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A lot of people want you to think about returning to the lifestyles of simpler cultures-like the precontact American Indians. These people see this as a more natural, touchy-feely, one with the environment, live in harmony with the land, nuts and berries, treat your body as a temple way to be. Pretty damned irritating people, all things considered.
Fact is, we got introduced to smoking courtesy of Native Americans (and every time I light up a good cigar, I offer a thanks to them). And alcohol? Probably some nomadic tribesman found a little honey that had fermented in the sun. Whatever the case, you can bet that the minute he got his first "beer buzz" going, he was on the lookout for honey bees.
All About Alcohol
The basic requirements to make alcohol are yeast, sugar, water, and heat. The proper mixture of these ingredients will cause yeast to consume the sugar and produce alcohol as a waste product-a sort of microbial dung-along with carbon dioxide, which gives fermentation its characteristic smell and also causes some natural carbonation.
Yeasts are fungi, and grow as single cells, budding off new growth or dividing into two separate cells. Like other fungi, their spores are light and are transported readily in the air, allowing easy spread. It is believed that the first human experiences with yeast in bread, for example, probably occurred when natural yeast landed in bread dough, causing it to rise and become fluffier.
The most commonly used strain of yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is used in the fermentation of many grains to produce alcohol, as well as inbaking. This strain is most commonly called baker's yeast or brewer's yeast. Saccharomyces carlsbergensis is another common yeast, used heavily in the production of beers, while Saccharomyces cerevisiae is used for ales.
The sugar necessary for fermentation is provided by grains, cereals, or fruits, though other sources may be used. When brewers use grains, they "malt" them, steeping them in water to force germination, which causes the seeds to begin converting starches to sugar. The starches are part of the seed and normally feed the plant embryo, in much the same way an egg yolk feeds the embryonic chicken. (Note: Attempting to make alcohol by fermenting chicken eggs or chickens is not recommended.) Wine was originally fermented using the naturally occurring yeasts commonly found on the grapes in the vineyards. In modern production, sulfur dioxide is added to crushed grapes to kill naturally occurring yeasts and molds, allowing the vintner to introduce a preferred strain of yeast.
In addition to corn sugars, which are the most commonly used, other sources of sugar and flavor for alcohol include honey, cane sugar, rye, corn, rice, wheat, sorghum, bananas, melons, apples, peaches, pears, and tree sap.
All About Beer
"Beer" is the generic term for a low-alcohol-content beverage brewed from cereal grains, malt, and hops. What Americans call beer is what the British consider "lager." Lagers are made with bottom-brewing yeasts, and are best served at 38°F. Ales, which are an older style of beer, are made with top-brewing yeasts, best served at 50°F, and include stouts, porters, and wheat beers.
Prior to 1800, most beer was ale. The lager method of brewing was introduced in Germany, marking the beginning of the modern era for beer, which is dominated by lagers.
The first historical evidence of beer was found at an archeological site in the lower river valleys of what was once called Mesopotamia (now Iran and Iraq). At the ruin of the Sumerian city Godin Tepe, a pottery vessel with a crisscross of grooves was unearthed by archeologists. The grooves contained traces of a pale yellow compound identified as calcium oxalate, a principal component of beer. Archeologists suggest that the grooves were used to catch sediment in the beer. The site dates back to the middle of the fourth millennium b.c. Evidence has also been found to suggest that the Sumerians were making wine at about the same time. Babylonian records from this era found on clay tablets include recipes for beer making, and beer was so highly valued that it was often used as part of the payment given workers.
Beer was known in ancient Egypt (possibly as a result of trade with Mesopotamia). It was associated with the Egyptian gods Neprit and Osiris, and both beer and bread were important in the afterlife where, ancient Egyptian stories tell, bread never decays and beer never grows stale.
Julius Caesar is credited with introducing beer making to northern Europe during the conquest of Gaul (France), which may have led to brewing in northern Europe in general. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Middle Ages (a.d. 500 to a.d. 1500), the tradition of beer making continued, largely in monasteries. Hops, which add the flavor distinct to modern European- and American-style beers, were introduced into European brewing around the end of the Middle Ages.
