Does Glass Shape Affect the Way a Whiskey Tastes?

A common question we get here at Drinkhacker is whether glass shape actually matters; does it really change the taste of your drink of choice? In order to get to the bottom of this, we decided to have a small whiskey tasting, to try out a single whiskey in three differently-shaped glasses and see how it fared in each. The whiskey chosen for the experiment was High West’s Yippee Ki-Yay, and the glasses were: an ordinary rocks glass, a stemless cocktail glass, and a Glencairn whisky glass. As you can see above, each glass has a different shape and mouth width, so if glasses really do matter when it comes to taste, we should see (or rather, smell and taste) some differences. Each pour of whiskey was left to sit for 20 minutes to open up in the glass, then nosed and tasted. Feel free to get out a few glasses and try this experiment along with us.

The Rocks Glass

Nose: The first, most overwhelming scent we got from the rocks glass was ethanol fumes. The alcohol was in full force and pretty much drowned out anything else that might be lurking underneath, though a light undercurrent of butterscotch could be found hidden under all that alcohol. Given more time, some of this likely would have burned off, but after 20 minutes it was still overpowering.

Palate: The fumes are still there and still strong, though there are some savory notes hidden underneath. A taste of olives, lumberyard wood, and a little salt all floated to the tongue, but it was still hard to get through that initial blaze. Yippee Ki-Yay isn’t especially high in alcohol content, but the glass really amplified the alcohol that was there.

The Cocktail Glass

Nose: The nose on the cocktail glass was much more alluring than what we got from the rocks glass. Typical whiskey butterscotch and caramel, along with a light floral scent, likely from the vermouth barrels used to finish the whiskey. If we were blindfolded, this would have come across as a totally different whiskey than the one in the rocks glass.

Palate: The savory notes found in the rocks glass are still there, but much more pronounced without all that alcohol keeping them held down. Salt and balsamic, fresh olives, bitter amaro, and some black coffee. Yippee Ki-Yay is wearing that vermouth barrel on its sleeve, because in the cocktail glass this drinks like a unique aperitif.

The Glencairn Glass

Nose: Surprisingly, the traditional whiskey notes from the cocktail glass were mostly gone. They were replaced by cloves, cinnamon, and above all else, coffee. In the Glencairn glass, the whiskey comes across like a spiced black coffee, unique for a whiskey. Our initial thought was that the Glencairn glass’s narrow mouth might keep the fumes trapped like the rocks glass, but after 20 minutes that didn’t seem to be the case.

Palate: The palate bears out what the nose promised, with a rich black coffee rush, though it’s tempered by the same vermouth notes that the cocktail glass offered. The amaro notes are more pronounced when blended with the coffee, which give Yippee Ki-Yay a more bitter taste than in the cocktail glass.

Conclusions

So what does all this mean? Clearly glass shape impacts taste quite a bit, but why? A lot of it has to do with the shape of the mouth of the glass: the Glencairn especially is built almost like a wine glass, and when you take a drink, you can’t help but get your nose right in the glass, which will amplify what your tastebuds are getting. The straight sides of the rocks glass leave nowhere for the fumes to go, so it takes longer for them to burn off, whereas the wide mouth of the cocktail glass will let you get underneath the alcohol much more quickly. The wide mouth helps get your nose in the right position as well, much like the Glencairn glass.

So there you have it, a brief but hopefully informative foray into what those innocuous glasses can do to your favorite tipple. If you try this experiment yourself, let us know in the comments how it goes!

How to Use Infused Ice to Upgrade Your Cocktails

Anise Infused Ice

Infused ice is a fun way to add flavor to your drinks and add an eye-pleasing touch. To make infused ice, start by using distilled water to mitigate cloudiness. Add any fruit or spice (such as whole star anise, cardamom pods, or cinnamon stick pieces) to water in a pan and boil for a few minutes. This will infuse the ice with the flavor of the additive and also blanch fruits like strawberries, pineapples, and cranberries enough for them to be safely frozen. It’s the same process for preparing fruit to be put into gelatin. Cool the water. Then place a piece of the boiled fruit or a chunk of the spice used to flavor the water in each section of an ice tray. Fill the tray with the cooled water and freeze. Be aware that some spices like cloves, cinnamon, and anise may turn the water brown. The flavor is still packed inside.

