Studies Show Studies Don’t Show Much

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If there’s one thing prohibitionists love to shout about, it’s a new study showing how terrible alcohol is, and how it supports what they’ve been proselytizing about all along. A growing trend has been anti-alcohol groups funding studies, having the “team” look for problems through phrasing the study’s goals and methodology with a particular outcome in mind, and then releasing the results as if it was impartial news. Sadly, with our media overworked and underpaid, many fall for it and report such a sham study’s results without ever critically examining it or even looking for a dissenting opinion to bring some fair and balanced perspective. Prohibitionists, knowing this, package their press releases into print-friendly versions so media outlets can simply cut and paste, passing it off as actual news. To be fair, it’s not just them. Almost everybody does it. It’s become a game, of sorts, one where most reasonable people’s wishes are ignored in favor of a more extreme agenda. Issues get polarized, and meaningful dialogue is becoming increasingly impossible with mud being slung in both directions, though I tend to think on the prohibitionist front that more mud comes our way, than vice versa.

But I’ve spent the last decade or so taking a fairly critical look at study after study, taking issue with almost all of them in one way or another. For every study that says one thing, you can find another that says the complete opposite, which you’d think wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, be possible. But a lot of it has to do with the way studies are conducted, how rigorous the science is, and whether or not they started with a specific agenda or not. I’ve certainly crowed about studies that show alcohol in a positive light, though I’ve never financed any. But despite all the tamper tantrums from the prohibitionists, they’re the ones spending all the money creating a false record of harm, not to mention taking advantage of any others they can, part of their post-prohibition strategy to bring down alcohol by less obvious means in a slower, more patient approach, chipping away at public policy and the law brick by brick, so to speak.

As a result of seeing so many of these so-called “studies,” I’ve noticed a lot of tricks that they use to make them seem like the findings actually mean something, but they rarely do, and usually even the study’s authors, who presumably want to keep their status as impartial scientists despite taking money for funding, almost always issue cautions and calls for further testing and for no one to make too much of what they found, words invariably ignored by the people using their findings to promote an agenda. It’s made me question the entire medical, and to some extent the scientific, community because it’s so obviously been corrupted by money — like every other aspect of our society, sad to say — with so many willing to take money to help a fanatical group promote its agenda. And it seems like the shear number of such studies has ballooned in recent years, too. Just how many scientific journals can there be, and how many are truly scientific, if any?

But an article on Vox a few days ago addressed this very issue, with This is why you shouldn’t believe that exciting new medical study. As the author wonders “whether there is any value in reporting very early research,” I’ve seen how it’s more often misused than anything else. As she writes. “Journals now publish their findings, and the public seizes on them, but this wasn’t always the case: journals were meant for peer-to-peer discussion, not mass consumption.” Because of this, the amount of studies being conducted has skyrocketed since their use is often now well beyond the original purpose of real study and furthering the science surrounding an issue. The actual number of so-called journal studies have seen an astounding 300% increase over the last quarter-century.

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But as she points out, early reporting on these studies rarely leads to any meaningful breakthroughs, even though those initial findings become fixed in the public mind as fact. A recent example that springs to mind is about glutens. A study in Australia initially seemed to suggest that eating gluten-free could be healthier for even people who didn’t suffer from Celiac disease, but further work by the same scientist found that his initial results were incorrect, and that there were no appreciable health benefits to a gluten-free diet for most people. Despite this clear repudiation of the initial findings, gluten-free as a healthier lifestyle remains an idea many people not only still believe, but even follow, despite having been refuted years ago. This is not an isolated occurrence.

In 2003, researchers writing in the American Journal of Medicine discovered something that should change how you think about medical news. They looked at 101 studies published in top scientific journals between 1979 and 1983 that claimed a new therapy or medical technology was very promising. Only five, they found out, made it to market within a decade. Only one (ACE inhibitors, a pharmaceutical drug) was still extensively used at the time of their publication.

One.

So that means 100 others proved to not pan out, their promise as originally reported proving to not stand up to further research or lead to any meaningful breakthrough. But the news cycle has already moved on, and the damage has been done, with the study reported and its inaccurate findings fixed into people’s minds. And this is just one of the reasons why immediately promoting the results of a study to the public is a bad idea. As the Vox article makes clear. “This cycle recurs again and again. An initial study promises a miracle. News stories hype the miracle. Researchers eventually disprove the miracle.”

“There’s a big, big, difference between how the media think about news and how scientists think about news,” Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard professor of the history of science, recently told [Vox’s Julia Bellus] in an interview. “For you, what makes it news is that it’s new — and that creates a bias in the media to look for brand new results. My view would be that brand new results would be the most likely to be wrong.”

In some cases, results are published too soon precisely to get attention for the study or the research in order to get more funding to carry on the research, or simply because of the pressure to “publish or perish” in academia or a career. Or, of course, it’s published specifically to promote an agenda or ideology.

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More often than not, single studies contradict one another — such as the research on foods that cause or prevent cancer. The truth can be found somewhere in the totality of the research, but we report on every study in isolation underneath flip-flopping headlines. (Red wine will add years to your life one week, and kill you quicker the next.)

This is seen in beer, a lot, too. But as the graph below makes clear, it happens everywhere, all the time, with the main culprit being the media in general, and the prohibitionists more specifically, reporting on single studies that show one thing rather then treating the issue as a whole or continuum of understanding. In particular, Alcohol Justice frequently takes one study that shows something in line with their agenda and treats it as if it’s the final answer and no further study is necessary; they’re right, case closed. Which, as you can see, is never the case.

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A good example of this is a recent tweet from Alcohol Justice, questioning that “Alcohol good for your heart? Evidence is evaporating http://usat.ly/1JkkEny Don’t believe industry-sponsored science.”

