If you’ve ever had acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn, you know the symptoms caused by these conditions can be painful. Some beers can cause the symptoms to flare up more than others. What are the best beers for acid reflux, GERD, and heartburn?
Foods and beverages that are acidic can cause acid reflux, GERD, and heartburn. Acidity is lower in beers with a higher pH, so they cause fewer symptoms. Barley malt lagers are the best beers to drink because they are less acidic than other beers. It’s still recommended to limit your consumption to discourage developing or worsening these issues.
Read on to find out what causes acid reflux, GERD, and heartburn and which beers are most and least acidic. You’ll find out the best and worst beers to drink, and how many beers are too many.
What causes acid reflux, GERD, and heartburn?
Acid reflux is a condition caused by weakness or relaxation of the lower esophageal valve (sphincter). Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux. GERD (or gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a more severe form of acid reflux that can become problematic over time.
Normally, when food passes through the esophagus, a sphincter or valve closes tightly behind it as the food enters the stomach. Acid reflux occurs when the valve relaxes and permits the contents of the stomach to come back up the esophagus. This causes heartburn or the burning sensation just beneath the breastbone after meals or when you lie down.
Consuming alcohol, even in small quantities, can relax the esophageal sphincter causing heartburn and reflux issues.
GERD can also cause symptoms like a cough or the feeling of a lump in the back of your throat. Acid reflux and heartburn can be triggered by many things like certain foods, medications and even eating large meals with high fat content.
Here are some of the most common foods that trigger acid reflux and heartburn:
- Citrus fruits including oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, and pineapple
- Tomatoes, tomato sauce, or foods that use them such as pizza, spaghetti, chili, and salsa
- Spicy foods
Medications for asthma, high blood pressure, painkillers, and antidepressants can also cause acid reflux and heartburn.
Studies indicate that heavy alcohol use may increase symptoms of GERD as well. Due to its acidity and carbonation levels, large amounts of beer can add pressure that can push stomach contents up into the esophagus.
Is all alcohol acidic?
A neutral pH is 7.0. The lower a pH number is, the higher the acidity of the food or beverage. A higher pH is less acidic.
Like beers, some alcohols are more acidic than others. Even alcohols that are low in acidity can be made more acidic depending on the mixers and additives used in an alcoholic drink. Alcohols in general are weak acids. Ethanol or pure alcohol (like Everclear) is neither acidic nor alkaline unless it’s mixed with something else.
Some ingredients added to beer, for example, chocolate or coffee can also cause reflux. The liquors with the lowest acidity are gin, tequila, and non-grain vodkas. They can also be made more acidic by adding citrus fruit juices or mixers containing citric acid, which can cause heartburn and acid reflux.
Both red and white wines are more acidic than many beers and liquors. The average pH range for wines is 3.5-3.8. While gin, tequila, vodka, whiskey, and rum have an average pH range between 3.0-5.0. Beers range from 3.0-6.0 on the pH scale.
Is beer acidic?
The pH of a solution is a measure of how acidic or alkaline it is. During the brewing process, the pH of the water, the mash, and the wort all have a slightly different impact on your finished beer. Proper mash pH has positive effects as it improves both flavor and stability.
In the case of all-grain brewing, the pH of the mash is the most important factor. Distilled water has a pH of around 7, so it is essentially neutral. Municipally-supplied water tends to be a bit more alkaline. Unlike darker malt, lighter malt is only slightly acidic, so lighter beers need to be manipulated to bring the pH down to 5.2-5.6.
The reason for the target pH range for the mash is to:
- Optimize the enzymes that convert starch to sugar
- Improve yeast health during fermentation
- Improve beer clarity
- Improve flavor and stability as beer ages
When needed, small amounts of phosphate buffers can be used to get mash pH down into the desired pH range.
Adding hops can also change the pH of your finished beer. Heavy dry hopping will increase the final pH of the beer. The higher the IBUs of a beer, the higher its pH and the more potential it has to cause reflux. The same can be said for beers using darker grains.
What is the least acidic beer?
If some beers can worsen the symptoms of heartburn, GERD, and acid reflux, are there any that are better to drink if you have one of these conditions?
Barley malt lagers are the least acidic beer. Malted barley contains phosphates, which are acidic buffers. Making a mash of barley malt mixed with water will cause the phosphate buffers to achieve a natural pH of around 5.2-5.4. Barley malts include pale malt, Pilsner malt, Vienna malt, Munich malt, mild ale malt.
