Distilled Knowledge: The Science Behind Drinking’s Greatest Myths, Legends…
US: Oct 2016
Alright, let’s face it: when liberals lose as big as American liberals did on Election Day last month, we immediately start cracking an alarming number of jokes about “drinking away the next four years… or eight years… Jesus,” because we can be a bleak bunch of bastards when we feel the arc of future-history sliding out from under us.
Will alcoholism rates go up during the Trump administration? A lot of the grief metaphors for Trump’s rise to power revolve around its characterization as a hangover. Will we see private rehab facilities ride the oncoming wave of binge drinking into a major business boom for which the president might ironically then be able to take credit? As I stare down the barrel of the new year, I find lots of calendar dates built in for contemplating my relationship to alcohol: the day the Electoral College counts its votes, New Year’s Eve, the day, Inauguration Day, the Hundredth Day, and on and on until Impeachment Day.
What I really wanted to do with this last column of the year was review Trump Winery. So many problems came up though. First, I got distracted during googling the product because I was overcome by a sudden desire to see which search phrase would get more hits: “Trump wine” or “Trump whine” (“wine”, by about 40 million). The next concern was not wanting to give Trump any of my money. After just having panic-donated to many charities that are going to need it, I’m not about to put a dent in my own good deeds by purchasing any of Trump’s products. That means I would have to ask the publicist for the winery to send me some free bottles. Yeah, right. “Thank you for your inquiry, little pop culture writer who cannot afford lawsuits. Your request to pillory our fine moneymakers in that disgustingly progressive and intellectual internet publication has been denied. Sincerely, the good people of Charlottesville, Virginia, who totally did not sign up for this when we took a sweet little gig at the local vineyard six years ago.”
The main problem is simply that I know nothing about how to talk about wine. I do know that Trump doesn’t drink Trump wine because he doesn’t drink at all. His older brother died of alcoholism in his mid-40s in the early ‘80s, and thus Trump doesn’t touch the stuff. The hypocrisy of owning a winery is small potatoes at this point though, so I’ve been turning my attention instead back toward the arts and sciences of alcohol as they connect to personal brand. Progressives’ reliance on drinking as a way to describe politics says something about how we view our culture—like, most obviously, it says we don’t feel safe telling you that wine is really a code word for weed. Anyway, in a desperate attempt to make meaning of our current political predicament out of the thin air, I turned to a very excellent little compendium of scientific research into the myths and mysteries of drinking: Brian D. Hoefling’s Distilled Knowledge.
Hoefling is not a scientist. He’s a historian who founded the Herzog Cocktail School in Boston. With a casual tone and accessible language, he instructs readers on a variety of alcohol-related topics, from how it gets made to the importance of the shape of a glass, from how we smell or taste it to why we get drunk or hungover from it. Distilled Knowledge is illustrated by Leandro Castelao with gorgeous tangerine and teal infographics in the style of a sleek, minimalist textbook. Readers can flip through it for timely answers to home bar conundrums, go cover to cover in search of a fuller picture of the field, or take my approach: open it up to random pages with one hand while balancing a second negroni with the other, Stephen Colbert’s latest Trump-addled monologue thrashing brightly in the background.
Here then, courtesy of insights gained from Hoefling’s fine explanation of all things alcoholic, are a few nuggets of truthiness that we may take to heart for the next four years… or eight years… Jesus.
The wheel has already been invented.
The maddening thing is, all the information you could want about drinking is out there. Scientists and industry professionals have done the research, but it’s hard to know where to look to get the answers—particularly if you have a lot of questions” (9).
Alcohol’s relationship to science is analogous to Trump’s relationship to marketing. We don’t really need additional data to appreciate either of them better. There’s no big reveal coming, no major evolution of our comprehension of these matters. Hoefling describes how his own fascination with alcohol “facts” that have not been properly substantiated eventually led him to write the book so that others may have a clear road map through the basic sciences of alcohol, eventually developing an ability to draw inferences during future drinking engagements that will make our relationship to alcohol more manageable. We need to know whether the old saying “liquor before beer, never fear” is a piece of fake news.
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Anything that contains sugar can be fermented under the right circumstances—carrots, milk, palm tree sap, you name it” (13-14).
The availability of alcohol is analogous to the circulation of Trump’s money. We are overlooking a slippery slope where both have the potential to proliferate with limitless fluidity. It’ll depend on how we capitalize on our resources because the marketplace can stretch to accommodate almost anything, no matter how far-fetched it at first may seem. Who knows, shots of carrot vodka might be the next big bar craze. As Hoefling rightly points out, how did blue curaçao ever manage to become a thing? It tastes like an orange, but it’s blue. Blue provides certain slight psychological advantages with which orange is simply not equipped. Trump’s grapes are grown in Appalachian terroir, having hints of lemon, currant and other bitter flavors. The most expensive bottle for sale on the site is the 2014 New World Reserve, which goes for $38. Of its ten listed awards, only one of them is for first place, but the tasting notes promise this wine will be “complex, round, and silky”. We’ve got to pay attention to the fermentation process.
Respect the virtues of the law.
You can build a still at home, and many people do, although I should warn you that it’s illegal to do so in the United States. In part that’s because it’s possible to blow yourself up, and it’s very easy to poison yourself, if you don’t know what you’re doing” (41).
The process of manufacturing alcohol involves sizable risk management talents, not unlike the office of the presidency. These are precision operations that require careful measurement, attention to detail, and clock-watching. You can’t let things get too hot or you’ll set the place on fire. You can’t skimp on quality control measures or you’ll end up with a hole in your stomach. Hoefling explains why you’ve got to know your head from your tail—because drinking the wrong one could make you go blind. The part we drink is actually the heart, often with a little bit of tail mixed in.
Best to just pick up some cans or a bottle when you get the urge to imbibe, rather than go for broke with your very own bathtub gin. There are plenty of people in this great country who are qualified to make it any way you want it, within reason; politicking and brewing are occupations where age in the barrel ought to be mainly considered an asset.
Women are still being held back where it counts.
Let me be clear: there are no hard and fast rules about which of any two individuals is going to get drunk before the other. I know women who could drink a Russian sailor under the table. But individual variation can be quite broad without disproving a general trend, and in most cases a woman going drink for drink with a man will end up drunker than he will” (124).
Damnit. Somebody please make me another negroni while I skim these next two pages covering alcohol’s effects on memory.
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