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The link takes you to a USA Today story, entitled Alcohol good for your heart? Evidence is evaporating, which is where AJ got the witty language in the tweet. But the part about not believing “industry-sponsored science” is completely made up. The story never even addresses that as an issue. It’s pure propaganda. As you’ll see, the trail from the USA Today story leads not to “industry-sponsored science,” but to another anti-alcohol group.

The USA Today story itself is a hodgepodge of misinformation and innuendo, written in that most common style of the mainstream media that believes scaring people captures their attention and gets ratings, viewers or whatever metric they measure their success by. Early in the piece, the author sets out her premise.

But before you pour your next cocktail, beer or glass of wine, you should know this: the science suggesting a benefit has never been conclusive. And some experts believe the evidence is getting thinner all the time.

Almost no science is conclusive, or ever has been. That’s the point of continuously conducting research, to constantly learn more and to further our understanding of whatever’s being studied. But just as benefits may be inconclusive, the evils are similarly inconclusive. But she chose to frame the story in such a way as to emphasize the negative, despite the fact that the statement could be said almost any way and still be technically correct. And saying “some experts” reveals that not everyone agrees, even with so vague a premise. You can always find a person to disagree about anything, especially if they have some reason to do so.

To illustrate what I mean, take her reliance on an editorial written by “Mike Daube, professor of health policy at Curtin University in Australia.” He “writes that the once-touted benefits of moderate drinking ‘are now evaporating,'” providing the piece’s catch phrase and hook. But who is Mike Daube. Is he a doctor or scientist? Nope. Is he an impartial expert? Hardly, “Mike Daube, professor of health policy” is all that USA Today reports, and at the editorial she’s quoting from, the only author affiliation listed is “Curtin University, GPO Box U1987, WA 6845, Australia.”

But you don’t have to look too hard to find out that Mike is also co-chair of Australia’s National Alliance for Action on Alcohol, an organization who’s sole stated purpose is that is “has been formed with the goal of reducing alcohol-related harm.” So while he’s railing against “industry lobbying and promotion [being] rife and unchecked by governments, he’s pretending to be an impartial health professional, while also leading an organization who’s already convinced that alcohol has only a negative impact on society and is working to battle it, or get rid of it. That doesn’t seem particularly impartial to me. How utterly disingenuous and hypocritical. He’s using his background as a health policy professor to make it seem as if he has some expertise in medicine, but his area of study is public policy, with an emphasis on health, and you don’t need an advanced degree to understand those are two very different things.

And the editorial USA Today is relying on, Alcohol’s evaporating health benefits (they sure love a good turn of phrase, don’t they?), is published in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal). So essentially a policy expert — who in 2012 was “awarded [the] ‘Oscar’ of public health campaigning — is editorializing about science and medicine in a medical journal. It’s an editorial — an opinion. No matter how authoritative, he should carry about as much weight on scientific matters as I do. We have exactly the same number of doctoral degrees in medicine.

Even so, while lambasting alcohol over a new British study which forms the basis for his “evidence is evaporating” quip, he has to admit that the study did show a positive correlation for “women aged 65 or more” but dismisses that as “at best modest and likely to be explained by selection bias.” Which may true, but then again maybe not. Perhaps more study is necessary before making such sweeping pronouncements as the “evidence is evaporating.” Which is entirely the point. He’s looking at one study in a vacuum and choosing the outcome he favors, because of his own bias. So that’s not, or should not, be newsworthy. “Hey guess what? What I believed all along is what I still believe, and here’s this one study that partially agrees with me, so I must be right after all. Can I be in your scientific journal?” Is this really what passes for peer-reviewed science? What a load of bollocks.

The USA Today article is actually very short, but is padded out with a list of “what U.S. experts say you need to know for now.” Unfortunately, that list is entirely about the negative aspects of alcohol consumption and completely ignores any positive contributions to a person’s health, and it’s not like they’re hard to find.

But one study said something different, so I guess all those others are wrong, right? Yet this is the approach prohibitionist groups take time and time again. And as the Vox article makes clear, this approach can result in creating false hopes and leading researchers, scientists and even public policy-makers down the wrong path. As journalist Julia Belluz admits, it’s hard for the press to not jump at new study results, because their novelty is catnip to the management structure of both old and new media. But as the media blinders are understandable and even forgivable, at least to some extent, that’s not the case for the anti-alcohol groups who take that news and use it unscrupulously to advance their agenda. They’re the ones doing actual harm, because they’re creating a false narrative that is dishonest and knowingly wrong. I think they’ve forgotten that advancing a particular point of view doesn’t mean destroying the other side by any means possible, especially since they so often claim to own the moral high ground. But if their “ends justify the means” strategy reveals anything, it’s that they don’t own a mirror. They only judge our morals, attacking us frequently and accusing us of caring only about business, money and hurting children.

The Vox article concludes with some sage advice from “Harvard’s Oreskes, Stanford’s John Ioannidis, and many other respected researchers,” who insist “we need to look past the newest science to where knowledge has accumulated. There, we’ll find insights that will help us have healthier lives and societies.” Could somebody please tell the prohibitionists?

Albert Einstein For Beer

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In addition to being Pi Day, it’s also the birthday of physicist Albert Einstein, one of the most famous scientists of all-time. By most accounts, Einstein, despite being German, was not a beer drinker. But he may not have been a teetotaler, either. Einstein mentioned in a letter that at a party with Mileva Marić (who Einstein was married to for a time), he was apparently “very drunk,” which he revealed in a letter to his friend, mathematician Conrad Habicht, about the incident. But it appears that was more uncommon, and that he generally “chose not to drink, believing that alcohol spoiled the mind.” But that has not stopped breweries and others from using his images and fame for beer purposes. Some of these are pretty cool, others just seen shameless, but I’m a big fan of Einstein, at least what I know of his public persona. And I certainly feel the urge to drink a toast to his memory.

