Category Archives: Drinking Science

Whisky From Space?

Space whisky? Not exactly, but Ardbeg is releasing an homage to a grand experiment going on with space-based whisky maturation in this limited-edition bottling. Read on for the full press release.

Ardbeg Galileo launched to celebrate Scottish distillery’s “world first” experiment in space

Limited Edition of legendary Islay Distillery pays tribute to Galileo, the father of modern astronomy

NEW YORK, Sept. 1, 2012 — Ardbeg Distillery on the island of Islay today announces the release of Ardbeg Galileo, a limited edition 12 Years Old Single Malt Whisky – a special celebration of its “world first” space maturation experiment, previously announced at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April 2012.

Ardbeg Galileo is a special vatting of different styles of Ardbeg laid down in 1999, all married together to give a sweet, smoky texture. The heart of this limited edition Ardbeg is spirit matured in ex-Marsala wine casks from Sicily that is combined with hallmark Ardbeg matured in first and second fill ex-Bourbon casks. The ex-Marsala casks add fruity aromas and textures to Ardbeg’s famed peaty, smoky house style. Bottled at 49% and non chill-filtered it is being made available on allocation to Ardbeg’s focus markets.

The whisky, named after Galileo, the father of modern astronomy, celebrates the first ever experiment undertaken by Ardbeg Distillery (or any other distillery for that matter) when Ardbeg was invited in late 2011 by US based space research company NanoRacks LLC, based in Houston Texas, to take part in a two year experiment to test micro-organic compounds drawn from the distillery’s production on Islay. This maturation experiment (the inter-action of these compounds with charred oak) between normal gravity on Earth and micro-gravity in space, is currently taking place far up in space on the International Space Station.

The vials that were launched by Soyuz rocket from Baikanor in Kazakhstan in late 2011 contain a class of compounds known as “terpenes,” a set of chemicals which are very widespread in nature and often very aromatic and flavour active. The experiment could explain the workings of these large, complex molecules as they will remain on the International Space Station for at least two years and help uncover new truths about the change that these molecules undergo in this near ‘zero gravity’ environment. It also should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavour spectrum.

The experiment will have applications for a variety of commercial and research products, including, one day maybe, future generations of Ardbeg.

Working in close collaboration with the Ardbeg Distillery team in Scotland, NanoRacks will closely monitor the experiment against control samples here on earth; both in Houston, Texas at the NanoRacks’ facility and more familiarly, in Warehouse 3 at Ardbeg Distillery on Islay!

Dr Bill Lumsden, Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation and Whisky Stocks at The Glenmorangie Company said:  “So far so good – the experiment went live in January when the scientists broke the separating wall between the two components; Ardbeg new make spirit straight from our still on Islay and shards of charred oak cut out of some of our barrels from the warehouse. We will not know the results for another year or so but in the meantime we thought we would celebrate the experiment by the introduction of Ardbeg Galileo – our own earthly tribute to the scientific experiment taking place far up in space!”

Ardbeg Galileo will be made available to Ardbeg and Islay whisky aficionados in specialist malt whisky shops and liquor stores in Ardbeg’s focus markets.

Hamish Torrie for Ardbeg commented: “Each year we have brought out a limited edition of Ardbeg as a supplement to our core range – and although Ardbeg Galileo in no way resembles the actual experiment going on in space nevertheless we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate the experiment, and our partnership with NanoRacks in Houston, with a whisky which Bill and the team on Islay laid down way back in 1999 shortly after we bought Ardbeg Distillery. There are only a few thousand cases available and as ever with Ardbeg we expect demand to be brisk.”

The Angel’s Share, Illustrated

Last year I filled a 1.5-liter micro-barrel with Woodinville’s white whiskey, all part of its “age your own” whiskey kit. I’ve sampled it every couple of months but largely it’s been left untouched since July 2011.

Today I bottled what was left. The photo below illustrates what two full bottles of white dog turned into after 13 months in cask in chilly San Francisco.

(For the record, the company says you should probably bottle your hooch after a couple of months or a bit longer.)

angels share in action The Angels Share, Illustrated

Hands on With Miller’s “Punch Top” Can

miller lite punch hole 300x218 Hands on With Millers Punch Top CanFirst came the wide mouth. Now comes the punch top.

