Category Archives: Drinking Science

More on Duty Free Shopping

My post “Is Duty Free Ever a Good Deal?” generated a bit of discussion, and quite by coincidence, I just found that this quarter’s Malt Advocate magazine has a lengthy look at duty free (aka “travel retail”) shopping, too.

The story can be found here on page 52 (registration required if you view too many pages), and it does back up my key point: That (at least in regard to whiskey and Europe) prices aren’t very good in duty free shops. The magazine actually has a good explanation as to why this is the case: Leasing retail space in an airport is ghastly expensive, so you can’t expect great deals in most places.

As many readers have also noted, the story notes that duty free shops are best used for shopping for products that aren’t sold anywhere else. Many distilleries offer “travel retail only” products that never make it to BevMo.

The story also has some good advice: Check the website for the airport you’ll be flying out of and you might very well find the products offered and the prices for those products right there, so you can plan on what you want to buy before you ever leave for your trip. (Oh, and the best travel retail shop for the whiskey drinker: World of Whiskies, found in various UK airports, with three outlets alone in Heathrow.)

Check out the summer 2010 issue for the full scoop!

Is Duty Free Ever a Good Deal?

International travelers, you know the drill: You can bring in up to one liter of booze without paying the duty on it. And if they have a special name for it (“the duty!”), that must be a lot of cash, right? Hence the existence of duty free shops in every international airport on earth.

But how much is the duty on wine and spirits anyway?

This took some research to uncover and I finally dug it up: Not much. About $2 to $3 per liter for most alcoholic products, after your first liter (which is automatically duty free).

Duty free shops promise to take the duty and any taxes out of the price for you, making your shopping theoretically cheaper. The catch, though, is that if you overshoot your one-liter limit, you still have to pay the duty yourself when you arrive home.

The bigger issue, though, isn’t the duty, it’s the prices. Just because a shop is duty free, doesn’t mean it will be cheap, and anyone who’s bought a hamburger at the airport knows how pricey everything can get. Duty free is no exception, and during my recent overseas jaunt I spot-checked several airports looking for deals. I found literally no wine or spirits on sale anywhere that were cheaper than I knew I could get them back home, even after taxes. And I’d have to lug a bottle halfway around the world. In some cases, the prices were much higher (like 50 euros (about $62) for a 1-liter bottle of Ron Zacapa 23 (about $40 for 750ml in the states, or $53 pre-tax for a liter).

Bottom line: Browse those Duty Free aisles to your heart’s content, but you’re probably better off shopping locally once you return home.

Q&A: Does Zinfandel Make You More Drunk?

Reader Sara writes: I hear drinking zin will get me drunk faster. True or false?

In the wine world, zinfandel has a bad reputation for making grown men and women into slobbering fools. Frankly I think the zin people enjoy this rep, but if you really look at the science of the issue, there’s not a lot to the argument.

Your average zin-basher holds that it’s the higher alcohol of zinfandel that makes it more drunk-tank-inducing. And yes, zin is almost always higher in alcohol than other varietals (especially European wines).

But in reality, the difference really isn’t all that big.

Consider a bottle of wine X that has a comparably low 13.5% alcohol level. In a 750ml bottle, that equals 101ml of pure alcohol.

Now consider wine Z (a zinfandel), with a comparably high 15% alcohol level. In a 750ml bottle, that equates to 113ml of pure alcohol. (I’m rounding to the nearest ml.)

The equivalent in “1.5-ounce shots of 80-proof whiskey” in a bottle would be:

Wine X: 5.6 shots in a bottle.
Wine Z: 6.3 shots in a bottle.

The difference: a measly 0.7 shots of whiskey. Split a bottle of zin between to people and you’re both drinking an extra half-ounce of alcohol over the course of the night, a couple of extra sips of booze.

That alone is not enough to turn a perfectly rational person into a raging alky.

But empirically, there is real evidence that zin drinkers do behave with more, shall we say, carefree abandon. Often in the form of sad public purging. Why do they do it?