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The South African SAB brand Hofbrau Premium Lager, an ad from 1998.

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From the Guinness ad campaign series “Good Things Come to Those Who Wait,” which began in the mid-1900s. This ad is from 2007.

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In an ad for Taiwan Beer from around 2010.

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From a Carlsberg Facebook ad that used the tagline “Rewrite the Rules.” The full ad includes a caveman, and looks like this.

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Carlsberg also used Einstein in an older ad, in Italy, along with a monkey. Roughly translated, it reads. “Instinct says beer. Reason says Carlsberg.”

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The Mexican lager Victoria dressed up one of their bottles to resemble Einstein for an ad this year.

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The Argentinian beer Isenbeck used an iconic photo of Einstein, substituting their name for the equation on the chalkboard.

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The German brewery, Privatbrauerei Kesselring Gmbh & Co., recently started producing “Steinie² … the ingenious beer!”

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They describe the beer, roughly translated, as having mild hops and malt, with an aging, or fermentation, time of 6-8 weeks.

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Then there’s “Genie-Bier,” which features a cartoon of Einstein along with equation: Rausch = Menge x Stunden² that Google Translate turns into the English phrase Noise = Volume x Hours² which I confess doesn’t make sense to me, although another website, in Italian, shows the word Rausch as “binge,” which also doesn’t seem to quite fit. Luckily, yet another website suggests that Rausch essentially means the state of bring drunk, which finally makes some sense, because getting drunk would take a certain volume of beer over time. Yay science.

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The Lymestone Brewery in Stone,
Staffordshire, England makes a beer they call “Ein Stein,” which they describe thusly:

This lingering combination of pale Maris Otter malts and choice German hops may make you pause for thought. As you contemplate the gentle biscuit malts, fresh Hersbrucker hops seduce the taste buds educating and enlightening the palate.
So why is Mr Einstein on the pump clip? It’s not rocket science… but it is thinking drinking.

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The Boundary Road Brewery in New Zealand also used to brew a beer called “Ein Stein,” a Munich Lager that was part of its “Brewer’s Cut” series, which I presume are seasonals or one-offs since it’s no longer listed on their website.

There are also a couple of beer-themed t-shirts using Albert Einstein and beer together.

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First, there’s another Ein Stein pun, this one designed by illustrator Joshua Kemble and available from Design by Humans.

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Second, there’s this humorous Ein Stein shirt from Woot!

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And finally there’s this mural of Albert Einstein brewing that Stan Hieronymus took a photo of when he visited the Barfüsser die Hausbrauerie in Ulm, Germany, which is the town where he was born today in 1879.

By now, I assume you’re thinking, please make it stop. Surely there can’t be any more references to Albert Einstein and beer? Nope, not really. That’s all I’ve turned up, so as your reward for making it this far, I’ll just leave you with a little joke.

A neutron walks into a bar.

I’d like a beer,” he says. The bartender promptly serves up a beer.

How much will that be?” asks the neutron.

For you?” replies the bartender, “no charge.

An Analysis Of Beers From An Early 1800s Shipwreck

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You may recall back in 2010, an exciting discovery was made off the Åland Islands, which is a large group of islands near Finland in the Baltic Sea. In September of 2010, Beer From Early 1800s Found In Baltic Shipwreck, and additional information followed in late November of the same year with an Update On Beer Found In Baltic Shipwreck. I noted at the time that some of the beer had been tasted and they were flirting with the idea of having the beer analyzed to possibly reproduce the beers discovered. In my first post about the discovery, I wrote. “It will certainly be interesting to see what further analysis of the beer reveals.” Well, apparently they heard me, because the analysis has recently been released. Hat tip to Jason Petros from the Brewing Network, who tweeted me the link accompanied by the following pleas. “Make me smarter! What do all these words mean?”

The link is to a journal article in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry entitled Analysis of Beers from an 1840s’ Shipwreck. The work was conducted primarily by a group of scientists in Finland, with some work also done in Munich, Germany. Here’s the Abstract:

Two bottles of beer from an about 170-year-old shipwreck (M1 Fö 403.3) near the Åland Islands in the Baltic Sea were analyzed. Hop components and their degradation compounds showed that the bottles contained two different beers, one more strongly hopped than the other. The hops used contained higher levels of β-acids than modern varieties and were added before the worts were boiled, converting α-acids to iso-α-acids and β-acids to hulupones. High levels of organic acids, carbonyl compounds, and glucose indicated extensive bacterial and enzyme activity during aging. However, concentrations of yeast-derived flavor compounds were similar to those of modern beers, except that 3-methylbutyl acetate was unusually low in both beers and 2-phenylethanol and possibly 2-phenylethyl acetate were unusually high in one beer. Concentrations of phenolic compounds were similar to those in modern lagers and ales.

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You can also read it online as a pdf, laid out on the page as it would appear in the journal. One thing stands out initially. In the initial reporting over the find, the bottles were believed to have been from between 1800 and 1830, but apparently further analysis dates them closer to the 1840s.

Introduction

In the summer of 2010 the wreck of a schooner (M1 Fö 403.3) was discovered in the Baltic Sea a short distance south of the Åland Islands, Finland, at a depth of about 50 m. Archeological evidence suggests the shipwreck occurred during the 1840s, but the schooner’s name, its destination, and its last port-of-call have not yet been identified. The cargo consisted of luxury items, including more than 150 bottles of champagne. Five bottles that look like typical early 19th century beer bottles were also brought to the surface. One of these cracked in the divers’ boat. The liquid that foamed from the cracked bottle looked and, according to the divers, tasted like beer.

