Proof: The Science of Booze
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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 24, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Full disclosure: I saw the author give a talk on this subject at a conference about a year ago. The talk was a little better because this author is an outstanding public speaker and merely a very good writer. So, what of the fruits of his labor? Has the author managed to distill the essence of boozy knowledge into a coherent creation or a delirious foment?

Well the good news is that this is an entertaining book that is easy to recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in wine, beer, or spirits. It's written to be read, not used as a reference book. The narrative, such as it is, is loosely organized into chapters that deal with specific facets of booze. Chapter one is about yeast. As a former yeast biochemist, I can say that it was one of the most accessible chapters written on one of my favorite organisms, yet I definitely learned a few things. However, I'm not convinced that everything I learned is absolutely accurate. The book is clearly much better researched than the average blog post but is it up to reference standards? If your reference standard is wikipedia, it probably is.

Chapter 2 is another strong chapter about sugar. Chapters 3 and 4 handle fermentation and distillation, and these highlight the weakness of the book's organization: how can you discuss fermentation without discussing yeast? Well, it's hard and it doesn't quite happen. Instead, the author's passion and enthusiasm clouds the narrative and he ends up switching topics so many times that it's hard to follow the thread. The next few chapters are occasionally choppy accounts of aging and smell/taste. The final couple of chapters are all about alcohol's effect on the body and brain, with an entire chapter devoted to hangovers. Much more time is spent discussing getting drunk (how exactly does that work?) and curing a hangover than exploring alcohol's impact on society, whether positive or negative.

But what it lacks in comprehensiveness, it makes up for with gusto! Even though I got a little lost in several chapters, it was usually because there were just too many interesting facts to cram in. This book is chock-full of fascinating tidbits of information, including the origins of the term 'bain-marie' (a type of double boiler) with side references to almost everything from British sailors to the Library of Alexandria. Perhaps it's fair to say the mixology on display slowed me down a bit, but didn't really affect my overall enjoyment of this slightly dizzying concoction. It does explain the deduction of a single star, though.

This book isn't perfect, but the author's passion and enthusiasm have created a book that's both entertaining and interesting. When it is finally released, I will recommend it to friends and buy at least one copy for my Dad. And if I ever see the author again, I'll buy him a drink.
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82 of 90 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 18, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you want to amaze your friends at the neighborhood pub or the next cocktail party, this book has all the right ingredients. In Proof: The Science of Booze, Kavli Science Journalism Award winner and first-time author Adam Rogers covers everything you can imagine about the subject. There are chapters on the science and history of yeast in the production of alcoholic beverages, the role of sugar, the processes of fermentation, distillation, and aging, the biochemistry of smell and taste, the effects of booze on the body, and the causes, prevention, and cure of hangovers. Rogers’ research was exhaustive; the bibliography is more than 13 pages long, and his travels took him from the ultra-exclusive New York cocktail bar Booker and Dax to Glen Ord Maltings in Muir of Ord, Scotland, to the San Francisco Brain Research Institute. The research was impressive, until Rogers described the “experiment” where he and two friends got totally blotto in order to test the effectiveness of some recommended hangover cures, at which point I decided his devotion to his subject had gone above and beyond.
So why only 3 stars? It’s not what he said; it’s how he said it. Rogers is an editor at Wired magazine, and Proof apparently grew out of a Wired article, The Angel’s Share, about the Canadian whiskey fungus. Proof is written in the same Wired style, and it just doesn’t work as well here. Wired often takes a light tone liberally laced with witty comments, which I normally enjoy, but the humor here often comes across as forced. Also the author will drop witticisms into the middle of an extended serious scientific description, where it seems out of place. The book also seems disorganized. There is a topic for each chapter, and the author covers a number of items under that topic without good transitions. For example, the chapter on Sugar talks about a 19th-century Japanese scientist named Jokichi Takamine who developed a process to replace malting in distilling whiskey. It says, "He was on the cusp of a new world of booze, but the Old World wasn't quite ready to let go yet." The next paragraph launches into a 5-page description of a present-day Scotch whiskey malting operation and how it operates. The book suddenly leaves that topic and jumps to a discussion of koji, the fungus that produces sake. My reaction is, "So what happened to Takamine's process?" Eventually the chapter gets back to Takamine and his process, but all it says is "it never really took off", hardly a very satisfying conclusion. In some chapters, the author leaves a subject abruptly and never does return to it. These kinds of problems are much less likely to occur in a shorter magazine article. Although Roagers has won prizes for his journalism, this is his first full-length book, and he hasn't quite made a successful transition to the longer format.
If you are very strongly attracted to the subject of booze or the style is not an issue for you, you will probably enjoy Proof. Otherwise, perhaps you should accompany your reading with a good stiff drink.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Long-time readers of Wired will quickly recognize the style, depth, and tone of Proof. Astute ones may recall the article that this book grew from: "The Angel's Share", which makes up a significant portion of the chapter on aging. The subtitle of this book, "The Science of Booze", could just as accurately be "A Memoir About Booze". Rogers firmly inserts himself into the book as he takes the reader on a journey of exploration through the world of alcohol. All the strengths and weaknesses of this approach come through in this book.