After Saint Patrick, one of the most well-known Irish saints is Brigid (also known as the "Mary of the Gael"). She lived between a.d. 457 and 525 and founded the monastery of Kildare. Saint Brigid was well regarded for her spirituality, charity, and compassion. She was also fond of beer. A popular story about Brigid tells how she was working in a leper colony which found itself without beer. When the lepers she nursed asked her for beer, and there was none, she changed the bath water into an excellent beer by the sheer strength of her blessing and dealt it out to the thirsty. Brigid is reported to have changed her dirty bathwater to beer for the benefit of visiting clerics.
Saint Arnold of Metz said, "Don't drink the water, drink beer." It appears he was concerned with the health risks of drinking impure water, and understood that the water used in the production of beer, which involved boiling, was safer. According to legend, he stopped a plague by placing his crucifix in a brew kettle and telling people to drink only from this "blessed" vessel. He is also credited with saying, "From man's sweat and God's love, beer came into the world."
The classic American drinking salutation is "Cheers," which reflects the prominence of English culture in the United States (even though more of us have German heritage than English). The well-educated traveler should have a ready knowledge of local toasts, such as:
Chinese: Ganbei! Literal translation is "Dry glass."
French: A votre santé! Pronounced "Ah vote-reh sant-eh." Literal translation is "To your health."
German: Prosit! Pronounced "Pro-st."
Hebrew: L'chayim! Pronounced "Lah-heim." Literal translation is "To life."
Hungarian: Kedves egeszegere!
Irish: Slainte! Pronounced "Slan-cher." Literal translation is "To your health."
Italian: Alla salute!
Japanese: Kempai! Pronounced "Kem-pie."
Polish: Na zdrowie! Pronounced "Na stroviya." Literal translation is "To your health."
Russian: Na zdorovye! Pronounced similarly to the Polish expression. Also means "To your health."
Spanish: Salud! Pronounced "Sah-lood." Literal translation is "Health."
Swahili: Furah! Pronounced "Foo-RAH."
Swedish: Skal! Pronounced "Skol."
Zulu: Poo zim pee la!
(Author's note: Yeah, we don't have all the translations or pronunciations. First off, it is really hard to find a reliable resource for a toast in Zulu, much less explain what it means or how to say it. Second, they all-generally-mean "Wahoo, we're drinking!" And finally, like you know any Hungarians who're gonna call you on how you say Kedves egeszegere? 'Nuf said on that . . .)
Beer Glasses (Not to Be Confused with "Beer Goggles")
Beer can be imbibed directly from any handy container, however, beer aficionados maintain that the proper glass should be used, depending on the type of beer. The shape and style of glass should be matched to the character of the beer to enhance and reinforce flavor and drinking experience. Examples are:
Goblets: wide with a stemmed base. Goblets prevent a runaway head, and are used with frutier beers.
Flutes: tall and thin, and should be used with pilsners. The drinker should pour to adjust the head height to the individual's taste.
Mugs (such as steins): short and wide. These are preferred for strong beers, allowing a taller head.
Tulips: shaped like the flower on a tulip, and are best for stronger beers. They tend to cause a taller head in many beers.
Snifters: wider toward the bottom and narrow at the top. These accentuate aromatic beers by concentrating the smells.
British Pint: tapering from wide at the top to narrow at the bottom, these are a tradition in pubs, selected largely for function (they stack well and are robust). They do moderately well at concentrating smells.
When in doubt, drink from the can or bottle. Who can keep track of all these shapes anyway?
Safer Beer Glasses
In 1998 the English Labor Party proposed banning traditional beer glasses in pubs. The motivation behind the legislation arose from concern over drunks or troublemakers smashing the glasses commonly used in pubs (the traditional English pint) and using the jagged edges as weapons. The legislation would have required a toughened safety glass to be substituted for the bar glass. The proposal was discarded when it was revealed that after repeated exposure to heat from washing, the safety glass could be easily smashed into very wicked shards.
The Down Side
Sunday morning. Your tongue is glued to the roof of your mouth and you woke up next to the toilet (again). Dude! You're hung over!
Though it isn't universally viewed as such, alcohol is a drug and it alters your body chemistry. One of the primary effects is to reduce the sugar production of amino acids in the liver. All cells need sugar to survive, and a lack of it slows brain activity and impairs physical function in general. Alcohol also forces the liver to work harder to remove chemicals known as "congeners," mildly toxic compounds produced during fermentation. It typically takes the liver one hour to process one drink's worth of congeners from the body.