Although at least one older (1825) beer sample has been reported, we are not aware of previous chemical analyses of any beer this old. Here we compare the physicochemical characteristics and flavor compound profiles of beer from two of these about 170-year-old bottles with those of modern beers. In contrast to the 100-year-old Scotch whiskey excavated from the ice under Shackleton’s 1907 base camp in the Antarctic and then thoroughly analyzed, these beers have not been stored under ideal conditions, as evidenced by some deterioration in quality. However, although both spontaneous and microbiologically driven chemical changes have occurred, the results give some indication of the original nature of the beers and the techniques used to manufacture them.

Opening the Shipwreck Beer Bottles

Bottles A56 and C49 were raised to the sea surface, and their corks and necks were protected with plastic wrappings. The bottles were stored in water at 2–4 °C and brought from Åland Islands to VTT’s laboratories in Espoo, Finland. The bottles were opened (on separate occasions) under sterile conditions because samples were also taken for microbiological examination (R. Juvonen, M. Raulio, A. Wilhelmson, and E. Storgårds, manuscript in preparation). The part of the cork protruding from the bottle was cut off. A slightly slanting hole was drilled through the rest of the cork using a sterilized drill. A surgical needle fitted with an air filter was inserted into the cork to allow sterile air to enter the bottle to replace the beer withdrawn. (During this procedure, the cork of bottle A56 broke horizontally into two pieces. The upper two-thirds of the cork was removed from the bottle by hand. The lower third remained tightly in the neck of the bottle, but later fell into the beer during an attempt to remove it.) A sterile steel pipe was inserted to the bottom of the bottle. Samples of beer were then slowly removed by syringe through this pipe. Samples for physicochemical analyses were centrifuged twice (10 min at 1000g, then 10 min at 9000g). The supernatants were analyzed immediately or stored in portions at −25 °C. Samples (50 mL) for hop analyses were sent to the Technical University of Munich, Germany, packed in dry ice.

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Bottle A56

The article then details the methods used to analyze the beers, comparing them to modern control beers. It’s long and detailed, but very interesting if you love this sort of thing. The results also go into a great deal of detail. For example, upon first opening the bottles.

Bubbles of gas, presumably CO2, formed during sampling, producing a light foam. Both beers were bright golden yellow, with little haze. Both beers smelt of autolyzed yeast, dimethyl sulfide, Bakelite, burnt rubber, over-ripe cheese, and goat, with phenolic and sulfury notes. As the samples warmed to room temperature, the smell of hydrogen sulfide disappeared and that of butyric acid (particularly strong in C49) strengthened.

After the lengthy analysis, and an even longer discussion begins based on their findings. Here are some highlights, but I encourage you to read the entire article.

The overall shape and detailed features of bottles A56 and C49 indicate a high-quality technology that was not yet used in Finland in 1840, but had been used to manufacture beer bottles for two or three decades in central and northern Europe (personal communication; Risto Aalto, Riikka Alvik, Markku Annila, Ulla Klemelä, and Kaisa Koivisto). The presence of hop components (extensively degraded), maltose, and maltotriose identifies the bottles’ contents as beers. The higher concentrations of hop components in beer C49 than in A56 cannot be explained by different degrees of chemical degradation or dilution by seawater and indicates that the bottles contained two different beers. Both shipwreck beers contained too little protein (Table 1) to permit protein identification by 2D gel electrophoresis. Most of the original protein was probably hydrolyzed (e.g., by proteolytic activity of lactic acid bacteria) and partially consumed by microorganisms during aging (both beers contained large numbers of dead bacteria and yeast). Peptides that may have been liberated by hydrolysis and still present in the beer would not have been detected in the protein assay employed as the acetone precipitation step is much less efficient for peptides than for proteins. The amino acid profiles of both beers were broadly similar to those of modern commercial beers (Table 4) and clearly different from, for example, that of apple cider. Features such as the relatively high free proline content are consistent with the raw material being cereal grain but do not distinguish between barley and wheat, which have very similar amino acid profiles. Furthermore, the amino acid profiles of the shipwreck beers have been disturbed by the activity of microbial contaminants.

The presence of hop-derived bitter compounds confirms the use of hops for bittering the beers. Kettle-boiling induces the transformation of α-acids to iso-α-acids and that of β-acids to hulupones. The lack of α- and β-acids and the presence of iso-α-acids and hulupones therefore indicate that hops were added to the worts before kettle-boiling. The amounts of cis-iso-α-acids were higher than those of the corresponding trans-iso-α-acids, which is in line with the higher stability of cis-iso-α-acids and literature findings that trans-iso-α-acids are readily transformed into tri- and tetracyclocohumols, scorpiohumols, and tricyclolactohumols by proton catalysis during aging of beer. Compared to modern beers, rather high amounts of these four compounds were detected; for example, 7.76 and 4.24 μmol L–1 of tri- and tetracyclocohumol were found in C49 compared to 1.00 and 0.46 μmol L–1 in a fresh Pilsner-type beer. The high levels of these aging products can be explained by the low pH and long “reaction time” in the shipwreck. Interestingly, the unexpectedly large amounts of β-acid degradation products hulupones and hulupinic acid are consistent with old hop varieties containing higher levels of β-acids than modern varieties, which have been bred to maximize the α-acid content.

A comparison to modern beers.

Compared to modern beers, beer A56 contained less maltose and both beers contained much less maltotriose and relatively high concentrations of glucose (Table 1). A plausible explanation is that after the initial (yeast-driven) fermentation, contaminating microbes excreted enzymes (e.g., amyloglucosidase) able to degrade residual carbohydrates to glucose. This glucose supply probably supported the growth and fermentative activity of lactic acid bacteria and other microbes. As conditions deteriorated (e.g., acidity increasing), the production of glucose exceeded the fermentative capacity of the remaining viable microbes, and glucose began to accumulate. This hypothesis would explain the high glucose and low maltotriose in the shipwreck beers, but does not immediately explain the relatively high maltose in beer C49.