By now you’ve seen the ads touting Miller’s newest beer can technology: A little hole opposite the can’s mouth designed to prevent the “glug” effect, caused by air rushing into the can to replace the outgoing beer through the same orifice that the beer’s coming out of. Give air another way in — the way you do when you punch a hole in a can of tomato sauce or Hawaiian Punch (ah, the old days…) — and things go a lot smoother.

I tried out the can and it works as advertised. Don’t punch the hole and beer glugs out the way you expect it would. Punch it and the pour is smooth… and faster. You can see it for yourself in Miller’s own video (below). There’s no video trickery there. It really pours much more smoothly. The only real trick is figuring out how to punch the hole (Miller sent me a special device to do it but suggests you can use just about anything, even a carefully folded dollar bill if you’re in a pinch).

Now why would Miller do such a thing? Because they want you to have a cleaner pour of your beer, smoother, faster, and less messy. They absolutely, categorically, positively do not want to make it easier for these cans to be shotgunned. Period.

Molecular Mixology and You

Join me as we explore the world of high-tech drinking in today’s installment of “The Drinkhacker” in The Daily!

Now THAT’S a Drinking Problem!

I don’t think I could even drink 10 liters of water a day. From Fox News:

A New Zealand mother of eight has died after drinking 10 liters of Coca-Cola a day, a coroner’s investigation heard.

Natasha Harris, 30, suffered a cardiac arrest that her partner believes was brought on by her massive soft drink intake.

Harris, from the southern city of Invercargill, was vomiting six times a week in the months leading up to her sudden death in February 2010, but she attributed it to stress.

The mom would become moody, irritable and have no energy without her daily dose of Coke, but the family did not suspect her habit was to blame, the Otago Daily Times reported.

Imagine what that recycling bin must have looked like each week.

Alcohol Can Turn You Into MacGyver

Usually the news about alcohol is about whether or not it can help or cause heart attacks, strokes, cancer, or other maladies, but today’s headline is different. Medical Daily reports “Drinking Alcohol May Significantly Enhance Problem Solving Skills.” That drinking a few beers can make you better at logic puzzles.

Scientists found that men who either drank two pints of beer or two glasses of wine before solving brain teasers not only got more questions right, they also were quicker in delivering correct answers, compared to men who answered the questions sober….

Researchers from the current study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition also found that people who drank alcohol and had a blood alcohol level of 0.07 or higher were worse at completing problems that required attentional control but better at creative problem solving tests.

However, the surprising discovery was that participants with a BAC of 0.07 or higher solved 40 percent more problems than their sober counterparts and took 12 seconds to complete the tasks compared to 15.5 seconds by teetotal participants.

Wiley said that the key finding was that being too focused can blind a person to novel possibilities and a broader, more flexible state of attention may be helpful for creative solutions to emerge.

No word on whether booze helps you out on trivia night at the bar. But I like to think a bit o’ whiskey will help you turn a typewriter into a nuclear bomb. Or…

Giving New Meaning to High-Octane Booze

According to Mother Jones, the waste products from whiskey-making are being turned into fuel.

Here’s how it works: To make Scotch whiskey, you take barley, separate out the sugar, add water and yeast, and ferment it. The result is similar to beer. The next step is to distill the alcohol from that beer in pots. Set it to age in wooden casks, and a few months later, you have whiskey.

The problem is that the process creates a lot of byproduct: First there are the remains of the barley, called draff. And when you distill the alcohol, you’re left with a liquid called pot ale, which is hard to dispose of because it contains biological components that can acidify ecosystems, along with traces of copper that are leached from the pots. Celtic Renewables makes a soup out of the pot ale and draff. Then—through a fuel-making fermentation process that was developed during the leadup to World War I but fell out of favor when it couldn’t compete with petroleum—the company converts the stuff into biobutanol fuel, animal feed, and acetone.

The used corn/grain mash in Kentucky is typically also sold or given to farmers as cattle feed. Lightly alcoholic, it is said to result in very happy cows.

The End of Hangovers, Alcoholism… and Getting Drunk?

Could a Chinese pill end your hangover… and cure alcoholism? The trick is to keep you from getting drunk in the first place.

Imagine a pill that could instantly sober you up no matter how much you’ve had to drink, or a hangover cure that worked minutes after swallowing it. Hardened drinkers rejoice: researchers are about to begin human trials on an “alcohol antidote” that may soon offer a cure to alcoholism, reports New Scientist.

