Beer science

Proof of great science writing

Proof: The Science of Boozeproof-cover_200
Adam Rogers
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2014)

A while ago I wrote that I was less than impressed with a book about the science of beer called Froth. I found it lacking in humour, dull and an excellent example to illustrate the difficulty of writing an accessible science book.

While the author was a science guy, and therefore smart, he lacked the ability to write in an engaging way (a problem I have to say is shared by loads of academics. It’s like they think it’s a bad thing to write something that communicates ideas and information easily).

Rogers’ Proof is an example of a successful effort at writing a sciencey book. That’s because he’s a writer, not a scientist (everyone always downgrades the skill of writing. They think it’s so easy that anyone can do it. Read these two books one after the other and you can’t avoid coming to the conclusion that writing in a way that conveys information in an entertaining way is bloody hard to do. Okay, end cranky journalist’s rant).

Rogers’ book isn’t just about beer – it’s also about spirits, cocktails and even wine. He’s set it up in eight chapters, following the creation of the booze (a chapter called ‘‘yeast’’) to the effects on the human body (the ‘‘hangover’’ chapter). Along the way he mixes interviews with brewers, scientists and researchers with a bit of history and plenty of scientific information.

And it’s palatable – and fascinating – information. It includes an illustration of how drugs to treat alcoholism work – they stop the body from breaking down aldehyde dehyrogenase, which is the substance that makes you feel like crap the next day (incidentally, a decent segment of Japanese people lack the proper enzyme to efficiently break that down, which makes alcohol a less exciting proposition for them).

Alcohol also makes you need to piss more often because it suppresses a chemical that tells the kidneys to hold onto water. So the kidneys let more fluid go straight through than usual – meaning you have more fluid to pee out.
He also explains why sauvignon blanc smells like passionfruit but ordinary grape juice doesn’t and lays out the evidence that suggests people will act drunk if they think they’re drinking alcohol, even though they’re actually not.

So if you’re looking for an accessible book about the science of beer (and other forms of alcohol) then I can definitely recommend you read Proof.

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2 replies »

  1. If you’ve an interest in science and brewing you should follow @cggbamford on twitter and his blog. he’s a post doc virologist with a hobby in home brewing, when he documents each brew…it’s PROPERLY documented…you could publish his blog recipes in Nature. If Nature did beer. Which it should.

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