A sober look at the science behind drinking
In his senior year at Yale University, Brian D. Hoefling became the go-to guy for friends with questions about alcohol consumption. His expertise was not solely a result of prodigious personal experience, however, but from weeks spent learning about classic drinks, a mission Hoefling took on after a few friends mentioned a fear of graduating without knowing how to “drink like adults.”
“Once I start researching something, I have trouble leaving questions unanswered,” Hoefling said.
Five years later, the Cambridge resident is serving up his own wider guide to alcohol, called “Distilled Knowledge: The Science Behind Drinking’s Greatest Myths, Legends, and Unanswered Questions.” The book, set to publish Oct. 4, discusses the chemistry behind various kinds of drinks and often debunks beliefs that circulate at bars and dinner parties. Do carbonated drinks have a stronger effect on blood alcohol concentration? Why does expensive booze taste better? Hoefling can tell you.
The self-described cocktail historian runs Herzog Cocktail School, a Cambridge bartending and event planning service that offers classes in preparing drinks. By combining what he learned on the job with information from experts and science literature, Hoefling ended up with a 208-page guide that entertains but also informs.
“I conceived this from the beginning as something that would answer particular questions for a particular myth,” he said. “And so I went into it thinking: What are all the weird scientific assertions that I’ve heard about drinking, and what are the questions that I feel like I’ve been asked or that I remember wondering?”
As its title suggests, “Distilled Knowledge” is concise. Each of its seven chapters, ranging from “Fermentation” and “Aging’’ to “Metabolism of Alcohol” and “Effects,’’ serves to address a topic-specific set of questions, and the book includes an appendix and glossary. This structure contrasts with a 1980s version of “Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide,” the first cocktail book Hoefling ever owned and one that he described as comprehensive but haphazardly put together.
“[It was] far from the best cocktail guide I’ve ever owned,” he said, “but as the first one, it was very important in opening my eyes to the fact that there was a whole position that some people were trying to preserve that went beyond, ‘Oh, I’ve got a bunch of bottles and some mixers. What can I play around with?’ ”
Hoefling decided to take his guide to the next level, breaking down the science behind creating and consuming alcohol and supplementing his explanations with whimsical charts and graphics, courtesy of illustrator Leandro Castelao. One graph, for example, sets the timeline of a night of drinking against blood-alcohol concentration, with illustrated figures mimicking symptoms that occur over time.
Hoefling said his writing influenced his own drinking habits, as he often found himself checking his symptoms against those catalogud in his research. In fact, he hopes readers will end up doing the same, as his goal is promoting smart consumption.
“I now know from my own research that eating after drinking can help, and there’s literally never a bad time to drink water if you want to sober yourself up,” Hoefling said. “These are both generally good advice, but it’s much easier to remind yourself to do these things when you know that it’s been studied and proven true, rather than just common knowledge.”
DISTILLED KNOWLEDGE: The Science Behind Drinking’s Greatest Myths, Legends, and Unanswered Questions.
By Brian D. Hoefling
Abbeville Press, 208 pp., $21.95