Compare this with 100% base malt grist mashed with distilled water whose pH is between 5.6 and 5.8.
The best beer styles to drink if you have acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn
If you have acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn, it’s best to avoid or limit the type of foods and drinks that are acidic. While some types of alcohol are very low in acidity, there are also beers you can drink in moderation that won’t exacerbate the issues.
The best beer styles to drink if you have acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn are:
- Barley malt lagers
Keep reading to learn more about these styles of beer, and why they’re better choices is you’re prone to acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn.
Barley Malt Lagers
Barley malt lagers are well-balanced with a pH range of 4.00-5.00. Barley malts include Vienna, Helles, and Pilsner-style malts.
Two examples of this beer style are:
- Samuel Adams Boston Lager – Made with two-row barley and German Noble hops. Slightly sweet, roasted with notes of caramel and honey. It is a distinctly flavorful and complex beer with a smooth, dry finish and a pleasant citrusy bitterness. It has an ABV of 5%.
- Pilsner Urquell – Brewed in Plzen, Czech Republic since 1842 this Bohemian Pilsner has refreshing natural carbonation with flavors of caramel, lemon, and slightly floral with distinct bready notes. It has an ABV of 4.5%.
Like barley malt lagers, barleywine ale is made with the same types of low acid grains. It’s been called the brewer’s brandy or pinot noir. It’s a strong, aged ale that is complex and shows some similarities to wine without being nearly as acidic. Barley wines fall within the 5.3-5.8 pH range.
Two examples of this beer style are:
- Sierra Nevada‘s Barrel-Aged Bigfoot Barleywine Style Ale – First introduced in the winter of 1983, Bigfoot is a cult-classic barleywine style ale. Strong and robust with the intensity of a wine. It develops exciting new flavors as it matures. Each release or “expedition” is dated so you can collect and savor the evolving flavors. It has an ABV of 9.6%.
- Anchor Brewing Company’s Old Fog Horn – Brewed since 1975 in San Francisco. The brewing process is similar to other British-style ales. It is a highly hopped brew made with top-fermenting ale yeast and carbonated with a process called “bunging” to produce champagne-like bubbles. Made from the first runnings of an all-malt mash, three mashes are required for just one batch. It has an ABV of 3.94%.
Beer styles to avoid if you have acid reflux or heartburn
As noted above, the more acidic the beer, the more likely it is to cause acid reflux or heartburn.
Dark malts are naturally more acidic than lighter malts. When mashing dark beers like porters and stouts that use darker malts, they can cause the pH of the mash to drop.
If you suffer from acid reflux or heartburn, it’s best to avoid:
- Lambic/sours – In general, Lambic beers have a pH of 3.20-3.51. Sour beers are in the same general range 3.0-3.5. The brewing process creates lactic acid, which is why these beers are so acidic.
- Berliner Weisse – These beers have an average pH of 3.3-3.7. Thy are also brewed to be sour in taste which affects their acidity. Both Berliner Weisse and Lambics/Sours are often brewed with fruit as well, which can raise acidity.
- Stouts/porters – Some stouts and porters can be on the acidic side. Normally, their pH range is anywhere in the 3.0-5.5 range. Many of these beers are brewed with darker malts, which are higher in overall acidity compared to some lighter malts.
- Hard Seltzers – Hard seltzers are often adjusted with citric or malic acid. Their average pH is around 3.1. These seltzers are also highly carbonated, which adds to the acidity. Many are also flavored with natural fruit juices, which can also increase acidity.
How many beers can you drink with acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn?
If you have acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn, you should keep a food and beverage journal to help with identifying triggers that cause an attack.
Limiting yourself to one 12-ounce serving of alcohol, including beer, per day can lower your chances of experiencing symptoms related to acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn. You should also avoid drinking for 2-3 hours before bed to limit the risk for acid reflux at night.
What triggers these conditions can be unique to each person. Identifying your triggers means you can decide if you prefer to avoid beer and other acidic foods and beverages as a way to reduce your acid reflux and decrease the likelihood of GERD.
To summarize, the best beers for acid reflux, GERD, and heartburn are those made with barley malt, as they are lower in carbonation and are not brewed with fruit or fruit juices. Drinking less acidic beers along with limiting your consumption of alcohol, in general, can help limit or eliminate the symptoms of these conditions.