I recently finished Proof by Adam Rogers, which is about the science around alcohol.
Longtime readers of the blog know that I really like the science behind beer; the processes that go into making a glass of lager or ale can easily connect damn near everything in the world. A book like this is definitely in my wheelhouse.
Proof, however, slides past beer pretty quickly and focuses more on distillation and the science around it. The book makes a pretty solid case for doing so; it’s discussion about fermentation goes into how this is a natural process, whereas making spirits is something humans have engineered.
But that was fine by me, because the science is still the science and discussions around yeast, ethanol, chemistry and how these things interact with humans generally apply regardless of the style of alcohol you consume.
However, the science was occasionally a little unclear for me: discussion on how fungus evolved in Japan to make sake, for example, didn’t have much depth and felt like they were being pushed quickly through. Similarly, the chapters on ethanol’s interactions in the human body used a lot of new terms without giving me enough distinction between them for me to feel like I understood the subject. This may be to prevent getting laypeople confused but I wish it had been clearer, even if this meant more explanations.
But Proof is no less fascinating for these flaws: many parts of the book detailed scientists working on things I was surprised that we didn’t already know-for example, how, exactly, does alcohol affect people? What happens when you’re hung over? What happens to alcohol inside a barrel?
Along with other questions that I just didn’t know and found cool answers too, like How many flavors can a person detect? How did different cultures approach getting fermentation to work?
The dive into these questions were intriguing! I got windows into different cultures, history lessons, science lessons (turns out people can easily detect about six scents if trained, four if not, and then the brain starts to lump things together!) and of course, the people who invest their lives and time into this subject. I enjoyed this read and recommend it if you have any interest in the subject.