Saturday, February 7, 2015
Proof: the Science of Booze by Adam Rogers
I brought Proof: The Science of Booze to a beach week-end getaway where there may have been some partaking of adult beverages. It seemed like a good fit.
Rogers gets his science on as he explores the science of making different kind of alcohol - with yeast, distillation, sugar, and fermentation. He interweaves the history of different kinds of alcohol, and how different cultures chose their alcoholic drink of choice, often by what was at hand to make it. In addition, he explores the science of smell and taste and how alcohol reacts with the body.
I enjoyed reading about the different processes and molecular interactions required to make alcohol. I can guarantee I won't remember most of the technical bits (and there were a lot of technical bits), but it was fun to get some historical and scientific context for different alcoholic beverages.
My favorite part was when he talked about how alcohol affects the body. There are numerous studies - and results - for other kinds of addictive substances (opioids, for instances), but very few about alcohol, Very little is actually known about how, molecularly, alcohol reacts in the body.
Rogers describes that, in 1973, Alan Marlatt developed a study to try to determine how people react when drinking moderate amounts of alcohol. The thing is, he wanted to study people who didn't know if they were drinking alcohol or not. This proved to be a challenge. It's really hard to develop a drink that doesn't have some taste of alcohol in it. But he did. Five parts tonic water and one part vodka served cold was the alcoholic beverage. All tonic water was the placebo. This was great, because then he could have four groups to study - people who expected a drink with alcohol and got a drink with alcohol, people who expected a drink with alcohol and got a placebo, people who expected a placebo and got a placebo, and people who expected a placebo and got alcohol.
What do you think happened when people started drinking?
NONE of the drinkers experienced loss of control unless they thought they were getting alcohol. Think about that. Even the people who thought they were getting a placebo but got alcohol instead did not show any loss of control. People's expectancies about their experience with alcohol determines their experience with alcohol.
More studies have been done since which take that idea further. Why do some people get violent and aggressive when they drink and others are mellow? Looking at other cultures, as well as more scientific studies, have shown that cultural and societal influences determine how people react when they are intoxicated, which would then influence their expectations of how alcohol will affect them.
Fascinating stuff. I read this chapter twice.
Rogers makes the science accessible for us non-sciency types with a friendly writing style. Proof: The Science of Booze is chock full of information into one of the world's favorite substances. Well done.
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