Tag - science

1
Fun With Cocktail Chemistry Sets
2
Mad Science: Rye Whiskey-Flavored Pigs
3
Breakthrough Science! You Can’t Drink Through Your Feet
4
James Bond (and NPR) Had it Wrong With the Martinis

Fun With Cocktail Chemistry Sets

Laboratory Flask Cocktail Shaker Set
Few people who understand the essential alchemy that is cocktail making are able to resist wishing for a white lab coat from time to time behind the bar. Behind the mahogany-topped lab bench, the bartender can turn mediocre booze into something good, and great boozer into something transcendent. It is hard not to get caught up in the desire to look the part. There have been products on the market for some time that try to scratch the itch, but none that I think are up to really doing the job.

Until now.

The Laboratory Flask Cocktail Set, from Periodic Tableware, looks to be made of decent lab-grade materials. It comes with four “shot glasses” (two beakers, and two Erlenmeyer flasks). The shaker is the lynch pin. It is a 500ml+ flask, with a rubber stopper and embedded glass stirstick. It also has the little side port with separate stopper that you can use to pour out shots or cocktails.
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The detail that just makes me fall in love with this set is the little custom Hawthorne strainer that fits the main spout of the mixing flask. How cool is that?

If you have an inner cocktail geek, you need this set. And check around for other cool products in the same vein from PT. They sell the shot vessels separately, as well as stemmed beakers for wine, and even Erlenmeyer Flask Martini Glasses that look both cool and stable.

Mad Science: Rye Whiskey-Flavored Pigs

Sizzling Bacon
Now, imagine it tastes of good rye whiskey….

Whatever troubles Templeton Rye may have concerning its labels and marketing strategies, I for one rather like the product. And were there any remaining doubts that the minds behind it were not filled with creativity, this story should put them to rest. Every time we think we’ve reached Peak Bacon in the meme department, someone comes along to top it. In the cocktail world, bacon fat-washing has been the leader in the clubhouse for so long, it is practically ho-hum now. But if making your whiskey taste like bacon is fun, thought the people at Templeton, how awesome would it be to make your bacon taste like whiskey?

Rye. Flavored. Pig.

The idea is fairly simple: If you feed your pigs on spent rye mash, and they will grow up to possess a flavor hearkening to the spicy undertones of the whiskey that mash was used to make. It makes a sort of brilliant sense; after all, you are what you eat, right? Popular Mechanics has a fun little writeup on how Templeton put this to the test. On first read, you’d think that these 50 mash-fed porkers (now gleefully consumed) were the culinary equivalent to the Alfa-Romeo 4c. But alas, PM leans more to the Popular in its moniker than the Mechanics in this article.

The sad truth is in there, though. “‘There’s no way for anyone to take a bite of the pork and taste that it has 20 percent Templeton mash in the feed,’ says Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard, who cooked one of the pigs for a themed dinner at her Little Goat Diner, in Chicago.”

So no whiskey-flavored pork loin just yet, cocktail folk. You may return to your regularly-scheduled fat washing until further notice.

Breakthrough Science! You Can’t Drink Through Your Feet

Copyright: nobilior / 123RF Stock Photo
Feet—You drink with the other end, people!
Source

To follow me on this, you will need to accept two fairly unbelievable things:

  1. There are people in Denmark who spread around the urban myth that if you soak your feet in booze, you will get drunk.
  2. There are scientists in Denmark who a few years back had so much free time that they conducted a scientific study to determine this myth’s validity, then wrote up their findings and published them.

The world is full of urban myths. (Once upon a time, when we were less urban, we called them old wives’ tales. But now we call them urban myths, because most folks live in cities, and punk kids have outstripped old wives in the too much time on their hands and wild speculation departments.) Often, urban myths spread from their nation of origin to other cities around the world, with hipsters as the primary vector, I believe. The pedal dipsomania myth seems to have remained isolated in Denmark.

This isolation could be a subject of some study as well. I suspect a possible result would be a recommendation to skew national IQ tables to decrease all recorded IQs of Danes by ten.

Heck, while we’re at it, let’s dock everybody from Norway, Sweden, and Finland by five, just for being fellow Scandinavians.

