Sunday, March 17, 2013

The science of drinking for St. Patrick's Day

I begin with Discovery News' contribution: St. Patrick's Day: Beer Goggles Explained.

Does alcohol help make your date appear more attractive? It certainly seems to help for some! Laci takes a look at the phenomenon of "beer goggles" and whether there's any truth to it all.
Speaking of beer, Jeffrey Kahn of the N.Y. Times brings us How Beer Gave Us Civilization.
HUMAN beings are social animals. But just as important, we are socially constrained as well.

We can probably thank the latter trait for keeping our fledgling species alive at the dawn of man. Five core social instincts, I have argued, gave structure and strength to our primeval herds. They kept us safely codependent with our fellow clan members, assigned us a rank in the pecking order, made sure we all did our chores, discouraged us from offending others, and removed us from this social coil when we became a drag on shared resources.

Thus could our ancient forebears cooperate, prosper, multiply — and pass along their DNA to later generations.
But then, these same lifesaving social instincts didn’t readily lend themselves to exploration, artistic expression, romance, inventiveness and experimentation — the other human drives that make for a vibrant civilization.

To free up those, we needed something that would suppress the rigid social codes that kept our clans safe and alive. We needed something that, on occasion, would let us break free from our biological herd imperative — or at least let us suppress our angst when we did.
Beer isn't the only beverage associated with Ireland.  Whiskey is, too, and Scientific American examines Barreling Ahead: Whiskey-Makers Break Cherished Traditions to Create New Flavors.
Armed with modern analytic tools, distillers are studying the wood in the barrels and experimenting with the aging process. Is nothing sacred?

Master distiller Harlen Wheatley of Buffalo Trace Distillery draws a bourbon whiskey sample out of the barrel and pours it into a brandy snifter glass. Wheatley raises it into the light; the bourbon illuminates with rich colors of caramel, gold, straw yellow and light brown. He tastes the seven-year-old drink known as W. L. Weller and says, "That's really coming along."

As Wheatley moves onto the next barrel, the glass sits in the light, the bourbon shining brightly and illustrating the chemical change wrought by the barrel. After being poured into the barrel, the colorless spirit sat there or "aged" for seven years. The liquid mingled with the wood, giving the bourbon it's color, taste and smell.

A new generation of distillers have begun to break time-honored tradition and tinker with the barrels, relying on science and experimentation to bring new flavors into the spirits. For the bourbon whiskey business, the barrel is everything.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!


  1. Narb views the corruption of the purity of the American bourbon culture as yet another harbinger of the impending fall of Western Civilization.

    Bottom line: don't mess with Narb's sacred charred oak staves or he'll sick the Druids on you. And those Bad Boys will mess you up good. Reaaaaaal good. Heh heh.

    1. The Druids blowed him up good. Yeah, real good!