Next use the ice in any beverage—alcoholic or not—in which you want to add that fruit or spice flavoring. For example: Throw a few strawberry or raspberry infused ice cubes in an iced tea for a nice fruit flavor which intensifies as the ice melts. Consider using a cinnamon, nutmeg, or anise cube in a rocks glass with your favorite whiskey. The trick is to not overdo the number or intensity of the ice cubes or the spices can become overwhelming.

Want to give it a try? Here are two professional cocktails from Stoli’s Elit Vodka that use infused ice which will give you an idea of how to be creative with the stuff.

Frozen TerrainFrozen Terrain
Created by Whitney Morrow, Beverage Director at Drumbar, Chicago
1 part Elit Vodka
½ part St. George Terroir Gin
¾ part Lillet Blanc
¼ part pear liqueur
1 cinnamon ice cube

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir. Strain into a rocks glass over a 2” x 2” cinnamon ice cube. To make the cinnamon ice cube: place 7 sticks of cinnamon into 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Place into large format ice tray with one sprig of rosemary and a thinly sliced piece of pear. Freeze.

Tickled PinkTickled Pink
Created by Ashtin Berry, Bartender at Ace Hotel Nola, New Orleans
¾ part Elit Vodka
½ part cranberry syrup (equal parts cranberry juice and sugar, cooked on low to thicken into syrup)
¼ part lemon
2 dashes orange bitters
champagne or club soda

Shake all ingredients with cranberry infused ice (made from cranberry juice) and strain into a coupe or flute. Top with bubbles (either champagne or club soda) and add a couple of cranberries and an orange twist.

What’s the Difference Between Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Shiraz?

So you’re browsing the wine aisle at your favorite store, you have a pretty good handle on what a Cabernet Sauvignon is, and what a Pinot Noir is, but there’s always a group of red wines you’ve never quite gotten a handle on: Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Shiraz. What do these wines taste like, what are the differences between the three, are they named after a grape, like Cabernet, or are they a blend, like Meritage?

To start with, Syrah and Shiraz are exactly the same, just different names for the same grape. It’s called Shiraz in Australia, and Syrah in most other parts of the world, though a few California wineries like Coppola buck this trend and call their bottlings Shiraz. Shiraz is also the name of an ancient city in Iran where some of the oldest wine ever discovered was found, and it’s thought that the grape may have originated in this region. Legend has it that the grape was brought to the Rhône valley in France by the ancient Greek Phocaeans, or perhaps by French crusaders, though of course we have no way of knowing for certain, and it could just be a natural French grape with a lot of mystery around its origin.

In France, Syrah is usually blended with grapes like Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault to make wines we call Rhône blends, like Côtes-du-Rhône or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, whereas in other countries like the United States, Australia, or Spain, Syrah is just as often blended with a variety of other grapes or simply bottled on its own. Syrah wines are typically lighter than a bold Cabernet, but heavier than a Pinot, with a more extracted fruitiness that can be similar to Zinfandel. Depending on the climate and the bottling, Syrah can be a fruit bomb, all blackberry and raspberry, or it can be a peppery, spicy, tannic, and often smoky powerhouse, designed to be cellared for years. Try Syrah as an alternative to either Cabernet or Zinfandel, with rich foods like barbecue that won’t be outdone by the wine’s body.

