We live in a time of amazing technological advances. Video phone calls, self-driving cars, fingerprint scanners—it’s all here. Things that once seemed like far-off science fictions have become everyday tools.
The science and technology of drinking, however, has more or less stayed the same. Winemaking, brewing, and distilling tend to look towards the sepia glow of the past, romanticizing the tenets of tradition, artisanship, and a steady hand.
But there’s little bits of mystery and magic tied up in the alchemy of alcohol, still full of charm and intrigue after all these years. Some of these quirks and oddities we understand perfectly well, and some we’re still trying to figure out, but they’re all pretty awesome.
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The Ghost in the Glass: Tonic Water is Spooky
We already know that tonic water glows under a black light. The quinine in this marvelous mixer gets all excited by UV rays, which leads to your usually color-free cocktail lighting up bright bubbly blue, like a mad scientist’s latest experiment.
You can take it further and make ice cubes out of tonic water, or get classy as hell with some glow-in-the-dark Jell-o shots. So when Halloween rolls around, or when you host your next casual Sunday rave, just think of all the possibilities you can tap into.
It’s Alive! And It Defies Gravity! Is There Anything Guinness Can’t Do?
Okay, so Guinness is not actually full of tiny exploding people (thankfully), but the company’s “It’s Alive Inside” campaign kind of made sense. We’ve all watched a freshly-poured pint of this beloved draught as it churns, bubbles, and settles with a seeming life of its own. It’s pretty, even when you’re sober.
Guinness also has the ability to float, like a dark storm cloud, on top of other beers. If you’ve ever had a Black and Tan, you’ve seen your bartender deftly layer Guinness atop of Bass Ale by pouring it over a spoon. The spoon trick helps create a clean layer, but it’s really the lower density of the nitro-carbonated stout that keeps it bobbing at the top of the glass.
Trial By Fire: Gunpowder and Naval Strength Spirits
Knocking back a harsh shot can feel like you’re drinking hot flames, but the thing is: some distilled spirits can literally catch fire. The most infamous example might be Bacardi 151 (put to incendiary use in the also infamous Flaming Dr. Pepper), but any spirit of at least 114 proof (57% alcohol content) can be ignited.
You may have come across a “Navy Strength” gin or rum, which means it’s proofed high enough to meet the flammability benchmark. In fact, this is where the term “proof” originates from. When the British navy was still giving out daily rations of booze, soldiers would conduct a test: mix a shot with gunpowder, and see if the little cocktail catches fire. If it does, that’s proof that the distillation is up to strength.
There’s two reasons this was important. The first reason: if some gin spills on board, the gunpowder won’t be ruined. The real reason: soldiers didn’t want watered-down booze in their rations. And that’s fair.
Molecular Gastronomy Gone Horribly, Horribly Wrong
Do not try this at home. It may not be dangerous, but it’s still a very, very bad idea — albeit a very good lesson in chemistry.
There’s a terrifying little drink (if you can call it a drink) called the Cement Mixer. If the name alone doesn’t sound awful, just wait.
Here’s how it goes: take a half-shot of Bailey’s and hold it in your mouth. Next, take a half-shot of lime juice and also hold it in your mouth. Then, shake your head back and forth to mix.
What happens next? You learn where the name of the drink comes from. The citrus curdles the Irish cream, leading to a thick and sludgy concoction reminiscent of—yes, cement.
The drink can also be prepared in a shot glass, where you can watch the chemical reaction occur. It’s interesting, but it’s not pretty.
The Variable Velocity Of A Mixed Drink
What will get you drunk the fastest: straight whiskey, whiskey and soda, or whiskey and cola? Well, it depends.
A study has shown that mixers that contain sugar will effectively slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. You may not be able to tell much of a difference, but a breathalyzer sure will. On the other hand, if you use diet mixers or soda water, the alcohol will be absorbed at a more standard rate.
But wait! What about carbonation? It’s been said that carbonation increases the rate of absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. There is some evidence to support this, but as of yet there’s no clear consensus.
This demands further study.
Fight Hangovers With Science
There are so many different theories flying around about battling hangovers, it’s hard to keep track. Try them at your own risk, but at least understand some of the underlying science.
There’s no way to truly cure a hangover once you have one, but some pain killers work better than others to take the edge off. Make sure you wait until morning to start medicating. Mixing booze and pills can do serious damage to your liver and stomach.
Better yet, try to avoid getting a hangover in the first place. But how?
First of all, never drink on an empty stomach. And although no particular food will completely prevent a hangover, it seems that some will do a better job of reducing the severity.
Doctor Lauren Minchen suggests loading up on lean proteins for the amino acids, which help the liver to process toxins. Also, eating foods rich in vitamin B, like bell peppers and leafy greens, will help keep your pancreas happy.
Tim Ferriss tell us that your pre-game ritual should include a bowl of guacamole. One of the reasons you get dehydrated while drinking is that alcohol suppresses vasopressin—a hormone which helps you retain water. Potassium, on the other hand, boosts vasopressin. Avocados contain more potassium than bananas, so load up.
No matter what you do, your body is going to lose water when you imbibe. Simply drinking a lot of good old H2O between cocktails will go a long way in helping you feel healthier the next morning. That’s just science.