My theory: Zin is an extremely easy-to-drink wine, a “guzzler” that even non-wine drinkers often enjoy due to its often bracing sweetness. It goes well with lots of food, and it’s easy to consume as a thirst quencher, so people tend to gulp it down faster than they should. It’s not necessarily the higher alcohol level that does those drinkers in, it’s the fact that they’re drinking twice as much wine altogether.

Just my opinion, of course. Now I have to get back to my Ripple.

Science: Oxygenated Booze = No Hangover

Some people swear by the “don’t mix alcohols” or “only clear alcohols” technique in their quest to avoid a hangover. Now scientists say they have a new method for limiting the negative effects of alcohol consumption: Imbuing alcohol with oxygen bubbles.

To wit:

The drinks with the added oxygen content sobered people up 20-30 minutes faster, under the influence of the rather potent alcohol they used for the trials. 20% alcohol is around the strength of fortified wine, soju, or a very strong mixed drink, so while shaving a half hour off your drunken tomfoolery might not seem a great deal, when you’re trying to fall asleep at night and combating the spins, you’ll appreciate it.

The researchers also asked what would change if someone were to drink multiple oxygen-enriched drinks over the course of the night. Would there be a cumulative effect? Again, the answer was yes: People who drank oxygenated booze had less severe and fewer hangovers than people who drank the non-fizzy stuff.

Remember, we’re talking about oxygen bubbles, not CO2, which is what most carbonation is composed of, so don’t go guzzling Jack and Coke and assume you’ll be all well in the morning.

Is It OK To Keep Champagne in the Refrigerator?

Recently a reader left a comment regarding something I said in my review of Nicolas Feuillatte’s Palmes d’Or Champagne that gave me pause. I said I’d left the bottle in the fridge for some months, and the commenter claimed that the “vibrations of a commercial fridge” would essentially kill the bottle.

That was news to me, so I asked the experts, putting the question to Nicolas Feuillatte itself: Should Champagne be stored in the fridge long-term? The answer? No, not really, but not because of anything having to do with vibration.

Here’s their full response from Feuillatte’s press relations representative, unedited.

I checked with a few Champagne pals, and evidently it’s good to keep in the fridge for a few weeks, but you probably shouldn’t keep it much longer than that. As you know, when Champagne is released from the producer’s cellar, it’s at optimum drinking age. Of course, many can be aged to beautiful drinking at much older ages, but that requires that they be kept cool (but not freezing cold) and in average humidity. While it’s possible to regulate humidity in a fridge, it’s less easy to keep a bottle just cool.

You’re safe up to a few weeks, maybe slightly longer, but it’s really not recommended.

As for the vibration, we’ve never heard that before. All the Champagne houses I know ship their wines overseas on a boat; I would imagine the few weeks that takes would do more damage than a fridge would over the course of a few days. That’s maybe not that scientific, but our general consensus.

So there you have it. A few weeks in the fridge is OK. A few months, maybe not. Keep it cool, but not cold. And don’t worry about the vibrations… except the good ones you get when you drink it.

Is It Worse to Drive Drunk or on the Cell Phone?

Here’s a wholly unscientific look at the question I undertook back in 2005 courtesy of a closed track at a Malibu Grand Prix, a friend with an oversized liver, and half a bottle of Absolut.

The answer: Inconclusive.

What Liquor Will Cure My Cold?

Based on what gets the most hits on Google in conjunction with the words “cure cold”: rum.

2008 Wine May Offer a Bit More Smoke Than Usual…

Remember all those California forest fires in 2008? Well guess what, you might be drinking them with your next bottle of pinot:

And then, biblically, came the blazes throughout the Northern California hills but notably in Mendocino, where the 129 fires of the Lightning Complex blaze would ultimately burn more than 54,000 acres. It was, in the words of one Mendocino County vineyard owner, like “nuclear winter for several weeks.”

It also was the first time in recent memory that California vines were subjected to such smoke. How would the wines fare?