Alcohol is a diuretic. As alcohol is introduced into the body, the kidneys work harder to eliminate the alcohol, which causes dehydration. Traditional wisdom has always suggested that drinking black coffee is a good remedy for a hangover. This is not true. While the caffeine in regular coffee may give a temporary energy boost, it is also a diuretic and will worsen the dehydration.
Drinking places stresses on the body that have a varying effect, depending on the physical condition of the drinker in general and at the time of drinking. Being tired, sick, or in poor condition is likely to cause a significantly worse hangover. "Condition" as a drinker also contributes. A regular exposure to alcohol can actually reduce hangovers (though there are other serious effects resulting from overuse of alcohol). A drinker used to moderate intake who engages in a heavy round of drinking is likely to experience a worse hangover than a heavy drinker.
Alcohol is a depressant, and heavy drinking is essentially a spike of exposure to the drug with all the related effects. The end of a binge and the purging of the alcohol by the body can result in a state of nervous hypersensitivity, which increases the discomfort of headache, muscle pain, and other physical side effects.
Finally, the severity of a hangover depends on both the quantity of alcohol as well as the type. Some alcohol contains a higher percentage of congeners, which are serious hangover inducers. Generally, the darker the drink, the more congeners. Vodka, for example, has very little whereas bourbon has the highest levels and causes serious hangovers.
Hangover Prevention and Remedies
The only proven way to prevent a hangover is to not drink. There are no "magic bullets," but there are ways to minimize the pain and quicken the speed of recovery:
Before You Drink
"Eat oily food or drink whole milk before drinking. In theory, the fat slows the absorption of alcohol and lets the body eliminate it before experiencing the worst of it. Eating starchy foods is recommended as well.
"Drink plenty of water. This helps to counteract the diuretic properties of alcohol.
While You Drink
"Do not mix different kinds of alcohol.
"Do not overindulge in alcohol that is heavily colored-cordials, dark rum, etc.
"Avoid red wines and alcohol with lots of additives, such as brandy or sherry.
"Stick to vodka or white wine.
When It's Too Late
"Drink plenty of water.
"Take vitamins (C in particular).
"Get some exercise. This helps to metabolize the excess alcohol out of the system.
"Eat foods high in fructose.
"Hair of the dog. A small quantity of alcohol taken the morning after will frequently lessen the pain, though only temporarily.
"Take analgesics, antacids, and other treatments for headache and nausea after drinking.
"Take a hot bath, sauna, or steam bath to help sweat the toxins out of your system. (Note: My editor wonders if this is safe and if you might die and then your heirs will sue her, me, and the publishing house. I see this is a real concern and I want to go on record as advising you not to take a bath, sauna, or steam bath ever again.)
(Note: If you are a guy with long hair, we recommend you pull it back before you start drinking heavily. Nothing worse than puking in your own hair.)
Driving Under the Influence
Laws in the United States regarding operating a vehicle while under the influence or even partaking of alcohol in a vehicle have become significantly more restrictive in the past few years. Punishments vary in this country depending on jurisdiction and past arrests, but generally begin with the loss of driving privileges and can lead to fines and jail time. Overseas, the punitive measures taken are similarly straightforward in some countries, and very creative and even weird in others.
In Norway, for example, the first offense will cost three weeks in jail at hard labor, whereas in Finland and Sweden the punishment is jail for a year at hard labor. A second offense in Norway within five years means loss of driving privileges for life. In the United Kingdom, it's a $250 fine, suspension for a year, and a year in jail, whereas the French will quadruple the fine and triple the suspension, but jail time is limited to one year. In South Africa, a DUI can cost jail for ten years, a fine of $10,000, or both. The Russians will take the offender's license away for life.
In Australia, by contrast, a drunk driver will have his name printed up in the local newspapers under the heading "He's Drunk and in Jail." (One assumes that the driver in question will be in jail.)
The Malaysians and Turks show the range of divergent punishments. In Malaysia, a DUI means jail time for the drinker and his or her spouse. The Turks take a gentler view: an intoxicated driver will be taken for a ride out of town and then forced to walk back under police escort, essentially long enough for the driver to sober up.
Finally, the governments of Bulgaria and El Salvador exercise the most extreme punishments, the firing squad. In Bulgaria, at least, the execution comes only after the second offense.