So what is Petite Sirah, then? It’s not yet another name for Syrah/Shiraz, but is in fact a totally different grape. While Syrah’s origins are shrouded in ancient mystery, we know exactly who is responsible for Petite Sirah, and when; the grape was bred by a Frenchman named Durif in the mid-1800s and was mostly planted in the United States, where it was incorrectly labelled as Syrah for decades. Despite its minuscule-sounding name, Petite Sirah is one of the biggest, boldest grapes available, with massive tannins protecting gobs of blackberry, chocolate, plums, and pepper. Drinkers used to the biggest, boldest California Cabernets will love Petite Sirah, though unlike Cabernet and Syrah, Petite Sirah doesn’t age exceptionally well and should be consumed within a couple years of its vintage. For a food pairing, you’ll want a meal as big and bold as the wine; barbecue beef and pork is still a good choice, and stuffed peppers or heavy cheeses make good pairings with Petite Sirah, as well. One of the major uses of Petite Sirah is as a blending grape, particularly with Zinfandel; a huge number of California Zinfandels contain up to 10 percent Petite Sirah in them.

While Syrah and Shiraz are identical outside of the vineyard where the grape was grown, Syrah and Petite Sirah are quite different, despite both being generally bold, fruit-forward wines. Syrah is very versatile and can be used to make outstanding blends, whereas Petite Sirah is a good choice for a bold Cab lover looking for something new.

What’s the Difference Between Cognac and Armagnac?

Even if you’ve got a pretty good handle on the world of spirits, Cognac can come across as opaque. It can be hard to tell where Cognac fits into the broader spectrum of spirits, and that’s even before you’re introduced to Armagnac, Cognac’s lesser-known sister spirit. So what are you actually getting when you buy a bottle of Cognac or Armagnac, and what’s the difference between the two? Read on.

To start with, both Cognac and Armagnac are both varieties of French brandy. To be reductive, brandy is distilled wine (just like whiskey is distilled beer). Though you can also make brandy out of other fruits, “properly” it’s made from grapes, and this is the case for both Cognac and Armagnac.

Cognac is brandy made in the Cognac region of Southwestern France. Cognac is mostly made from three major varietals of grapes that you rarely see in wine: Ugni blanc, Folle blanche, and Colombard, as well as smaller percentages of a few other grapes like Sémillon. These grapes, if fermented, would make a wine that is extremely acidic and often unpalatable, but when distilled makes for a spirit that is unparalleled in aging and blending potential. Distillation takes place in copper pot stills, which are regulated in size and shape by the French government. Once distilled, Cognac is stored in French oak barrels to age. All Cognacs are blends of various barrels, and each individual Cognac in a blend is referred to as eau-de-vie or ‘water of life.’ The age statement on a bottle of Cognac is an indication of how old the youngest eau-de-vie in the blend is, and for really exclusive bottles, the other Cognacs in a blend can be over a hundred years old. Cognac doesn’t usually carry direct age statements like a bottle of whiskey, however; Cognac aged up to two years is listed as VS or ‘very special’, aged up to four years it’s called VSOP or ‘very superior old pale’, and aged up to eight years it can be called either XO for ‘extra old’ or Napoléon. In 2018, the XO minimum age rule goes up to 10 years, though typically XO cognacs are considerably older than this.

Armagnac is brandy made in the Armagnac region in Gascony, further south than Cognac. Armagnac uses Ugni blanc, Folle blanche, and Colombard grapes like Cognac does, with the addition of Baco blanc, a grape that outside of Armagnac isn’t used for much of anything. Instead of Cognac’s copper pot stills, Armagnac is typically distilled in column stills similar to American bourbons,, Armagnac is only distilled once instead of twice in the case of Cognac. The single distillation and the column still combine to make Armagnac generally a more aromatic and brooding spirit than Cognac, perhaps a better entry into French brandies for someone used to bourbons. Armagnac uses the VS/VSOP/XO designations for age as Cognac, but the ages don’t match up perfectly; the youngest eau-de-vie in a XO Armagnac only has to be aged six years instead of eight. Also important for the imbiber more conscious about how much they’re spending on alcohol, as Armagnac isn’t as well-known outside of Europe, old Armagnac tends to be cheaper than similarly-aged Cognac.