The drug is a chemical called dihydromyricetin, or DHM, and is derived from a Chinese variety of the oriental raisin tree, which has been used for at least 500 years in China as an effective hangover cure. So far the extract has only been tested on boozing rats, but with promising results.

“DHM will reduce the degree of drunkenness for the amount of alcohol drunk and will definitely reduce the hangover symptoms,” said Jing Liang, lead researcher in the study. “In time, it will reduce [an alcoholic’s] desire for alcohol.”

LG’s “Blast Chiller” Refrigerator Ices Down Your Beer in 5 Minutes

IMG 0239 224x300 LGs Blast Chiller Refrigerator Ices Down Your Beer in 5 MinutesWaiting for a drink to get cold enough in the fridge or freezer is one of life’s biggest frustrations. The scientists at LG have turned to science to solve the problem. I saw this in operation today at CES. It’s so crazy… it just might work.

Enter the Blast Chiller – a new feature in LG Electronics Inc.’s premium refrigerators available later this year – which promises to turn that room-temperature 12-ounce can brew (or soda) frosty in five minutes. Want to chill a bottle of wine? Eight minutes. It’s the same amount of time to cool two cans at the same time.

LG said the new technology blasts the cans with icy-cold air gusts with the power of a jet engine. (This is not a joke.) In order to ensure that ice crystals don’t form, the system gently swirls the cans while the cold air blows.

Today I Learned…

1 in 4 people never get hangovers.

More anti-hangover tips to help prepare you for New Year’s Eve in this Washington Post piece.

Was 361 a Good Year?

I’d be afraid to touch it, too. It looks possessed.

Scientists want to study samples of the world’s oldest wine, currently on display at the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in the western German city of Speyer. There’s just one problem: everyone’s afraid to open the bottle.

The glass bottle, thought to be at least 1,650 years old, was found in a Roman grave near Speyer in 1867 and put on display at the museum. Since then, it’s been handled extremely carefully, and been on display in the exact same spot in the museum for 100 years.

Museum directors fear that a moment’s carelessness could shatter the bottle, destroying its priceless content. Though scientists would like to test it to figure out exactly how old the wine is and where it comes from, as well as perhaps seeing how it tastes – cracking it open is out of the question.

Please, Tip Your Waitresses

Ever wonder how much you should tip your bartender? Here comes the science, courtesy of Sailor Jerry rum and in honor of Bartender Appreciation Day, which apparently exists.

NEW YORK, December 1, 2011 – - December 9 is Bartender Appreciation Day (www.bartendersday.com) and, to celebrate the hard work and graft of bartenders across the country, Sailor Jerry, the iconic spiced Rum, has commissioned a survey to gauge the tipping habits of Americans, revealing some very interesting facts.  The survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of Sailor Jerry Rum from November 18-22, 2011 among 2,078 adults aged 21 and older, found that the majority of Americans (76%) value a good bartender more than a trendy or stylish décor in a bar, reflecting the important role bartenders play in today’s society.

As the holiday season approaches, bartenders are gearing up for their busiest time of the year and to commemorate the contributions made by bartenders across the country, Sailor Jerry conducted the survey to coincide with the first ever Bartender Appreciation Day on December 9.  The survey’s findings included:

  • The majority of Americans think a bartender is more important than the décor: 76% of U.S. adults agree that a good bartender is more important than how trendy or stylish the décor of the bar is, showing how crucial the role of a bartender is to a customer’s experience.
  • Americans are good tippers: 74% of U.S. adults who drink or visit bars tip a bartender 15% or more, reflecting America’s reputation as a nation of tippers.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, 74% of U.S. adults also believe that the better they tip, the better service they will receive.
  • The South has the best tippers, while residents of the Northeast are the stingiest: Those who live in the South and drink or visit bars (23%) are significantly more likely to tip a bartender over 20%, than those who live in the Northeast (13%).
  • Tipping is Sexy: 63% of U.S. female adults find people who leave good tips for bartenders more appealing, while 60% of U.S. men do.
  • Being a good tipper can be a dating deal breaker: 44% of U.S. adults agree that they would never go out on another date with a person if they did not tip the bartender.  Of this, women lead the pack, with 51% saying they would not go on another date, which was significantly higher than the 37% of men who agreed.
  • Young People are more likely to be higher tippers: Of all U.S. adults, those between the ages of 21-34 (34%) are significantly more likely to tip over 20% than those aged 35-44 (20%), 45-54 (10%) and those aged 55+ (7%).

