Strange Brews and Beverage News: Physiological Wine Snobbery, Caramel Color Cola Cancer

Ever find yourself frustrated when you pick up a bottle of wine, maybe try to grab something new and exciting-sounding, and then can’t taste the notes of truffle, boysenberry confit, and pomegranate molasses boasted on the label? You’re probably not the only one, and scientists are trying to prove that ‘expert tasters’ are predisposed to higher sensitivity to certain flavors. In a report recently issued by the American Journal of Enology and Viticulture, researchers explain how experienced tasters are more sensitive to Propylthiouracil, the chemical compound that creates a specific type of bitterness, in wines. All things being equal, biological predisposition is certainly a factor in understanding flavor, but a little good company, passion, and experience, IMHO, are all anyone really ever needed to do to enjoy a drink.

Pop, soda, or coke: whatever you call it, hopefully you’ve already seen this fascinating map by Matthew T. Campbell breaking down the geography of cola etymology. And you’ve probably been aware of the push in both legislation and media to paint the corn-syrupy carbonated stuff in a bad light. Soda has been reported to increase the incidence of earlier onset for obesity and diabetes, and it is over-consumed to the point that sodas and other sugary drinks have been specifically targeted by Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. (A review by the Center for Disease Control recently, interestingly enough, while reporting continued elevated levels of childhood sugar consumption, not only attributes the majority of sugar intake to foods – not beverages – but also states that most added-sugar calories are consumed inside the home, and income levels do not significantly affect the percentage of these sugary treats gobbled up by the upcoming generation.)

Regardless of these studies, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s another side-effect to add to the list: according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, cola causes cancer. On Monday, a letter was submitted to the Food and Drug Administration by the aforementioned watchdog group, indicating that the ingredient known as caramel color, which is essentially only used to affect soda’s distinctive hue, is above legal limits in California for a known carcinogen: 4-MI, which purportedly poses an increased cancer risk to one out of every 20,000 people. The additive is already regulated by the FDA, which claims that the levels found are well below that of any significant threat to humans. The CSPI freely admits in its report that Americans (who consume an average of almost three cans of soda each day, or nearly 7,500 ounces every year) should probably be more concerned about the effects of the massive amounts of sugars in these beverages, which undoubtedly pose a more immediate risk to the majority of drinkers.

More people seem to be convinced that aluminum is a superior option, as opposed to glass bottles, for beer. Complete light blockage, better air-tight seals, and minimized environmental impact are among a few of the advantages of the can, and many craft breweries are in agreement these days: Chicago’s own Half Acre has only ever retailed sixteen-ounce cans of its delectably floral and pleasantly bitter signature pale ale Daisy Cutter, Blue Moon has been offered in canned twelve-packs for some time now (there’s one in my fridge, gladly accompanied by fresh Florida orange slices), and not so long ago New Belgium released their popular Fat Tire in aluminum as well. This month, Sierra Nevada, the brewer many consider the grandfather of the American craft brewing movement (or at least the one responsible for popularizing the American pale ale), and AmBev-owned Goose Island are joining in on the can trend with their line of brews, including Sierra Nevada’s pale ale and Torpedo IPA, and Goose Island’s 312 ‘urban wheat ale.’

Meanwhile down in Mississippi, lawmakers are finally considering legislation to allow beers of up to eight-percent alcohol to be sold and brewed. It is currently the only state nationwide to prohibit the sale of beer above five-percent alcohol. The saddest revelations of this story are that Mississippi is home to only one craft brewpub statewide and law there prohibits home-brewing.

And up north, in Sam Adams’ and Mitt Romney’s stomping grounds, former Magic Hat brewery owner Allan Newman has joined Boston Beer’s research and development offshoot, dubbed Alchemy and Science, in a venture that expects to – get this – spend up to five million dollars in the first year and not turn a profit. If this kind of investment into the art and science of beer-making isn’t proof enough that craft brewing is only getting more popular, I’m not sure I know what is.

Speaking of which, Ratebeer.com released its annual Best Brewers list recently, which is topped by Three Floyds (a personal and professional favorite) and is peppered with a healthy smattering of excellent brewers across the globe, concentrated largely in the Midwest, California, and the Atlantic coast. Check it out here, take some pride in your awesome local beer makers, and find a new one to try.

A final note on beer: Sonoco stations are expanding a “craft beer exchange” program, from Western New York to South Carolina, where gas-guzzling travelers can purchase and refill growlers and custom six-packs of unique, local, seasonal beers. Drunk-driving enforcement advocates will complain, craft beer lovers will have a new place to spend their dollars, and reckless idiots will still have the same amount of explaining to do, no matter where they purchase their mistakes. Got it, dummies? Don’t drink and drive.

What about coffee? Well, since you asked, TIME is reporting that, in what appears to be a first in more than a generation, Bolivian farmers in the Los Yungas valley outgrew coca with coffee by over 6,000 hectares (a little over twenty-three square miles) in 2010. With the help of organizations like USAID, South America’s poorest country has begun producing high caliber beans attracting above-market prices since 2004, attracting the interest of caffeine connoisseurs, and spurring the country’s new marketing campaign: “Coffee: it’s the new cocaine!” (Just kidding about that last one.)

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer you the opportunity to make a crack at the expense of a new, ripe-for-parody line of beverage condiments. I’ll leave you with a safe for work starter: someone is going to cause a real stir with these Benny’s Bloody Mary Beef Straws. Groan. So, I challenge you to a creative contest: find a joke more (or less) appropriate about putting beef straws in your Bloody Marys.

Photo by: tinyfroglet