So to summarize, Cognac is distilled twice in copper pot stills, and Armagnac is distilled once in column stills, and the grapes used can be a bit different. Ready to go use your new knowledge and pick up a few bottles? Try some of our favorite Cognacs, like Gilles Brisson VSOP or Martell Blue Swift, or Armagnacs like Chateau du Tarquiet or Marquis de Montesquiou!

From Barrel To Bottle: How Wood Aging Impacts Whiskey

When you contemplate any barrel-aged spirit there are many flavors and aromas that will confuse and astound your palate. Look at any review of these products and you will get my point. A lot of the characteristics you experience come from the internal chemical and biological attributes of the wood itself. Many distillers attribute around 40% to 80% of the overall characteristics experienced in whiskies, provided it hasn’t been influenced by other means, are produced by the interaction of the spirit with the wood. To understand how the wood does this, you have to delve into the inner workings of the tree.

The main structure of a barrel is composed of multiple staves that are cut from the heartwood of a tree. There are two internal structures inside the plant’s cell wall known as hemicellulose and lignin that influence the character of the spirit. Hemicellulose is made up of organic compounds and numerous sugars that are soluble in alcohol, and with the application of heat will produce color and caramel notes. Lignin is a source of Methoxy phenols, such as vanillin and syringol. These are naturally occurring organic compounds and they change with the help of heat and acidity, creating the smoky vanilla flavors and aromas in the spirit.

Throughout the wood, there are four broad components that further influence the spirit; tannins, lactones/trans-lactones, phenolics, and acids. Tannins produce an astringent, mouth drying characteristic that creates structure. Lactones/trans-lactones create coconut, clove, and butterscotch flavors and aromas. Phenolics and acids create over 400 different flavor and aromatic compounds including Ethyl syringate (tobacco and fig), Ethyl ferulate (spice and cinnamon), Ethyl vanillate (burnt, smoky and vanilla), and Methyl salicylate, which gives off minty wintergreen notes. These components also help to create the aromatic differences found in various wood varietals. Some examples include American white oak (Quercus alba), which has aromas of vanilla, coconut, pine, cherry, and spice. European oak (Quercus robur) has aromas of dried fruit, clove, raisin, and orange peel, and Japanese oak (Quercus mongolica) has intense, perfumed notes of spice and sandalwood. All of these properties are enriched and balanced during a curing process, where the cut oak is seasoned in the elements for 1 to 3 years before use. This helps with reducing astringency in the tannins, and allows for airborne bacteria and fungi to collect and grow. These organisms help breakdown complex carbohydrates in the wood, making it easier for further chemical reactions to take place inside the barrel.

After the curing process, the wood is shaped into staves and the main body of the barrel is built, from there it is toasted and charred. This application of heat effectively changes the outer structure of the staves, and chemically changes the sugars in the wood. Toasting affects the wood in two ways; oak tannins are degraded, giving color to the spirit, and the lignin degrades, producing vanilla flavor and aroma. Charring changes things a bit further, the hemicellulose is broken down into ten simple sugars, which then caramelize into what’s known as the “red layer,” creating flavors and aromas of caramel and chocolate.

Once the spirit is in the barrel, chemical and environmental reactions begin to shape the final product. Fluctuations in temperature expand and contract the barrel, forcing the alcohol in and out of the wood, extracting flavor congeners and sweetness. During this time the alcohol passes through a thin carbon filter on the inner surface of the barrel created during the charring process, this smooths out the spirit by absorbing aldehydes and sulfur compounds. As the temperature reaches higher levels it causes the evaporation of around 3% to 10% of the liquid yearly — the famous “angel’s share.” Humidity levels during this process influence the loss of liquid and effect the alcohol percentage. Higher humidity causes alcohol to evaporate more readily than water, and decreases the level of alcohol over time. In lower humidity the water is first to evaporate, causing an increase in alcohol percentage.

