From the action of the yeast to the blear of the hangover, via the witchery of fermentation, distillation and aging, Wired articles editor Rogers takes readers on a splendid tour of the booze-making process.
Though he is the kind of person who likes to understand how to get from point A to point B—e.g., grain to single malt, rice to sake—the author appreciates that nothing would have been achieved if experimenters worried about figuring out the properties of fungal hunger for sugar or why esters delight us. Rogers dips into history to track alcohol’s progress from the Alexandrian alchemist Maria to all the proto-chemists making improbable hay from fermentation and distillation to America’s annual consumption of “465 million gallons of distilled spirits, 836 million gallons of wine and 6.3 billion gallons of beer.” Rogers conveys it all with lucidity, brisk enthusiasm and humor, which helps lighten the science. In an illuminating chapter on taste and smell, the author shows how microeconomist Richard Quandt set the “professional reviewers” Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker straight with his article “On Wine Bullshit.” The author also recounts discussions with sensory scientist Hildegarde Heymann, the chief merit of whose “approach is that it cuts through Quandtish bullshit.” Not that Rogers’ humor can’t dive low—inevitably the morning comes after a night of ethanol-induced debauchery: “You are so screwed….Your guts are in full rebellion; whatever happens next is going to happen in the bathroom”—but he is a rationalist and a serious investigator. And, he notes, difficult mornings are often worth the pain—e.g., deeply experiencing Lance Winters’ apricot eau de vie, “the philosophical qualia of apricot. It is like drinking the design spec.”
Rogers gives booze a thorough going over, complete with good cheer, highbrow humor and smarts.