
“What is that magic headache ingredient in Shepherd Neame beers?” my friend asked. Of course neither of us knew the answer, but we both knew what he was talking about, as even a moderate session on Sheps invariably led to a sore head the following morning. This was in sharp contrast to the other readily available cask beer in West Kent at the time; Fremlins Bitter. You could drink a gallon of the stuff and still feel OK the next day!
I’ve pondered this question over the years, but never arrived at a satisfactory answer. One thing I have noticed though is that the next day headache is NOT related to the alcohol content of the beer. I was reminded of this fact last Friday morning, having attended a CAMRA meeting the night before. The meeting took place at a pub in Tunbridge Wells. I had arrived late, the pub was an old one and it was quite dark in the bar. The pub was tied to Greene King, but like several others locally the licensee is allowed to stock several guest beers.
A beer called Swordfish from Wadworth caught my eye, and I have to say it was rather good. I have never been a huge fan of the company’s flagship beer, 6X. There’s nothing wrong per se with the beer, it’s just that a heavily malt-driven ale is not to my taste. If anything Swordfish was even maltier than 6X, but after eight days in Bavaria, drinking predominantly hop-driven, light-coloured beers, it slipped down rather well; so much so that I ordered another. It was only after a friend pointed out the beer was 5% that I thought it perhaps prudent to switch to something lighter for the final beer of the evening.
The next morning I had the headache from hell, and it was then that I decided my discomfort must be due to something in the beer, rather than just its strength. After all, a few days previously I had been drinking Bavarian beers of a similar strength, and in greater quantity, with nothing worse than a dry mouth the following morning. Without a doubt, this new beer from Wadworth had that infamous “magic headache ingredient” but what could it be?
Research shows that classic hangover symptoms are not due solely to excess alcohol (ethanol), although if one has obviously over-indulged, rather than just having had a few pints, then the high levels of alcohol in your system will make you feel rough regardless. Drinking an alcoholic beverage that contains impurities or preservatives can give you a hangover, even if you only have one drink.
Some of these impurities may be other alcohols besides ethanol. Other hangover-causing chemicals are congeners, which are by-products of the fermentation process. These “higher alcohols” and congeners are more likely to be formed when fermentation takes place at higher temperatures, which would explain why the beers I was drinking in Munich the other week did not have this effect; having been fermented and matured at a lower temperature than traditional English ale.
So in the interests of further research, and as something of a project to list out beers to watch out for if you don’t want too much of that “morning after feeling”, which beers, in your experience, have that avoid at all costs, “magic headache ingredient”?