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Proof: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers

Proof: The Science of Booze (2014)

by Adam Rogers

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Man has been making alcohol since the dawn of civilization. In fact, the desire for alcohol is virtually universal across cultures, with every group creating their own local variation. Starting with basic ingredients like yeast and sugar, Adam Rogers traces alcohol through production and aging to its impact on the body and mind of the drinker. He unites a variety of scientific disciplines, including physics and chemistry and biology, with history and sociology to explore booze from every angle. Whether you’re a gourmand seeking to learn more about your favorite cocktail or a technology nerd interested in the equipment used to manufacture alcohol, Proof is a fantastic companion to bring to the bar.

Recently, I’ve been taking chemistry classes, and I find them dull. Boring. But man, that background sure was useful while I was reading Proof. The book is jam-packed with information, and Rogers’ enthusiasm flows through every sentence. In his excitement, he jumps topics frequently, so at times it’s a bit chaotic. But I didn’t mind; the author manages to keep the material interesting and accessible to readers who may not be scientifically-minded. I loved learning how fruit and grains are transformed into spirits, and why whiskey is different from gin or rum or tequila. But this isn’t just a history of alcohol; it’s a study of the relationship between it and humans. So there are chapters that talk about alcohol’s appearance, smell, and effect on the body.

The best chapter was probably the last one, which discusses hangovers. I had thought that something that afflicts so many people would have been studied extensively, but while there’s plenty of research on alcohol consumption there’s not much on its aftereffects. Rather than be discouraged, Rogers and some friends decide to do their own research testing hangover remedies. The drinking party is a fun way to close out the book, even as Rogers’ descriptions of the following morning left me feeling sorry for his self-induced misery. ( )
  makaiju | Aug 5, 2015 |
Even being only a light drinker, this was a lot of fun to listen to, as it crossed lines of history, culture, science, and technology. ( )
  chellerystick | Jun 16, 2015 |
A tour through various issues surrounding yeast evolution, fermentation, the effects of alcohol (generally increases propensity for violence, but highly culturally mediated/affected by expectations as can be shown by using placebo), and the nature of the hangover (still largely unknown). Quick read, with some interesting factoids, like the mold that, quite unusually, can live on alcohol and thus coats the area around a distillery. Also that the amount of alcohol that evaporates, concentrating the rest, is known as the angel’s share. ( )
  rivkat | Dec 5, 2014 |
I was originally inspired to buy this after reading the Wired magazine article written by the same guy about black mould growing on everything in the neighborhood of a whisky distillery. The article was terrific and won a journalism prize, but unfortunately the book doesn't manage the same standard.

The prose is very good and I learned quite a bit that I didn't know already, but there appears to be so much that science doesn't understand about how alcohol and the human body interact, that a lot of the conclusions end up being 'we don't really know'.

However, a book worth reading, and will justify the time you spend on it even if you only absorb Roger's exposition of our relationship with booze as a phenomenon over deep timescales. ( )
  Matt_B | Jun 1, 2014 |
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Presents a look at the science of alcohol production and consumption, from the principles behind the fermentation, distillation, and aging of alcoholic beverages, to the psychology and neurobiology of what happens after it is consumed.

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