Category Archives: Drinking Science

Angels: DENIED

A fascinating piece in the latest Malt Advocate (Q4 2008, page 18) still has me reeling and thunderstruck. It concerns efforts to thwart evaporation of whiskey, a natural part of the aging process. Evaporation is a huge expense for distillers: Conventional wisdom holds that 2 percent of a cask vanishes each year as it evaporates. This is known as “the angel’s share,” for obvious reasons, and it’s been a respected part of whiskey making since the start.

Now the solution. In a nutshell, Diageo says it is experimenting with, well, wrapping wooden casks in plastic wrap in order to keep the spirits from getting out. Per the story:

At this early stage of the research, the results have “astounded” the researchers, and the taste of the whisky “is not thought to be affected.” The technique is “not proven,” said a Diageo spokesman. “We are continuing our research.”

A warehouse full of plastic-wrapped casks sounds awfully lowbrow (imagine the eyebrows raised on the tour!), but if it really does let producers create twice the amount of whiskey with virtually no extra expense, imagine what it could do for supplies of older whiskeys as well as to prices.

Though I suspect tradition will win out in this research, it’s certainly a trend to keep an eye on. Maybe the future really is “plastics,” even in the booze biz.

Why Are Bars So Loud? So You’ll Drink More

I guess I just never really thought about it…

From this piece on PsyBlog:

Lowering the lights signals the real beginning of night-time fun: with dimmed lights and alcohol beginning to work its magic the business of loosening up after the day’s exertions can truly begin.

But turning the music up so loud that people are forced to shout at each other doesn’t have quite the same beneficial effect on social interactions. Because everyone is shouting, the bar becomes even noisier and soon people start to give up trying to communicate and focus on their drinking, meaning more trips to the bar, and more regrets in the morning.

Read the full story for scientific details: When the volume is at 88db, you drink a beer 3 minutes faster than if it’s at 72db.

Biodynamics or Dianetics?

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry weighs in on the biggest fad in winemaking going today: Biodynamic farming. One assumes by the name that biodynamics must be a good thing… but what does it really mean? The CSI folks dig deeper, outlining something that even includes astrological analysis that is “set against a complex background cosmogony that makes the whole process not unlike a quasi-religious movement.”

From the intriguing (and lengthy) piece:

Steiner’s agricultural lectures are, to put it mildly, not an easy read. They are marked by clear falsehoods, digressions, and odd fantasies. He recommends such techniques as combating parasites “by means of concentration, or the like” (Steiner 2004, p. 84). He says that certain insect pests are spontaneously created by “cosmic influences” (p. 115) and that eating potatoes “is one of the factors that have made men and animals materialistic” (p. 149). He tells us, “most of our illnesses arise” when our “astral body” is “connected more intensely with the physical (or with any one of its organs) than it should normally be” (pp. 116-17). In contrast, “in the true sense of the word a plant cannot be diseased”; plants only appear to be diseased when “Moon-influences in the soil . . . become too strong” (pp. 117-18). He also describes baroque fantasies of a human history that spanned “epochs . . . on the earth when such things were known and applied in the widest sense”6 (p. 120). And on and on, ad nauseam. It is good to keep this material in the back of our minds when considering his forays into agriculture.

Next time you meet a biodynamic winemaker, ask what methods they are using to manipulate the energy fields around the vines! Inquiring minds want to know!

But seriously, of course, many biodynamic wines are great, and I’m sure not all modern biodynamicists (is that a word?) rely on holistic methods in their vineyard management but are genuinely exploring positive environmental policies. Still, the origins of biodynamics is pretty fascinating stuff.

Democrat vs. Republican: Who’s the Better Drinker?

Beam Global sent this curious (and a little bizarre) press release today about the politics of drinking.

Based on a survey of 100 Washington, D.C. area bartenders about the political preference and drinking habits of their patrons, Beam attempted to find out how drinking differs between the parties: “Democrats are seen as better tippers, have better pick-up lines and give better toasts. Republicans heavily outweigh Democrats when it comes to ordering their drink straight up. Parties are at a stalemate over drinking hours, with Republicans edging out for the first to arrive at happy hour and Democrats being the last to go home.”

The full survey results are as follows:

– Who is a better tipper? Democrats 60%, Republicans 38%

— Who is more likely to order a drink straight up? Democrats 14%, Republicans 82%

— Who is more likely to order a fruity (pink) drink? Democrats 58%, Republicans 34%

— Who has the better pick-up lines? Democrats 74%, Republicans 14%

— Who is better at giving a toast? Democrats 63%, Republicans 36%

— Who is more likely to arrive first to happy hour? Democrats 48%, Republicans 50%

— Who is more likely to be the last to go home? Democrats 53%, Republicans 46%

Figures do not total 100% because this is a study done in bar.

Red Bull May Not Give You Wings After All

Sorry, club kids. This just in, and it’s kind of gross.

According to the latest research, the popular energy drink Red Bull can increase the risk of heart damage. The participants of the study were university students aged between 20 and 24. Researchers found that just one sugar free can of Red Bull raised the level of stickiness of the blood and could lead to the formation of blood clots.

The creators of Red Bull, of course, deny there is anything harmful in those little silver cans and say it has been scientifically tested for safety.

Still, maybe best not to guzzle this stuff by the gallon…

10% of Users Drink When Gadgets Stop Working

From my pals at Gizmodo:

This just in! Malfunctioning technology causes anger! That’s according to a new British survey, which finds that 73% of people have hurled a gadget in a fit or gage, while 75% admit to swearing or losing their temper. A really desperate 10% admits to turning to booze when their gadget isn’t working. Only 10%?

What we need is a study matching gadget problems to specific drinks. Those with broken ThinkPads probably drink doubles of Scotch, while I imagine the busted iPod user is morosely swilling a warm Heineken.

U.S. Alcohol Consumption Falling

What? Sales of liquor are supposed to go up during a recession or periods of other economic unrest. But the American Journal of Medicine is saying that alcohol sales are on the decline, with beer especially getting hit hard.

Researchers examined 50 years of data and found several changes in alcohol intake but no change in alcohol use disorders. Americans are drinking significantly less beer and more wine, while hard liquor use has remained fairly constant. More people now report that they are non-drinkers. People born later in the 20th century drink more moderately than older people. As we age, our individual alcohol consumption goes down.

Complete story, courtesy of Science Blog.

Of course, Anheuser-Busch would beg to differ with the American Journal of Medicine. Pick your poison.

Taking “the Fun Out of Booze”

All of the hangover, none of the glory.

An experimental drug that blocks the euphoric feelings associated with drinking may prevent alcoholics from relapsing. The finding, the result of a mouse study at Oregon Health & Science University, could lead to human clinical trials within the next year.

Good news for alcoholics and fraternities who use the stuff to screw with pledges.