“Bartenders serve a hugely important role in society, and we want to encourage Americans to take the time to appreciate that.” said Daniel Deephouse, Brand Manager for Sailor Jerry Rum.  “Bartenders can be friends, confidants and pillars of the community and, as the survey says, their expertise can help hugely improve the experience of being in a bar.  The time between Thanksgiving and New Years Eve is the busiest time for bartenders and with that in mind, on December 9th, we hope to see people across America digging a little deeper to show their appreciation!”

In addition to staging a series of events across the country on December 9 to celebrate bartenders, Sailor Jerry is also running an online contest, where bartenders are encouraged to amass virtual tips from customers for the chance to win a cash prize.

For more information, visit www.bartendersday.com.

So We’re Drinking More

Have economic troubles finally sent people back to the bottle?

Consumption of alcohol hit as 25-year high in 2010, with 67 percent of Americans reporting drinking alcoholic beverages, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup poll. That was a level not seen since the late 1970s, when 71 percent of Americans reported they imbibed….

New Englanders and people in the far West and the Upper Plains states drink the most, according to the Washington based trade group, the Beer Institute. The driest states are spread across the Deep South, Texas and the mid-Atlantic (except Washington D.C.).

New Hampshire takes the top spot as the state that drinks the most, more than double the national average. People in N.H. consumed an average 6.7 gallons of wine apiece, and 3.8 gallons of liquor in 2010.

Strawberries Save Stomach from Booze

Who knew the humble strawberry could be so impressive?

In an experiment on rats, European researchers have proved that eating strawberries reduces the harm that alcohol can cause to the stomach mucous membrane. Published in the open access journal Plos One, the study may contribute to improving the treatment of stomach ulcers.

What then does this mean for strawberry wine?

Why People Get Tanked at the Office Party

Ever wonder why demure Katie gets so wild at the annual office Christmas affair? Blame it on, well, the office. Per the Daily Mail:

Drinking in environments not traditionally associated with alcohol leaves us far less able to control our behaviour, [researchers] claim.

While alcohol does lower our inhibitions, over time the brain learns to compensate for this effect – but only in familiar drinking environments such as a pub or at home with friends.

In an environment such as the workplace, where people are normally sober and focused, the brain is not as tolerant and drinkers lose control of more inhibitions.

The Poor Stay Poor, the Rich Get Lit

Want to drink better? Stay in school. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that spending on booze is strongly correlated with education. Not, perhaps, because the more educated someone is (and, thus, the richer they are) drink more… but rather that they simply drink better.

 

Cork vs. Screwcap: Here Comes the Science

There’s nothing quite like the sound of a cork popping out of that fresh bottle of wine, indicating it’s time at last to drink. The “click” of a screwcap seal being broken… well, it just doesn’t do the same thing for the senses.

If Hogue Cellars has its way, you’re soon going to be willing to put the corkscrews away for good. Hogue has long been a screwcap champion, to the point where it has spent tens of thousands of dollars bottling wines with a variety of closures just to see what really works best. It released a study in 2004 that backed screwcapped wines over cork-stoppered ones, and another, even bigger, study released this year, according to Hogue, seals the deal. In fact, it is now moving all of its wine production to screwcap closures permanently.

That may be a hard sell for some, so Hogue showed up in San Francisco recently to try to prove its case firsthand. But first, some science. It turns out not all artificial closures are created equal. The company evaluated seven different types of screwcaps and three artificial (plastic) cork-sized stoppers to figure out, well, that some are great and some are crap.

The details were long enough to fill a two-hour presentation, a 40-page PowerPoint, and an entire website about the issue, but it boils down to this:

  • In the long-term, screwcaps with plastic (aka Saranex) liners were best at maintaining a wine’s flavor (as judged both by expert tasters and SO2 measurements): Other screwcaps (including those with tin liners) let in too much oxygen.
  • Most synthetic stoppers are junk.
  • Natural cork isn’t bad — but it suffers from unreliability; bottles vary quite a bit from one to the next.

If only it were that easy: Even different Saranex screwcap manufacturers vary in quality. And then there’s the issue of headspace — the air trapped in the bottle after the cap is put on. In a corked wine, there’s very little air in there, but in a screwcapped wine, there’s quite a bit: There’s no cork filling up the space that is now empty and full of ambient air. You can fill this space with nitrogen or just let it breathe. (Hogue tested that too and now does that latter.)