Sorry he did that drive-by to friends, Tiare, but this is about Science™.

Anyway, I think I’m far enough into this post that I won’t spoil things by revealing that they found that no, you cannot get drunk through your feet.

So how did Doctors Hansen, Færch, and Kristensen determine this breakthrough discovery? First, they experimented on themselves, in the grand, selfless humanitarian tradition of Jonas Salk. Our scientific heroes/guinea pigs performed their test by sitting around for three hours with their bare feet soaking in a tub of Slovakian vodka. The primary metric was BAC:

…Blood samples were taken to the laboratory for immediate analysis by the study nurse (and) measured as soon as possible in case of rapid and potentially fatal increases….

Selfless risk-takers in the name of science they may have been, but I’m glad they made sure to be as safe as possible. (Though to be fair, they appear to have been pretty cavalier about the far greater possibility of laughter-induced herniation in the nurse when he or she was told of the protocol for this experiment.)

But wait, this was a rigorous study! A single measurement of drunkenness was insufficient for our intrepid trio. Perhaps this foot-ingested intoxication is undetectable in the bloodstream.

Hey, that makes as much sense as claiming that “toe chugging” will get you drunk in the first place!

The additional metrics were a mix of factual observation and self-evaluation, to wit: Self-confidence, the urge to talk, and spontaneous hugs. The results are represented in the following chart:
Vodka Through the Feet Results
Alas, in these measures as well, the mysterious foot-ingested, bloodstream-avoiding intoxicating effects were essentially invisible.

2011-10-busted
“But I do question how it is that we haven’t done a show segment on this yet….”

The discussion section of the paper outlines some conclusions of various degrees of usefulness, ranging from “Driving or leading a vessel with boots full of vodka seems to be safe”, to “Importantly, students experimenting with transcutaneous alcohol absorption should move on to more relevant activities.”

When you translate that last one from Faculty to English, you get “Go out to a bar, have a drink, and meet some people. You will never get laid sitting around a lab with your bare feet soaking in booze. And if your wise-ass roommate has filled your shoes with Aquavit, don’t worry. It’s still safe to drive.”
My Faculty is a bit rusty, so I just copy and pasted that directly from Google Translate….

I do want to note that this study, while new to me, is Old™. I got it from Seriously Science’s Flashback Friday. I’ll leave you with an expansion on the scary thought with which they finish their introduction. I’m not sure about the development-to-market time-frame in the infused spirits industry, but if anyone in the vodka biz reads this piece, we could be seeing this ad any damn day now….

Pinnacle Fødder Vodka
Sorry Pinnacle, but you deserve this for making me live in the same world as Cupcake-flavored vodka.

(Seriously, in all honesty these scientists are geniuses. They richly deserved an igNobel Prize for this. They were clearly angling for one, and it is a crime that they lost out to the guys who studied why some patients literally explode during colonoscopies.

James Bond (and NPR) Had it Wrong With the Martinis

"That's not an olive, 007!And do leave off shaking your Martinis, will you?"

“That’s not an olive, 007!
And do leave off shaking your Martinis, will you?”

The NPR interview I’m referencing here is “old”, in both internet and news parlance. But I just saw it, and shallow science and bad science reporting need a vigorous slapping around whenever it is encountered, no matter how playfully it is presented. The interview in question is with a Dr. Andrea Sella of University College London, who was promoting the fact that he and others had spent someone’s good money on a “scientific” study of shaken versus stirred Martinis. Actually, he’s talking about two studies. One, which isn’t his, is about health differences, and his, which is about taste. The resulting claims, as outlined by Dr. Sella, are as follows:

  • Martinis contain anti-oxidants. When you shake your Martini, you will have slightly higher levels of anti-oxidants. Because vermouth. Anti-oxidants may arrest aging slightly by locking up hydrogen peroxide. Therefor shaken Martinis are more healthy.
  • Shaken cocktails have more water, bits of ice, and bubbles in them, which alters their mouthfeel, decreases their temperature, and increases the dilution. So shaken Martinis taste better.

I’d like to address both of these, but first I’ll embed the audio of the interview, which got a helluva lot of press attention when it first aired.