Bottom line: We’ll see, pretty soon, as 2008 reds come to market. (2008 whites are not terribly effected.) But in many cases, expect at least a hint of that smoke character in your vino…

What Web Users Want to Drink…

Today I did a fun comparison, checking out historical Google search trends for the terms gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila, and rum.

While vodka‘s win (based on average search volume since 2004) is no surprise, the fact that tequila was right behind — and has led search volume since late 2007 — was quite a shock.

Also: They apparently love rum in Sweden. (Oh, and wine and beer destroy all the spirits, handily.)

Check out the complete data here!

web search volume alcohol 300x129 What Web Users Want to Drink...

[click to enlarge]

World’s Worst Diet: Red Bull for Eight Months

There are bad diet ideas, and then there’s this one: A woman lost 99 pounds over the course of eight months by consuming a diet consisting solely of up to 14 cans of Red Bull a day, “often accompanying them with nothing more than a handful of dry Honey Puffs.”


“I just continued to drink it because it’s an appetite suppressant and I noticed I was losing weight so stuck with it.”

Ms Robertson said she managed to keep her addiction secret from family and friends, and did not recover from it until after a two-week stay in hospital following a minor heart attack.

She’s better now.. except for a heart murmur and ongoing stomach and bowel cramps. And frequent anxiety attacks.

Successful Drinking: It’s in the Genes

Why can some men drink so much and create masterpieces of literature and art in the process, while others are turned into simpletons by half a glass of beer? Prospect Magazine has the answer:

Beethoven fell under the influence in the later part of his creative life. Among painters, Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon and many others liked a drop or two while working.

Such figures make alcohol part of the territory of creativity. An exceptional few seemed to thrive on drink, leading to the idea of a “Churchill gene”: where some have a genetic makeup allowing them to remain healthy and brilliant despite consumption that would kill others. Mark Twain endorsed this view saying: “My vices protect me but they would assassinate you!”

Sadly, the story goes on to note that, for many, there’s a tipping point beyond which drinking begins to kill productivity and creativity. Alas, I know that point all too well…

Whisky Goes Nuclear

How do you tell whether an old bottle of Scotch is legit or a phony? Well, you could send it to me and I’ll drink it and let you know… or you could run it through a whisky Geiger counter:

Scientists have found that minute levels of radioactive carbon absorbed by the barley as it grew before it was harvested to make the whisky can betray how old it is.

Researchers at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, which is funded by the National Environmental Research Council, discovered that they could pinpoint the date a whisky was made by detecting traces of radioactive particles created by nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s.

They can also use natural background levels of radioactivity to identify whiskies that were made in earlier centuries.

Counterfeiters: You are now on notice!

“Breathe Responsibly”

It’s, to say the least, “a very unusual way to imbibe alcohol,” as one man puts it: A sort of steam room that is filled with a gin-and-tonic mist. You don’t drink it. You just breathe it in.

And it gets you a little drunk along the way. Per the Times Online:

The mist tastes sweet and tangy – like an excellent gin and tonic – and is actually very satisfying to breathe in. None of us are quite sure if we feel drunk. Spending 40 minutes in the room is supposed to be the equivalent of a single cocktail but presumably heavy breathers (athletes and brass players?) will inhale the most.

The bad news: Unless you want to be covered with gin from head to toe at the end of your breathing session, you have to wear a special outfit during your time in the drunk tank.

Click through for video and information on getting tickets should you find yourself in London.

The Booze Hall of Fame

In 1991, the Guiness Book of World Records got rid of all its alcohol-oriented drinking records (you can figure out why, I’m sure). So leave it to Sloshspot to revive the category – most of which it culled from a 1979 edition of the book.

Fun stuff! So who out there can drink a liter of beer in less than 1.3 seconds? Hands up!

Smart People Drink More

That old genius at the end of the bar? Turns out drinking’s in his genes. The Times Online reports on a study linking intelligence to heavy drinking:

Research has now shown a link between high childhood IQ and an adult enthusiasm for alcohol that leads in some cases to problem drinking.