The scope of Proof is truly ambitious. Rogers begins with the cultivation and domestication of yeast, walks through the chemistry and types of sugars, ferments them, distills and ages the result, and then describes their effects on the body (both pleasant, such as smell and taste, and the less savory consequences like drunkenness and hangovers). My copy of the book only goes to 212 pages before the notes and bibliography, and that's a prodigious amount to cover in so few pages. I found that the chapters with material that I was already somewhat familiar with didn't hold enough new information to hold my interest. On the other hand, the light tone did make it easier for me to read the chapters which were farther outside my existing knowledge. I'd definitely say that the book is better for those who are less familiar with the ins and outs of brewing. While the chapters followed a definite progression, they didn't build on one another as much as I'd like. I normally would feel compelled to read a book like this straight through, but I found that I would put it down once I finished up each chapter.

There's one tidbit which left a sour taste in my mouth, and probably kept the book from getting a fifth star from me. In that chapter on aging, Rogers reveals that he fudged a relatively minor detail in his Wired article on how he and the mycologist obtained a fungal sample. Knowing that he deliberately changed the facts in his writing for Wired leads me to wonder how many of the conversations and stories in this book were massaged for the sake of a better narrative. It doesn't affect the science I learned about, but it did factor into my overall enjoyment of the book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Yes a book on the science of booze….the science…the facts.
About how sugar becomes booze and how booze interacts with the human body.
Broken down into 8 chapters on Yeast, Sugar, Fermentation, Distillation, Aging, Smell and Taste, Body and Brain, and the Hangover.
Now the author doesn’t really do any original science here, but rather does a great job of compiling and organizing the best current science on these facts. Some things we know how exactly they work, others we still are not quite sure. But the amount of knowledge presented in one place here is great.
I knew most of what I read in the first half of the book, but I was woefully uninformed when it came to alcohol and body, so I feel smarter now. Also the book is great at putting many myths to bed which I knew were myths but now I can explain why.
Well laid out, easy to read and understand, I would say that this is the definitive work on the science of alcohol that is approachable to the non-scientist. If you are interested in the why’s and how’s of alcohol then this is your must read book.
If you have a question about the book, feel free to leave a comment below and I will try to answer it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2014
As others have noted, after reading the book I was left questioning the accuracy of what the author had written as facts in a few places. One of the most obvious mistakes was on page 12 of the Introduction (Kindle edition) where he states that in Scotland they spell whisky without the “e” but in Canada and the United States they spell it with the “e”. I would think that anyone very familiar with whiskies would know that Canada normally spells whisky without the “e” as they do in Scotland and Japan. With a few exceptions, they generally spell whiskey with the “e” in the United States and Ireland. A simple mistake like that makes one wonder what other mistakes the author has made. While reading the book I was left with the impression that the author was more concerned about being humorous than necessarily being factual, although he gives the impression that what he is presenting is technically accurate. I should note that I have a technical background, which probably led to me questioning the accuracy of some of the author’s statements. With that said, the book presents a lot of technical information but in a way that is entertaining. If you enjoy reading about whiskies, then you would probably enjoy this book. But I would be hesitant to take what the author states literally without verifying it from a reliable source. Personally, I would read the book more for the entertainment value and view it’s accuracy in the same way that you would a conversation with your friends as you sit around enjoying a dram of whisky.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon May 15, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Let me start with a disclaimer. I am a medical scientist, one who went back to university in my late thirties with every intention of becoming a nurse, only to find that I had fallen in love with microbiology. The science of booze is all about microbiology - with a little anatomy and physiology thrown in for good measure. It is also, by the way, the same science as the science of bread and the science of yogurt. Everything is all about the fermentation.

For me, Proof: The Science of Booze just missed the mark a bit. It leaves certain burning questions unanswered, isn't always exactly accurate and the tone was a bit off-putting. Still, it is a reasonably comprehensible and interesting discussion for the layman with an interest in the subject.