Despite the unpleasant organoleptic features probably resulting from bacterial spoilage, chemical analyses revealed profiles of yeast-derived flavor compounds broadly similar to those of modern beers (Figure 2). There were some notable peculiarities. Both beers contained very little 3-methylbutyl acetate, but rather high levels of 2-phenylethanol and 1-propanol; A56 contained a high level of 2-phenylethyl acetate, but C49 contained very little; A56 (but not C49) contained a high level of ethyl decanoate and C49 especially contained a high level of ethyl hexanoate. A problem is to determine how much these results reflect the original character of the two beers rather than chemical changes during 170 years at about 4 °C. To our knowledge, there are no studies of the chemical stability of beer over such a long time. Vanderhaegen et al. studied the stability of top-fermented beer for 6 months at 0, 20, or 40 °C. Rates of change were very temperature-sensitive. Many compounds that changed markedly in 6 months at 20 or 40 °C were stable at 0 °C. The amounts of ethyl acetate and 3-methylbutyl acetate decreased by 25 and 60%, respectively, at 40 °C, but did not change at 0 °C. Thus, possibly both shipwreck beers originally contained only little 3-methylbutyl acetate, an important flavor component (banana) of modern beers. More probably, its concentration has decreased during the long aging. Lambic beers contain little 3-methylbutyl acetate, and this is thought to result from the activity of an esterase produced by Dekkera (Brettanomyces) yeasts during the lambic fermentation. Considering the lack of ethylphenol compounds in the beers, it may be more likely that an esterase derived from lysed Saccharomyces cells contributed to the loss of 3-methylbutyl acetate.

Summing up.

In summary, these two about 170-year-old bottles contained two different beers, one (C49) more strongly hopped than the other (A56) with the low α-acid yielding hop varieties common in the 19th century. Both beers exhibited typical profiles of yeast-derived flavor compounds and of phenolics. Present knowledge of the long-term chemical and microbiological stability of these compounds is not adequate to assess how closely the observed profiles indicate the original flavor of the beers. The flavors of these compounds were hidden by very high levels of organic acids, probably produced by bacterial spoilage. The composition of the microbial mixture used to produce these beers is unclear, but it probably did not include many strains producing the Pad1 enzyme responsible for the volatile phenols characteristic of wheat beers. Pad1 activity is common in wild yeast, and its absence suggests that the yeasts employed were domesticated rather than wild.

Jason, barring a degree in chemistry, I doubt I can make you any smarter than you already are, which is smart enough at least to send me the link. Thanks, buddy.

New Study Shows Chemical In Beer Prevents Alzheimer’s And Parkinson’s

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A new study conducted in China suggests that “beer is good for the brain.” According to to an article in the Inquisitr, here’s why. “The beer draws its superpowers from hops, the female flowers of the hop plant Humulus lupulus, which are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer. However, apart from contributing to the signature taste of the beer, hops releases a chemical — Xanthohumol — that has the potential to fight off neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.” These findings come from a journal article, with the decidedly unsexy title Xanthohumol, a Polyphenol Chalcone Present in Hops, Activating Nrf2 Enzymes To Confer Protection against Oxidative Damage in PC12 Cells, which was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, published by the American Chemical Society.

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Here’s the abstract:

Xanthohumol (2′,4′,4-trihydroxy-6′-methoxy-3′-prenylchalcone, Xn), a polyphenol chalcone from hops (Humulus lupulus), has received increasing attention due to its multiple pharmacological activities. As an active component in beers, its presence has been suggested to be linked to the epidemiological observation of the beneficial effect of regular beer drinking. In this work, we synthesized Xn with a total yield of 5.0% in seven steps and studied its neuroprotective function against oxidative-stress-induced neuronal cell damage in the neuronlike rat pheochromocytoma cell line PC12. Xn displays moderate free-radical-scavenging capacity in vitro. More importantly, pretreatment of PC12 cells with Xn at submicromolar concentrations significantly upregulates a panel of phase II cytoprotective genes as well as the corresponding gene products, such as glutathione, heme oxygenase, NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase, thioredoxin, and thioredoxin reductase. A mechanistic study indicates that the α,β-unsaturated ketone structure in Xn and activation of the transcription factor Nrf2 are key determinants for the cytoprotection of Xn. Targeting the Nrf2 by Xn discloses a previously unrecognized mechanism underlying the biological action of Xn. Our results demonstrate that Xn is a novel small-molecule activator of Nrf2 in neuronal cells and suggest that Xn might be a potential candidate for the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders.

This is not the first time such findings have been studied, so this appears to be yet another confirmation in the growing body of positive health benefits of moderate beer drinking. What the team of Chinese scientists found was a “previously unrecognized mechanism underlying the biological action of Xn,” suggesting Xanthohumol “might be a potential candidate for the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders.”

The Inquisitr concludes:

Hops have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. However, its efficacy to prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s was discovered only recently. Neuronal cells — which are in the brain, spine, and nerves — are in limited supply over one’s lifetime. These cells are especially susceptible to stress. This stress is thought to be one of the ways brain-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s begin.

Beer, as I probably don’t need to remind you, is at least one great way to relieve stress.

Patent No. 135245A: Improvement In Brewing Beer And Ale

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Today in 1873, US Patent 135245 A was issued, an invention of Louis Pasteur, for his “Improvement in Brewing Beer and Ale.” There’s no Abstract, but Pasteur explains in the description that this is a “process of brewing without the presence in the wort of atmosphericair, my invention has for its object to produce a better quality and greater quantity of beer from the same quantity and quality of wort, and to afford a beer which shall also embody the quality of greater degree of unalterableness during time and changes of climate, &c., in transportation and use; and to these ends my invention consists in expelling the air from the boiled wort while confined in a closed vessel or closed vessels, and then cooling it by the application of sprays of water to the exterior of such vessel or vessels, as will be hereinafter more fully explained.”