After evaporation has occurred the headspace created in the barrel is replaced by oxygen. This enters the barrel through pores in the wood and dissolves into solution with the spirit, this forms esters, aldehydes and acids that create fruity, nutty and vanilla flavors. At this point in maturation the flavors and aromas continue to concentrate in the reduced volume of spirit. During this period the spirit’s natural characteristics start to diminish, and the complex flavors and aromas of the wood start to take over; this is controlled by the length of maturation, climate and the size of the barrel. Typically, you will see barrels that range from the standard american 53 gallon barrel, all the way up to the 132 gallon sherry butt. The spirits matured in these larger barrels tend to take longer to appreciate in complexity because of the higher volume of liquid and the larger vessel. Aging in smaller barrels allows for more play between spirit and wood, due to an increased surface to volume ratio. In these small barrels, characteristics of the wood such as a darker color and oaky vanilla flavor and aroma are more readily infused in a shorter period, but the uptake of other components such as tannins which can quickly overpower the spirit is also accelerated.

The use of smaller barrels has been popularized within craft distillation because of their ability to produce a richly flavored and colorful product in a shorter period. A lot of these products can be quite vibrant and complex, yet some experts argue against their ability to create a well aged spirit. They propose that the longer periods of maturation are integral to the formation of flavor and aromatic compounds. While there is some validity in that statement, many aged craft spirits on the market today have shown great promise and continue to gain in popularity.

The act of aging spirits in wooden barrels has been a tradition for a long time, and has inspired some of the most sought after bottles in the history of alcohol production. The complexities brought forth from the interaction between spirit and wood will continue to astound and perplex the senses, creating a want for more experimentation. We are now seeing a multitude of new techniques being applied in wood aging: Different types of wood, re-use of barrels, and experimental maturation processes continue to create varied and expressive end products. Because of this, it is essential to educate yourself on the inner workings of wood, allowing for a greater understanding of what you are experiencing. Although this only scratches the surface of how wood influences alcohol, I hope it makes things a little easier the next time you pour a dram.

Do Sulfites in Wine Give You Headaches?

For many wine drinkers, one of the first things they consider when buying wine is whether their bottle contains headache-inducing sulfites. But are sulfites as bad as they are painted out to be? Do they really cause headaches, and if so, how does one avoid them?

The term “sulfite” refers broadly to a group of chemical compounds that contain sulfur in them, the most common being sulfur dioxide, SO2. Sulfites are found everywhere, in nature and in manufacturing; among many, many other things, they develop naturally in the human body, are used in drying fruit, and most importantly for our purpose, are used as a preservative in wine. Sulfites are added to nearly every commercially available wine to protect against oxidation, and to prevent bacteria from forming in the bottle. Sulfites occur naturally in wine during fermentation, but in most wines, additional sulfites are added to safeguard against spoilage. While wines labelled as “sulfite-free” do exist, it’s worth noting that the label is not technically true; a wine can be labelled sulfite-free if it contains less than 10 mg of sulfite per liter, and it would be incredibly difficult to fully remove sulfites from wine, if it’s possible at all.

So sulfites are everywhere in what we consume — does this mean you should just stay home and hide to avoid those uncomfortable allergic reactions? Probably not. While an unlucky few with sulfite allergies certainly exist, the FDA notes that sulfite sensitivity is much rarer than many realize. If wine is giving you headaches, it’s likely not from the sulfites, but instead from the histamines which also naturally occur in wine, which have been shown cause headaches by way of dilation of the carotid artery, which leads to a drop in blood pressure. There are no histamine-free wines, but if you regularly get headaches after having a glass, talk to your doctor, and maybe she could suggest an antihistamine to take before drinking. And of course, wine has alcohol in it, which has a dehydrating effect. Dehydration is a big part of what causes a hangover, which are typified by — of course — bad headaches.