Your call.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon November 26, 2014
Proof: The Science of Booze by Adam Rogers

"Proof: The Science of Booze" is an entertaining look at the quest to find out what is behind the processes behind booze and how booze affects us. Award-winning science journalist Adam Rogers takes the reader on at times a humorous journey through the science of booze. This amusing 277-page book includes the following eight chapters: 1. Yeast, 2. Sugar, 3. Fermentation, 4. Distillation, 5. Aging, 6. Smell and Taste, 7. Body and Brain, and 8. Hangover.

Positives:
1. Well researched, well written and with the right amount of humor to make this a fun popular science read.
2. A fun and often-ignored topic of booze. "The story of booze is one of intricate research and lucky discoveries that shape, and are shaped by, one of our most universal shared experiences."
3. Rogers mixes accessible science with a hands on look at alcohol. He also does a wonderful job of defining key booze-related terms.
4. The book can be really broken out into two main parts: how booze is made and the effect it has on our brains.
5. Rogers does a great job of sticking with what we know and is humble enough to accept that. He doesn't wonder off on silly speculations and sticks to the surprisingly little we know about booze. "We know people get drunk, and some people get addicted, but despite a century of research, nobody knows why. For that matter, nobody really knows why getting drunk feels the way it does."
6. A fascinating look at yeast, yes you read that right. "The miracle of yeast is awesome enough to strain credulity. It's a fungus, a naturally occurring nanotechnological machine that converts sugar to the alcohol we drink."
7. The scientists behind key discoveries involving booze. "Finally, in 1837, a German physiologist named Theodor Schwann took on the problem. He suggested that those microbes Van Leeuwenhoek had seen were the agents of fermentation."
8. A lot of interesting historical tidbits provided. "It's why, before Daniel Bacardi fled Cuba in advance of the encroaching revolutionary army in 1960, he destroyed every sample of the fast-fermenting yeast strain that made his rum--Bacardi planned to start over in Puerto Rico, and didn't want the new Cuban government to have a competing product."
9. It's always fun to find out the microorganisms behind the alcohol that's consumed around the world. "Koji does something that sounds simple, but is actually a little miraculous: It turns starch into sugar."
10. Find out what is the most important molecule for booze.
11. Describes the many different processes behind the production of alcohol. "Malting is how people turn barley's starch into sugar, which they can turn into beer and booze. Whisky is, basically, distilled beer--and this was the process Takamine hoped to obliterate."
12. An interesting look at fermentation. "Fermentation isn't an accident, or a byproduct. It's the way yeasts convert what they eat to energy."
13. A subsidized industry that takes off, who knew? "In the late 1930s and early 1940s a rum researcher named Rafael Arroyo set out to standardize the practices of his industry--worried about competition from other rum-making countries, the Puerto Rican government built him a lab and let him loose. One of the principal questions he wanted to answer was which (if any) bacteria the rum-making process really needed."
14. Of course there are humorous observations. "Ninety-five, 98 percent of foam problems have nothing to do with the beer. It's everything to do with the way it's bloody poured."
15. A look at the tools of the business. "What Maria had invented fit right in with the central project of alchemy. Distillation was--and remains--a technology for separating what seems inseparable."
16. What would a book be without defining it's title? "'Proof' is an old word when it comes to alcohol content; in the United States it's just twice the percent alcohol-by-volume. `Eighty proof' is 40 percent ABV."
17. A look at aging. "As early as 1817, the industrial handbook The Cabinet of Arts, for example, recognizes in its chapter on brewing and distilling that time is the most important component of the flavor of fine French brandy."
18. Find out the three technologies behind improving the flavor of ethanol.
19. A fascinating look at the standardization of describing booze. "The `Noble Wine Wheel' first appeared in 1984, and its more formal 1990 version is now a standard reference, translated into multiple languages. `The wheel is just words," she says. "It's descriptive because it's hard for people to describe flavors. But I can reproducibly train you to recognize very specific aromas.'"
20. A fascinating look at how booze affects us. "At higher concentrations, ethanol is a classic depressant of the central nervous system. Between 250 and 300 mg/dl, for example, it's an anesthetic. You're conked out, insensitive to pain. At 400 mg/dl ethanol is a solvent; that level of ingestion is fatal."
21. So much more...including amusing experiments conducted by the author.

Negatives:
1. Lack of visual supplements to complement the narrative. This book was crying for charts, timelines, photos, diagrams but unfortunately there aren't any. A table of the most common alcoholic drinks and the processes used to produce them would have been a welcomed addition as an example.
2. Lacks scientific depth. The author purposely kept the book accessible for the masses but appendices going into more depth would have been a way to provide more value without compromising the narrative.
3. There were some low-hanging fruit left on the tree. For instance, fails to provide a section on curious facts about booze. What's the most potent, the most consumed, etc...
4. The book could have flowed a little better. Rogers tends to jump his topics. He gets you interested in something and jumps abruptly to another topic.