The claim that shaken Martini’s are healthier than stirred, and the underlying implied claim that both means of preparation have health benefits, is ridiculous. Look, I love Martinis, but praising them for their health benefits is like raving about the fuel mileage in your Formula One race car. Anti-oxidants may (or may not) delay aging a little bit. And there may be some slight increase in their presence in a shaken Martini. But listen to the researcher, the overall amounts of anti-oxidants in Martinis, and the difference between shaken and stirred, must both be pretty slight, or he’d want to tell you how much it is. Drinking enough Martinis to get whatever small anti-aging effect they may offer, shaken or stirred, is going to be more than offset by the liver morbidity that would set in. So if “live fast, die (apparently) young, leave a beautiful corpse” is your desired philosophy, by all means make Martinis a part of your health regimen.
For the sensible among us who like Martinis, drink them small, and drink them sparingly. If you want some anti-oxidants, eat more berries.

As for his credibility on shaken Martinis… I’m sorry, Doctor, but you need better credentials than just multiple advanced degrees in chemistry to convince me. While it is true that there is a debate about which makes a better Martini, shaken or stirred, that debate is between James Bond aficionados and actual Martini drinkers. For the record, I am assuming that we are talking about gin, and not vodka Martinis, though this is never addressed in the interview. Dr. Sella is right about the physical effects of shaking, but not about the actual resulting aesthetics. The giveaway is in the following exchange:

D(r. Andrea Sella): Well, one might expect it to taste somewhat different. Now, first of all, let me declare my interest: I’m not a huge fan of martinis per se.

(Guy) RAZ: Yeah, a lot of people hate martins.

D: Absolutely. I mean, martinis are definitely an acquired taste. But the crucial thing is that when you think about what happens between pouring something into your mouth and experiencing it in your mind, in your brain, it’s not just the sort of chemical components. There’s a lot more going on.

I’m sorry, but if you don’t like Martinis, then you are unlikely to design a test to properly measure what is a good Martini. A traditional taste test methodology, a la the Pepsi Challenge, where a random sampling of humans are given two glasses labeled A and B, takes a sip of each, and expresses a preference, is fundamentally flawed when applied to semi-universal products like soft drinks. It is doubly flawed when used for Martinis.

As Sella notes himself, Martinis are an acquired taste. Did he test only Martini drinkers, or a random selection? I’m guessing the latter. This means that a lot of people, like Guy Raz for instance, were going to experience a test between two drinks, both of which will likely taste like ass to them. The shaken one will be more diluted and muted in flavor, exactly as he predicts. Of course people, when confronted with a cocktail that is frankly pretty confrontational, are going to choose the version that is less a punch in the snoot to unprepared taste buds.

But had they given the test to habitual Martini drinkers alone, who are already accustomed to the unique, assertive medley of gin and vermouth, the results would have swung strongly in the other direction. People who actually want to drink Martinis are looking for that unctuous experience that is figuratively and literally diluted by shaking. Less objectively, the visual experience is better with a stirred Martini. The glass-like clarity of the drink, unsullied by ice flows, bubbles, or foam, is easier and more rewarding to gaze into, and more in keeping with the drink’s flavor.

Incidentally, I was initially also skeptical of the whole “shaking releases more anti-oxidants” claim itself, beyond the fact that there can’t be enough there to provide a usable health benefit, but on consideration, this makes sense. Dr. Sella states they found the anti-oxidant comes more form the vermouth than the gin. Many spirits experts will contend that it is the vermouth, not the gin, which is “bruised” by shaking, resulting in the release of a few new or altered flavors. I can easily see that along with those releases of/changes in flavor, you might also get some additional release of anti-oxidant compounds.

Regardless, if you want to learn to love Martinis, the road there is not through vigorous shaking. Learn to love the taste of gin in gentler cocktails, then try the real thing. And whatever health benefits may come from drinking alcohol, they come only from consumption in moderation, and frankly I suspect most of them come not from chemical effects on the body (for the most part) but simple mental hygiene of a life well lived.

And less you think I’m being too hard on Dr. Sella, he’s really quite the interesting and entertaining scientist and science popularizer. He also has a good sense of humor when things don’t go entirely to plan. You can see quite a bit of him on YouTube, in productions like this fascinating piece:
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