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When The Food Babe Talks, No Questions

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This would almost be funny, if I didn’t consider her misinformation so dangerous. Oh, and a h/t to Maureen Ogle for this one. Dr. Kevin M. Folta, who is the chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, writes on his blog, Illumination, about a recent visit by Vani Hari, as the Food Babe Visits My University.

As an actual living, breathing scientist, Folta understandably stood at odds with Hari “spreading her corrupt message of bogus science and abject food terrorism” at his school. Here’s how he really felt. “There’s something that dies inside when you are a faculty member that works hard to teach about food, farming and science, and your own university brings in a crackpot to unravel all of the information you have brought to students.” And she apparently was paid $15,000 by the University to add insult to injury, as well.

She found that a popular social media site was more powerful than science itself, more powerful than reason, more powerful than actually knowing what you’re talking about. Her discussion was a narcissistic, self-appointed attack on food science and human nutrition. It was one of the rare times when I laughed and puked at the same time.

So “who do you trust for real scientific information? This is why scientists go nutso.” Here’s a breakdown of the relative experience and knowledge between the Food Babe, Vani Hari, and Dr. Folta.

Hari-vs-Folta

Here’s a few more random thoughts from his post about the talk she gave, although I encourage you to read the entire post.

Hari then went on to talk about her successes in strong-arming Chick-fil-A, Budweiser and Subway into reformulating their foods and beverages. She’s proud that she was invited to the table, that a know-nothing with a following can affect change simply by propagating false information via the internet.

That’s not healthy activism or change based on science. That’s coercion, fear mongering and terrorism to achieve short-sighted non-victories in the name of profit and self-promotion, ironically the same thing she accuses the companies of.

On the plus side, reasonably educated college students weren’t going for her nonsense, he noted. “Throughout her presentation that was about Hari in the spotlight and ‘me-me-me’, students got up and left. She left gaping pregnant pauses where previous performances got applause — only to hear nothing. Not even crickets. This audience was not buying it, at least was not excited by it.”

Overall, he understandably found it disappointing, noting. “If this is a charismatic leader of a new food movement it is quite a disaster. She’s uninformed, uneducated, trite and illogical. She’s afraid of science and intellectual engagement.”

What stood out for me, though not a surprise in the least, is that although microphones had been set out at the sides of the stage for questions (something you see at virtually any academic talk like this) she left the stage immediately, apparently refusing to take any questions from the students. It was as if she finished talking, dropped the mic and walked out, “whisked by limo to her next fear rally,” as Folta opined. Unfortunately, that sounds about right given that numerous people tell me she deletes any questions or contrary evidence from comments on her website or Facebook page. She’s selling a product — herself — pure and simple, and she can’t let facts get in her way. In a sense, she doesn’t even need to engage anyone, as she has untold numbers of unpaid minions slavishly doing her bidding for her — the Food Babe Army — attacking any critics or criticisms, as I discovered for myself when I took issue with her nonsense about the ingredients in beer. I’m almost amazed she’s still peddling her brand of crazy to ready buyers, and yet not surprised at the same time. After all, there are still people who insist the world is flat and that climate change isn’t happening, so truly people will believe all sorts of kooky things if they don’t think too much about it. And in some ways, not thinking about stuff but believing it anyway with all your might may be well be the new American way. More’s the pity.

Derp of the Day
Don’t eat food with kemicles.

A Love Story: Brewing Yeast & Fruit Flies

fly
There was an interesting story posted on Popular Science, specifically their BeerSci series. They did a great job of spinning the story as a love story, albeit an unusual one between fruit flies and brewer’s yeast, especially since the original title of the study they’re reporting on was The Fungal Aroma Gene ATF1 Promotes Dispersal of Yeast Cells through Insect Vectors. But it is, and in How Flies Are Responsible For Beer’s Tasty, Fruity Smells, they detail how,”[i]n a series of experiments, biologists from several institutes in Belgium demonstrated that brewer’s yeast makes fruity, floral smells to attract fruit flies. In the wild, yeast might live on rotting fruit and entice flies to come to them there. Yeast and flies’ relationship benefits them both, the biologists found. Previous studies have found that eating yeast helps fruit fly larva develop faster and survive better. This new study found that fruit flies help spread yeast to new environments, like a bee spreading pollen.” In effect, their study demonstrates “the co-evolution of two species.”

Here’s the summary from the original, published in Cell Reports.

Yeast cells produce various volatile metabolites that are key contributors to the pleasing fruity and flowery aroma of fermented beverages. Several of these fruity metabolites, including isoamyl acetate and ethyl acetate, are produced by a dedicated enzyme, the alcohol acetyl transferase Atf1. However, despite much research, the physiological role of acetate ester formation in yeast remains unknown. Using a combination of molecular biology, neurobiology, and behavioral tests, we demonstrate that deletion of ATF1 alters the olfactory response in the antennal lobe of fruit flies that feed on yeast cells. The flies are much less attracted to the mutant yeast cells, and this in turn results in reduced dispersal of the mutant yeast cells by the flies. Together, our results uncover the molecular details of an intriguing aroma-based communication and mutualism between microbes and their insect vectors. Similar mechanisms may exist in other microbes, including microbes on flowering plants and pathogens.

Graphical_Abstract

You can also read the entire study as a pdf, but to get a sense of what it all means, read Francie Diep’s How Flies Are Responsible For Beer’s Tasty, Fruity Smells and keep in mind her warning from the outset. “Sorry, but brewer’s yeast did not evolve for you.” Perhaps not, but at least we can still reap the benefits of the relationship between those fruit flies and the yeast used to create delicious beer.