In summary, this was an entertaining book. Surprisingly this topic is not covered from a scientific point of view as remotely as much as there is interest to consume it, so it's refreshing to find a book that does so. Lacks visual material but the narrative is amusing and the science is very accessible. I recommend it.

Further suggestions: "The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks" by Amy Stewart, "And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails" by Wayne Curtis, "Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail" by Dave Arnold, "The Art of Distilling Whiskey and Other Spirits: An Enthusiast's Guide to the Artisan Distilling of Potent Potables" by Bill Owens, "The Complete Book of Spirits: A Guide to Their History, Production, and Enjoyment" by Anthony Dias Blue, "The Audacity of Hops: The History of America's Craft Beer Revolution" by Tom Acitelli, "Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits" By Jason Wilson, "Beer: A Global History (Reaktion Books - Edible)" by Gavin D. Smith, "How To Make Whiskey: A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Whiskey" by Bryan Davis, and "A History of the World in 6 Glasses" by Tom Standage.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 24, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
... if you're curious about the science of alcohol production, this is a good book. It also makes a great double feature with The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks (that's a better book, by the way, if you're interested in what drinks are made of and interesting drink trivia, but it does not go into much of the science behind booze).

However, Proof does not touch on a few important points that I wish were addressed. Why does some booze give you more of a hangover than others? Is there truth behind the old 'beer before liquor..." maxim? Not addressed in this book. Why do some different liquors have different behavioral effects (IE: Gin is a 'fighter's' drink, Tequila can make people frisky, etc.)? Is that even true? This book makes no effort to explain it. It doesn't even explain why drinking helps a hangover, only that it does.

That all said, if you go in with no expectations, this actually is a pretty good book. Rogers does a nice walk through of a scotch distillery for example, talks about the history of controlled fermentation and offers some very interesting stories.

So it's a mixed bag. Recommended, but by no means definitive. I wonder why he didn't address some simple drinking lore... what makes beer skunk? Why don't spirits behave likewise? Are there any examples in nature of animals getting regularly drunk by eating fermented fruit? What's the deal with 'medicinal liquor' as was prescribed in the 1920's and 30's during prohibition? The answers are out there somewhere, but not in this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 14, 2014
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Proof by Adam Rogers is might disappoint those expecting a technical discussion of fermentation and distillation, an assumption I made on my glance of the cover (how does that old saying go?). But what you'll find, if you give it a chance, is something pretty awesome.

If you read Wired or Popular Science magazine or if you a fan of books by Mary Roach, then you'll take an instant liking to this book as I have. Rogers doesn't get very technical, but he instead describes the science and history of alcoholic beverages in a fun way. It's entertaining and funny, and it's a worthwhile read. I definitely have a new checklist of booze to try.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2014
The subject and the style make this popular history eminently readable and incredibly engaging (it kicks off with a debate about Vodka and Soda being the dumbest drink ever invented). Yet, what really lubricates the proceedings is the author's passion for the topic and the conversational manner he he brings about by discussing the impact, both good and bad, booze has had on society.

The chapters are well thought-out and follow the process of making booze: Yeast, Sugar, Fermentation, Distillation, Aging. These were fascinating and though the science challenged me at times it was never frustrating, besides, had Rogers dumbed it down too much it would lose all impact.

The book took off in the last chapters concerning Smell & Taste, Body & Brain, and finally, Hangover. This is where the expert layman like me could relate. What struck me was the discussion of the impact of environment has on those who drink and not just the intoxicants themselves. It was scary to learn about effect on our livers, brains and behaviour. While the content can disturb what Rogers has done is put this very human invention, extraordinarily large business, and pervasive past-time in context. He does so with a confident, self-deprecating, factual and approachable writing style. Here are three examples:

- “The bar, though, was cool and dry—not just air-conditioner cool, but cool like they were piping in an evening from late autumn. The sun hadn’t set, but inside, the dark wood paneling managed to evoke 10 P.M. In a good bar, it is always 10 P.M.”

- “Every four seconds, someone on earth buys a bottle of Glenlivet.”

- “the distilled spirits business is dominated by giant producers who run immensely productive facilities that produce complex, expensive chemical admixtures year after year. That’s not necessarily a criticism: just because Jack Daniel’s comes from a chemical plant doesn’t mean it isn’t a damn-fine-tasting chemical.”

This is an immensely pleasurable and highly informative read that I wholeheartedly recommend. And, if you are still thirsty following, I suggest picking up:

- Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit by Dane Huckelbridge

- A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

- Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash by David Wondrich and Dale DeGroff

Cheers!
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