Still not convinced? Though as we’ve noted there’s no such thing as a sulfite-free wine, by buying organically-grown wines you can at least have a bottle with no sulfites added. Be aware that when picking up such a wine, you’ll have to drink it sooner than you would a sulfite-laden Cabernet. Without the preservative effect the sulfites give, a wine will spoil and become undrinkable quickly. And it’s worth noting that, at least in our experience, organic bottles don’t tend to be especially impressive wines.

Has This Man Discovered the Secret to “Healthy” Alcohol?

harsha_chigurupati

Harsha Chigurupati, a gregarious man and a self-described “technological evolutionist,” may not be a scientist, but he does know a little something about the liver. His family runs a company called Granules India, which Chigurupati calls the world’s second-largest manufacturer of acetaminophen (a widely used but notorious liver-damaging drug), and during his tenure there the company tinkered with a way to minimize its harm to the organ. An additive was developed, he says, though never commercialized – but it did get Chigurupati thinking. If you can stop Tylenol from damaging the liver, why not do the same thing for booze?

Alcohol is rough on the body, but it’s particularly bad for the liver. Alcohol-related liver damage takes many forms, and epidemiologists put all of them under the umbrella of alcoholic liver disease, or ALD. According to the CDC, deaths from ALD took 18,146 lives in 2013, its most recent reporting year. That’s over 62 percent of all alcohol-related deaths not associated with accidents, homicides, or other indirect causes.

The most notable and dangerous member of this group is cirrhosis, a slow-to-develop disease caused by scar tissue in the liver accumulating and replacing healthy tissue, ultimately causing it to cease functioning. It’s especially dangerous because many people who suffer from cirrhosis don’t even realize they have it. B.S. Anand, a gastroenterologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, wrote that up to 40 percent of cirrhosis cases are never discovered until an autopsy is performed, making prevention particularly difficult.

A few years after leaving the family business, Chigurupati founded Chigurupati Technologies with an eye on this problem and the goal “to deliver safer alcoholic beverages to mankind,” as he says. But “safer” is a loaded term in liver circles, because the mechanism by which cirrhosis develops is poorly understood. Some posit that acetaldehyde, a major product of metabolizing alcohol, is responsible, and Chigurupati hypothesized that reducing acetaldehyde would protect the liver. Ten years and $40 million later, he says he’s figured out how.

Chigurupati’s work led to the development of NTX, a combination of mannitol, potassium sorbate, and glycyrrhizin. Mannitol is a sugar. Potassium sorbate is a preservative. Glycyrrhizin, the primary active ingredient, is a creepy name for an extract of licorice root. Glycyrrhizin isn’t snake oil. It has been formally studied to treat hepatitis and cirrhosis in both animal and human trials, and the findings have largely shown that it has so-called hepatoprotective – liver-protecting – effects. (That said, there have been reports of serious side-effects associated with excessive licorice intake.)

In a peer-reviewed study published by Phytotherapy Research, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover experiment tested whether NTX would reduce the production of aminotransferase (ALT) and other enzymes when drinking. These are commonly used liver tests, markers that, when elevated, typically indicate liver dysfunction. By the end of the study, 12 subjects had been dosed nightly up to a 0.12% blood alcohol level, drinking vodka either spiked with NTX or a placebo. The results were promising: The placebo group showed increased ALT and other liver enzyme levels, but the group drinking vodka with NTX showed lower levels, sometimes much lower. Chigurupati has used that data to suggest that when consumed with alcohol, NTX can protect your liver.

The experts say: Well, maybe.

Drink Two and Call Me in the Morning

Swaytha Ganesh, a hepatology doctor, and Raman Venkatraman, a pharmaceutical scientist, both with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, evaluated the study in full at my request. Says Ganesh, who is part of UPMC’s living donor transplant team was cautiously positive, saying, “It’s a good conceptual study. We’ve never had any human studies along these lines. Animal models have been done, but there’s nothing in the literature on preventing alcohol-related liver damage in people.”