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The Unintended Consequences Of Prohibitionist Propaganda

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So I know this is one of those thorny issues that tends to fire people up and argue from an emotional point of view. That being said, the issue of a woman drinking when pregnant is a tough one, especially because the science is not exactly as settled as people believe. My understanding is that it’s not clear how drinking effects an unborn fetus, though a significant amount of drinking has been shown to have potentially disastrous consequences. Generally speaking, a modest amount of drinking probably won’t do any lasting damage, especially in the very early stages of pregnancy. But since when and how much are fairly unknown with any precision, doctors, and the medical community as a whole, have tended to recommend that a woman abstain from drinking during pregnancy. And that seems almost reasonable, except for the fact that prohibitionist and anti-alcohol groups have taken that advice as sacrosanct without really examining the science behind it and have done their best to shame women who might have an occasional drink and make them feel as guilty as humanly possible.

For example, WebMd says. “For decades, researchers have known that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause birth defects. But the potential effects of small amounts of alcohol on a developing baby are not well understood. Because there are so many unknowns, the CDC, the U.S. Surgeon General, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics advise pregnant women not to drink alcohol at all.” But again, that’s just because they don’t really know, not because it’s proven that any amount of alcohol is harmful. If you do a quick search, you’ll find that a lot of websites claim that pregnant women should never drink because, as most of them put it, “[t]here is no known safe amount of alcohol that you can consume if you are pregnant.” But that’s misleading. It’s not so much that no amount is safe so much as the amount that is safe is not known with precision, and for every person. I know that sounds like I’m splitting hairs, but I think it’s an important distinction. There are safe levels of drinking alcohol that would have no effect on a woman’s pregnancy, and for any given woman that amount would differ, but so far we don’t know how to calculate that amount, so instead doctors recommend abstaining. But that’s very different from hounding women who might have the occasional drink or acting as if they’re actively or willfully harming their unborn fetus.

It’s quite easy to find this scaremongering in all sorts of places. Not surprisingly, Alcohol Justice, who is a leading propagandist, regularly tweets “Save Babies From Birth Defects: Don’t Drink While Pregnant,” with a link to International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Day Aims To Help Save Babies From Birth Defects: Don’t Drink While You’re Pregnant. Which would be reasonable, except for the fact that the Medical Daily piece is littered with exactly the sort of absolutist misinformation I’m talking about.

There’s a common misconception that it’s safe to drink during certain points in the pregnancy, or that one glass of wine or beer is harmless. It has been almost 30 years since the medical community recognized mothers who drank alcohol while pregnant could result in a wide range of physical and mental disabilities, but still, one in 13 pregnant women reports drinking in the past 30 days and one in six reports binge drinking. Fetal alcohol syndrome can be devastating, which is why a day [September 9] has been dedicated to spreading the awareness and clearing up the truth for mothers to understand that anything they eat and drink affects the baby.

The NIH’s Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism branch has supported years of research to reveal the dangers and understand when developmental problems within the womb begin. Babies who are born with fetal alcohol syndrome have been born small and premature, develop problems eating, sleeping, seeing, hearing, learning, paying attention in school, controlling their behavior, and may even need medical care through their life. The severity of drinking alcohol while pregnant cannot be underplayed because of the profound confirmed health effects that could follow a child throughout their life.

Every pregnancy is different and unique to the mother’s health, genetic composition, and the baby. According to the NIH, drinking alcohol the first or second month of pregnancy can hurt the baby with irreversible health consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs up the NIH by saying there is no safe level of alcohol to use during pregnancy. If drinking continues throughout the pregnancy, babies are likely to develop fetal alcohol syndrome with characteristic facial features such as a wide set of eyes, smooth ride on the upper lip, and a thin upper lip border. But that’s only the surface, because within the brain lies the possibility of intellectual disabilities, speech and language delays, and poor social skills.

Unfortunately, the “truth” as they put it is not exactly the whole truth, nor is it the same advice given universally by the medical community, despite the fact that both the NIH and the CDC take the absolutist point of view just to be safe. That these government agencies here, and in other places, take this position without actually explaining why, or even how they arrived at it and the uncertainty about it, seems to me a condescending way to treat people. I know, or hope, they mean well, and the goal is to bring healthy babies into the world. Everyone agrees that frequent drinking or drinking large quantities of alcohol while pregnant is a terrible idea, but not giving women all of the facts is yet another example of the medical community talking down to people and treating them with condescension. And it’s taking its toll on some women in unexpected ways, as I’ll explain later.

pregnant-beer-bottle

More recent studies are beginning to show that in fact the occasional drink is not only harmless, but in some cases beneficial. For example, a 2013 study at Harvard found “no connection between drinking alcohol early in pregnancy and birth problems” and at the University College London, they found “Light drinking in pregnancy not bad for children.” Others found A Drink A Day While Pregnant Is OK and Moms Who Drink Wine While Pregnant Have Better Behaved Kids. Yet another recent New study shows no harm from moderate drinking in pregnancy. Likewise, Moderate drinking during pregnancy may not harm baby’s neurodevelopment and the Parenting Squad says that Yes, You Can Drink While Pregnant.

In Is It OK to Drink While Pregnant? Why Scientists Really Don’t Know, the author details why it is that the science is so difficult to pin down, and as such many doctors advise abstaining altogether. One of the problems with this contrary advice is that some people who are convinced that any alcohol represents a danger to an unborn fetus and they make life difficult for anyone who’s received different advice, or who has looked at the issue and come to a different conclusion. Despite it being unsettled, some states have, or are considering, passing laws to punish women who have the temerity to have a drink while pregnant. Both of my wife’s baby doctors advised her the occasional drink was not a problem, and even told her that if it helped her relax was a positive. She tended to have a drink only every so often, rarely even, and I certainly enjoyed the months of having a designated driver. But many other women report having been publicly shamed, ridiculed and punished for drinking while pregnant in public. At least one person reports being accosted for simply buying alcohol (it was for a party and she had no intention of drinking it) and I suspect that’s not an isolated incident. The clerk at the liquor store acted like it was against the law for her to simply purchase it.

