mason jar with a mix of kombucha and beer and a slice of lemon, next to a cutting board with knife and lemon and a bottle each of commercial kombucha and beer

Sometimes there’s nothing better than kombucha and beer on a hot day. And this guy has been on my mind as the Bay Area heads toward its September “summer”. The mix is perky and refreshing, a lot like a lemonade and beer shandy but with more tang, less sugar, and that special zip that kombucha has. Germans call the shandy a radler or “cyclist”, maybe because it’s the kind of thing you can drink and then still get back on your bike and keep riding? I like to call it the Temescal Radler, after the hip, bikeable Oakland neighborhood. And last year some restaurants around the east bay were even selling a locally made brand called Temescal kombucha that they’d mix with the beers they had on tap.

a mason jar holding a mix of beer and kombucha with a lemon on the rim, next to a cutting board with knife and lemon

It’s an especially good way to use kombucha that has fermented too long and gotten too sour. The malty body of the beer cuts the sourness of the kombucha. By the same token, it’s a great way to add something extra to a can of cheap beer left over after a party. As you can see from the photo at the top, this time I didn’t have either on hand, but I had to have one!

a mason jar holding a mix of beer and kombucha with a lemon on the rim

 

A cuddly-looking ball of a crocheted microbe with big eyes.

Could most of the microorganisms found our digestive systems be as friendly as this guy? Photo and microbe by Stacey Trock of freshstitches.com.

What’s living in your gut? Are the microorganisms in there good for you? And how does your diet influence them? These are interesting questions for fans of living, fermented foods, and science is just beginning to answer them as it investigates the microbiome. The fact that we’re asking them at all is pretty cool.

The diversity of bacteria that live on the body is staggering. The Human Microbiome Project claims there are about 10,000 spices altogether, found everywhere from our mouths to our bellybuttons and that they outnumber human cells ten to one. In our digestive systems, it’s possible that we have “enterotypes” in the same way we have blood types. And it’s possible that different people have different populations depending on their diet, or where they grew up. Right now, anybody can find out what they’ve got inside by joining the American Gut campaign, which is wrapping up in a few days.

Why care? Maintaining and even cultivating our digestive diversity could be healthy, and learning how our microbiome works and reacts could open a whole new area of disease treatments, something that’s covered in depth in this excellent article in the New Yorker. As that article makes clear, we’re still really early in understanding the ins and outs of our bodies’ relationships to the many microorganisms they host.

One thing is becoming more clear, though: We need healthy microbiomes, which means we should carefully consider the use of antibiotics. It’s starting to look like taking them is akin to swallowing a grenade that can blow up a lot of beneficial bystanders at the same time that it hits the bad guys. If many of the microbes we harbor contribute to our health, then wiping them out by mistake with drugs could allow other harmful microbes to take root, produce autoimmune disorders, or trigger other problems. It’s possible that digestive bacteria protect against celiac disease, for example. They could help determine body weight. And, in some studies, fecal transplants have cured the diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile infections, showing that changing the population in the gut can bring about health results.

I’m looking forward to the news that comes in the next few years, but I’m especially curious to learn how our diets, especially oes that include fermented foods and lots of live microorganisms, influence the microbiome and our health. Is there a change in our guts if we load up on kraut and yogurt every day? And do those little beasts stick around inside us and do good things? I can’t wait to find out.

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An empty wine barrel

It takes two things to make a barrel-aged beer. We’ve got the first one covered, now we just need 60 gallons of beer.

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