The highlight of this event was Hogue putting its money where its mouth is: We tasted a vertical series of six Hogue Chardonnays ($11 bottles), all screwcapped, from vintages 2004 to 2009. Now I’ve had old, cheap, California Chardonnay before and it’s invariably been swill once I uncorked it. Hogue, however, proved this doesn’t have to be the case. Its 2004 was rich, buttery, and just about perfect — reminiscent of lightly aged Burgundy. I liked the ’05 to ’07 bottlings the least, but none of them were bad, proving pretty clearly that screwcaps can truly stand the test of time.

We then turned to reds: Five 2003 Genesis Merlots, all the same wine except for the stopper. Tasted blind, the crowd was asked to pick favorites. Most liked the A and B bottlings best, which were the screwcapped versions of the wine (one with nitrogen added and one without). But two of us (myself included) preferred D. It turned out to be, you guessed it, stoppered with natural cork.

Why did I like it? The A and B wines tasted too young, though a 2003 Merlot should be perfectly drinkable today, this was still tight and tannic, and tough to sip on… even after aerating for hours in the glass. The cork-stoppered wine, however, had a little age on it. Oxygen isn’t always a bad thing, and here it had done a little magic by giving the wine more austerity, more restraint, and better balance. I wasn’t surprised to hear that, but it was disheartening that half the group felt the wine was bad: The bottle their samples had been poured from was corked. Such is life in the world of natural cork, and it’s a sad fact that makes it clear why Hogue has gone the way it did.

So, is a screwcap better than cork? Not necessarily, but it’s certainly nothing to fear. A good cork will work just as well as a good screwcap (look for a white liner inside instead of a metal one) — and there are bad versions of both. How you figure out what you’re getting without opening the bottle, well, that’s a problem for another day.

hoguecellars.com

hogue screwcap vs cork Cork vs. Screwcap: Here Comes the Science

A Fungus Among Us

When in Kentucky, most of the distillery warehouses were covered in black mold. I asked one guide why they painted their buildings black (I had assumed to keep them warm) — but she basically said so you couldn’t see the mold. Turns out Bourbon country is not alone. Wired has the scoop on how neighborhoods located near distilleries around the world are infested with the stuff… stuff that no one knew what it was until just a few years ago.

Extreme Margarita Close-Up

It’s just as pretty under a microscope as it is in an oversized, salt-rimmed, cactus-themed cocktail glass.

What Booze Looks Like Under a Microscope

Keep hitting Next. The White Russian is super trippy…

AlcoHAWK Personal Breathalyzer Roundup

How drunk are you? No, really? How do you know?

If you’re a regular imbiber, it’s a good idea to test yourself once in awhile to make sure you’re OK to drive. 0.08 percent blood alcohol content (BAC) is the maximum legal level in most states, but knowing if you’re over that threshold can be difficult (particularly as you get closer and closer to it).

Portable blood alcohol testers can be helpful, but many require patience and luck to get them to work properly. Here’s a look at two very different models from AlcoHAWK, one of the leaders in personal breath analyzers.

AlcoHAWK Slim Ultra fits in a pocket and is about the size of a cell phone. The unit works well… when it works. Making that happen requires blowing into the unit for five seconds, turning it on, then waiting for it to count down from 100 to zero, a process that can take several minutes. Then, more often than not, the unit signals that it has an error. You have to repeat the entire process from scratch, then hope for the best. Sometimes you need one reboot, sometimes four. We never got it to work right on the first try, but when we did finally get it going, it offered results exactly in line with the more professional tester (accurate to three decimal places) that we had to compare with. B / $50 [BUY IT HERE] (pictured)

AlcoHAWK One Test is a single-use breath alcohol tester that has pretty limited value no matter what you’ve been up to that evening. It’s a slim tube the size of a cigarette that works only once. To use it, you puncture both ends, then blow into it like a straw. You then wait basically wait until the yellow crystals inside turn green. If the level of greenness crosses the line and red dot on the tube, you’re over 0.05% BAC — and presumably you shouldn’t drive. The accuracy is questionable, and I imagine if you are drunk enough to see a lot of green crystals in here, you know you shouldn’t be driving anywhere. But at least it’s portable. C / $20 for five [BUY IT HERE]

alcohawk slim ultra AlcoHAWK Personal Breathalyzer Roundup