Many have written about their experiences with alcohol during pregnancy and are worth reading. See, for example, Take Back Your Pregnancy, by an economist writing for the Wall Street Journal. And for Slate, Emily Oster explains herself in “I Wrote That It’s OK to Drink While Pregnant. Everyone Freaked Out. Here’s Why I’m Right.” In addition, Dr. Peggy Drexler, a research psychologist and gender scholar, examined the history and psychology of shaming such women in A Loaded Question: On Drinking While Pregnant. Not surprisingly, it’s only been since 1981 that the U.S. Surgeon General’s took the official position pregnant women should completely abstain from drinking alcohol. And for a while, drinking among pregnant women declined, but since 2002 has been on the rise again, though it’s the “‘every now and then’ glass of wine or two” rather than binge drinking and the biggest demographic to see this increase is “college-educated women between 35 and 44.” Her answer to why “as a whole we continue to judge women who opt to have that occasional glass of wine,” is that “[w]e’re so fully entrenched in the age of over-parenting — having opinions, and voicing them, about how other people raise their kids — that, it seems, we can’t help but start in before the baby is actually born.”

Similarly, in a lengthy piece for Boston Magazine, Pregnant Pause?, author Alyssa Giacobbe details this explanation.

“As soon as you’re pregnant, or have a baby, it’s like all bets are off,” says Kara Baskin, a 33-year-old mother of a two-year-old boy. “People can say whatever they want, touch whatever they want, make whatever comments they want.” A few years back, she was at a Starbucks when the barista asked her, “Are you supposed to be having any caffeine when you’re pregnant?” She wasn’t pregnant — it was just the shirt — but of course that didn’t matter. She ran out crying.

Of course, it wasn’t always that way. My mother drank, and most likely smoked, while she was pregnant with me. If you’re close to my age, or older, your Mom probably did, too. Entire generations did, and while it would be hard to argue that children today aren’t better off thanks to their mothers watching what they consumed or what they did while pregnant, our species made it pretty far before 1981 just by being sensible.

But back to Dr. Drexler, who concluded with these words of wisdom.

This is not a call to drink while pregnant, or to be careless in any way. We know much more now than our own mothers did, and that’s an advantage. But years of experience studying gender and working with families have shown me, time and again, that mothers get a bad rap. This can create needless fear, anxiety, and self-doubt. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the tendency to assign blame, constantly monitor, and voice our every opinion about the choices other mothers make. After all, isn’t the prospect of having a baby daunting enough?

Indeed, I think we can all agree that over-indulging during pregnancy is not a good idea. But making hard and fast rules, giving people a hard time about it, or even punishing them socially, or legally, is going too far. Which brings me back to my statement earlier that this is “taking its toll on some women in unexpected ways.” An article last week in London’s Telegraph, Pre-pregnancy test binge-drinking: 5 myths busted, detailed the darker side of humiliating pregnant women with the abstinence only propaganda so commonly employed by prohibitionist groups.

Most women try and follow the existing guidelines, or avoid alcohol altogether.

But what about those who don’t know they’re pregnant? What about the women who have spent the first few weeks of their pregnancy binge drinking, because they had no idea they were unexpectedly expecting?

Today, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said that many women are so shocked to discover they’ve been binge drinking through the early stages of pregnancy, that they consider having an abortion.

The organisation reports an increase in women who are so worried about having unknowingly harmed their baby that they’re enquiring about ending what would otherwise have been a wanted pregnancy. BPAS is now trying to reassure pregnant women that this is not necessary.

That’s right, some women have been so traumatized by the scaremongering propaganda out there about binge drinking that they’re considering terminating their pregnancy, that is having an abortion rather than risk giving birth. The BPAS is now scrambling to reassure women that they don’t need to go to such extreme measures, and author Radhika Sanghani takes on five common myths which lead women to consider an abortion, and in the process contradicts much of the absolutist rhetoric and rationale for advising women to completely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.

What struck me about this story is that it’s a real example of harm being perpetrated on women — not to mention their unborn children — through prohibitionist propaganda. I want to believe that the healthcare community has been giving the abstaining advice in an abundance of caution and with a greatest good sort of mentality to protect women and children. But I have no such illusions about the motives of prohibitionists, who have shown they’ll use any tactic to promote their agenda, and will exaggerate any claim that shows alcohol in a negative light. This is what can happen when propaganda goes unchecked. This suggests that there may be children who were terminated and not given a chance to live full lives thanks to exaggerated propaganda by prohibitionist groups and other anti-alcohol organizations. As my British colleague Pete Brown tweeted when this article first appeared; “Proud of yourselves, Alcohol Concern? These are the, hopefully, unintended consequences of prohibitionist propaganda.

na-pregnant

Why Slugs Love Beer

slug
I learned this trick from my great aunt, who used to put dishes of stale beer out to attract and kill various pests, including slugs. I knew it worked it, but I don’t think I ever quite knew why. According to a short article in the September issue of Mental Floss, Why Do Slugs Love Beer?, the answer is that the “sweet smell of yeast attracts slugs to beer like moths to a flame.” Quoting Ian Bedford, head of the John Innes Centre’s Entomology Facility in Great Britain, “A lot of slug species feed on decaying plant material,” adding that “beer resembles overripe fruits, which burst with naturally fermenting yeasts that slugs can’t resist.”

beer-and-slugs

Beer In Ads #1326: What Famed Scientist Is Closely Linked To The Brewing Of Beer?


Saturday’s ad is another one from the United States Brewers Foundation, from 1951. This a series of ads they did in 1951 using a Q&A format aimed at highlighting different positive aspects of beer and the brewing industry.

Q
What famed scientist is closely linked to the brewing of beer?

A
Louis Pasteur, who evolved “pasteurization” through observing the action of yeast.

The ad details pasteur’s important work, “Studies on Beer,” published in 1876.

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