This association is even stronger among women than among men. Research by Dr G. David Batty and colleagues at the University of Glasgow, published in the American Journal of Public Health, compared the mental ability scores of 8,170 British boys and girls at the age of 10 with their alcohol intake and any alcohol problems when they were 30.

Whereas most of the clever children grew up to drink as most people do, reasonably and moderately, the likelihood of developing a drinking problem if one were unusually bright increased 1.38 times in women and 1.17 times in men.

The study is mute, however, on the subject of the obviously and vastly superior intellect of alcohol-related bloggers.

This Will Do Nothing Good for Tequila Prices

Unhappy with merely drinking their expensive spirit, meddling scientists have found a way to turn tequila into diamonds.

The final diamond film was hard and heat-resistant – properties that could make the diamond useful as coatings for cutting tools, high-power semiconductors, radiation detectors and optical-electronic devices, the scientists explained. They plan to begin industrial-scale applications around 2011, and hope to interest a tequila producer in widening its market beyond the traditional beverage.

No word on what brand makes for the highest-quality tequila diamonds.

Is Your Pint Glowing?

Unscrupulous manufacturers are apparently using radioactive waste in consumer products, and hiding the junk in old beer containers:

Abandoned medical scanners, food processing devices and mining equipment containing radioactive metals such as cesium-137 and cobalt-60 are often picked up by scrap collectors and sold to recyclers, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear arm. De Bruin said he sometimes finds such items hidden inside beer kegs and lead pipes to prevent detection.

The waste is being used, they say, in items including “purses, cutlery, sinks and hand tools.” But it’s the beer kegs that have us sweating…

The Healthy Way to Drink… Drink Beer, That Is

Red wine gets all the press, what with its anti-aging miracle compound. But what about that poor sod, the beer drinker? He’s left out in the cold to get a pot belly and enormous intestinal gas.

The genius kids at Rice University want to change that: They’re putting resveratrol, that red wine magic juice, into a brew they call BioBeer. Says one of the students working on the project:

“It’s not going to prevent you from getting a beer gut from drinking too much beer, or from getting cirrhosis of the liver,” says Taylor Stevenson, one of six undergraduates working on the project. “But people are already drinking beer, so why not make the activity a little healthier?”

Mmmmm. cirrhosis.

Microsoft Surface Table to Ensure Glasses Never Empty

You’ll start seeing these $5,000 computer-equipped tables at upscale bars (and, especially, Vegas) in the near future. Called Microsoft Surface tables, they’re nifty novelties with so-far questionable utility: Most applications I’ve seen for it focus on time-wasting games for bored people and trying to get you to buy music for the Zune MP3 player that you don’t have.

Now it looks like the bars will be getting a way to try to recoup some of that five grand, by using the tables to do some real work: Getting their customers to drink more. Check out the video below to see the table’s “level sensing glassware research,” in which a light beam measures how much liquid is left in your glass and alerts a waiter at just the right moment when you’re most likely to order a refill… when the glass is almost, but not completely, empty.

Better yet: Forget the waiter! Surface can sell you a refill right there on the spot! Now all we need is hydraulic spigots that rise from the table and refresh your martini without us pathetic humans to intervene at all.

Drinking and Dieting

Men’s Health outlines some excellent choices for cutting down on calories and fat while dining out and in — and they also include drinking options, including beer and cocktails.

“Healthiest” beer: Beck’s Premier Light (64 calories, 4 grams of carbs) — and Guinness Draught isn’t bad at 126 calories, 10 grams of carbs…
Worst for you: Sam Adams Cream Stout (190 calories, 24 grams of carbs)

As for cocktails, everyone knows the healthy way to drink is to go for the Bloody Mary or a Screwdriver.

A surprisingly bad choice: The Margarita. When made with the omnipresent margarita mix, each glass will set you back a whopping 500 calories (and 32 grams of carbs). Make it fresh if you want something remotely healthy — not to mention drinkable.