But, Ganesh said, the number of subjects is too small to extrapolate to the entire population, and enzyme tests are a relatively crude indicator of liver damage. “Alcohol can cause lots of changes in the liver,” she says. “You can only prove damage through a biopsy.” She’d like to see the test repeated with a larger sample size, validation through biopsies, and a longer time horizon than just a few days in order to establish the long-term effects of NTX as well as to verify its safety.

Anurag Maheshwari, a doctor specializing in liver disease, at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore found Chigurupati’s study compelling but agrees that the sample was too small and the study too short to make firm conclusions. “People who drink have higher ALT levels,” he says, “and people who take this product have lower ALT levels; but is that true for every person? In the market they need to know whether this is effective 2 percent of the time or 100 percent of the time. I don’t think this study answers all the questions that are raised.”

Chigurupati responds that this isn’t the only research he has done, pointing to “thousands of animal tests” that include biopsies that back up his claims. However, those studies have not been published or peer-reviewed. He thinks biopsies on living human subjects are unrealistic and unwarranted, saying, “This is not a drug with a curative effect; it has a preventive effect. If you go to a doctor and he suspects you have a liver problem, he does not order a painful biopsy, he orders an enzyme test.”

Chigurupati has also faced criticism that the study was funded by his company rather than an independent entity. He responds that this is the norm in pharmaceutical research and asks, “Why would an independent agency spend millions of dollars to replicate human trials that don’t benefit them?”

The Business of “Safer” Booze

Despite the relative simplicity of his research, Chigurupati hopes to license NTX to distillers and vintners, who would mix it directly into their spirits. A pill won’t work, he says, because the drug has to be consumed in the right amount as well as at the right time. “If it’s mixed into the alcohol you are automatically getting the correct dosage,” he says. “If you take it 20 minutes later it isn’t as effective, and we don’t want to get into a situation of people taking 10 pills and thinking they can go out and drink all the alcohol they want.”

As such, he has taken the product to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to get approval to use the study’s findings in marketing materials. Bellion Vodka is actually on the market already, the first booze you can buy with NTX in the mix. Chigurupati wants to see the product, and others that use NTX, labeled as “safer” alcoholic beverages that reduce the risk of liver damage.

But Chigurupati says the TTB rejected the health claims “immediately” upon disclosure to the bureau two years ago, even yanking label approvals Chigurupati already had. Chigurupati says that he filed a formal petition earlier this year and that the case is under appeal. He even says he plans to file a first amendment-based lawsuit if his labeling request isn’t ultimately approved.

The TTB offers a somewhat different story. “We do have a health claim petition in front of us. It has not been rejected and is currently under review,” says Tom Hogue, the TTB’s representative for Congressional and Media Inquiries. “It will be evaluated on the facts presented to us,” adds Hogue. “We have regulations that deal with health claim petitions and how to deal with that, but we have not acted on that.” The TTB wouldn’t comment further on Chigurupati’s legal plans but stressed that any health claims made would have to be shown to be truthful, adequately substantiated, and not misleading to the consumer.

Chigurupati believes that the TTB is stalling in part because the TTB might feel that NTX will convince drinkers they can drink all they want without fear of harm. “This is a marketing problem,” Chigurupati says. “Overindulgence is a common theme I hear, but NTX isn’t alone. When seatbelts and airbags were invented, people were afraid they would encourage people to drive more recklessly. Some people thought that helmets would cause motorcycle drivers to be less cautious. Our position is that if something can be made to be safer for your body, the world is better off.”

When I told her that the product in the study was being marketed as a liquor additive and described the squabble with the TTB, Ganesh, the liver specialist, laughed out loud. “We know that alcohol causes damage to the liver. I would never endorse any product to be taken with alcohol to make it safer,” she says. But she also hedges: “If [Chigurupati] can prove something with a broader study, well, that’s a different story.”

Until then, well, here’s to your health.

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