July 30, 2010
So a friend sent me an article about a new beer that’s set a record for having the highest alcohol content of any beer available: it’s fifty-five percent alcohol, or 110 proof. It makes sense to me that the measure “proof” is double the percentage of alcohol because when you’ve had too much alcohol you’re usually seeing double, but I’ve never understood why the alcohol in certain beverages is called “proof”, since, if you’ve had enough alcohol, you’ll believe anything even without proof. Anyway, the fact that someone has brewed a beer with that much alcohol immediately raises the question, why? This is an even bigger mystery than why most beer and liquor company websites have a warning that says, “You must be at least 21 to enter this website.” The first time I saw that I assumed the dreams of Willy Wonka had come true and I’d be able to reach into my computer, only instead of pulling out a chocolate bar I’d pull out a pint of my favorite stout. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to discover that there were no free samples. For some reason you just have to be at least twenty-one to be old enough to legally read a beer company’s web site, at least in the United States, where twenty-one is the legal drinking age. Maybe it’s different if you go to the web site from a computer in Britain, where the legal drinking age is eighteen, or in Germany, where drinking is required by law, or Canada, where sometimes it’s eighteen, sometimes it’s nineteen, and sometimes you can get free beer by putting a mouse in a bottle, but that’s another story. I
‘ve heard that in small towns in the northernmost parts of Canada people sometimes drink a concoction called Moose Juice, which is local ale blended with pure grain alcohol. My sources on this are sketchy, but I’m inclined to believe it’s true. If I lived that close to the Arctic circle I’d probably drink five or six glasses of Moose Juice every September and wake up the following April. Having to be twenty-one just to click through a beer company’s web site makes me wonder if my parents didn’t commit a terrible crime by taking me to the Jack Daniel’s distillery when I was seven, although you couldn’t legally buy Jack Daniel’s, or any other alcoholic beverage, anywhere in the county where the distillery is located, because we in the United States enjoy more complicated rules regarding alcohol than anywhere else. Recently the laws in Tennessee have been adjusted, allowing some small distilleries to start making what they call “legal moonshine”. Basically this is whiskey that isn’t aged but is poured straight from the still into bottles without being aged in barrels first. Call me old-fashioned, or pour me an Old Fashioned, but I think “legal moonshine” is a contradiction in terms, like “jumbo shrimp”, or “corporate ethics”. They should just call it what it is: “paint thinner”. But that brings me back to the beer with the fifty-five percent alcohol content, which I don’t think should be called beer. If that’s beer then it’s really nothing new, because beer with that much alcohol has been around for a long time. Instead of calling it “beer”, though, people called it “whiskey”. Or “gin”, or “vodka”, or at least a dozen other names which I may or may not be able to even legally utter around minors in certain parts of the United States. But at least I live in an area where I know I can buy it. In fact, after a ban of more than a hundred years I’ve learned that I can now legally buy absinthe, so I’m off now to find out whether absinthe really does make the heart grow fonder.