Category: Food and Drink

The Science of Beer

By Mark Trodden | August 2, 2011 8:18 am

About five years ago I wrote a post titled “The Science of Coffee”, describing a delightful article by Ernesto Illy in Scientific American. This was serious coffee-for-nerds stuff, and I loved it. You can imagine then, how much pleasure I got last week to find a shorter attempt at the same kind of exposition, this time about another favorite beverage – beer. This article was by Andy Connelly in the Guardian, and describes the malt, the wort, the seasoning, the fermentation and the conditioning necessary to turn out one of man’s great achievements.

A lot of what is in the article will be well known to anyone who is a beer connoisseur. And these days, given the proliferation in the U.S. of great beer of every type imaginable, I find such people everywhere. However, for the rest of us it does provide a great primer on what’s going on to produce that frothy glass of deliciousness in front of us.

Science aside, there are other fascinating tidbits in the article, such as

Many cultures have seen beer as a gift from God (a medieval English term for yeast was godisgoode)

After reading Connelly’s article, I realized he’s been writing similar ones for some time now. You can find out about the science of

Ok, got to go – I’m hungry now!

Inaugural Cosmic Variance Whisky Tasting

By Sean Carroll | May 12, 2010 10:15 am

One of the consequences of having a blog is that people occasionally offer to send you free stuff. Not out of the goodness of their hearts, for the most part; rather, because they’d like some free publicity in return. Usually it’s a book of some sort, and usually I just decline; I can’t possibly get through all the books I hope to read on my own, much less other books that people want me to read.

So when I received an email from Kimberly Moniz at SHIFT Communications asking if I’d be interested in receiving a free sample to possibly mention on the blog, I almost replied automatically in the negative. But then the nature of the product sunk in, and I paused — this wasn’t a book, this was booze! Specifically, Canadian Club whisky.

I’ll admit that I’m an occasional Scotch drinker, but not much of a Canadian whisky fan. To be honest, the mention of Canadian Club conjures images of something my grandmother would have been drinking (while smoking her Pall Malls), although that seems to be changing. I suspect the marketing people recognize that, and thought it would be good to freshen their image among a younger, hipper crowd. And what better way to do that than by reaching out to science blogs? (Especially ones that occasionally rhapsodize about the perfect martini.) This is some new-media marketing savvy I can get behind. Also, free booze.

But our honor is not sold so cheaply — we’re not going to provide free advertising just because someone sends us some loot. We have our scruples, and everything we post must adhere to the guiding principles of our Mission Statement. But then I remembered that our Mission Statement says we post about whatever we feel like posting about. Still, we like to convey at least the illusion of integrity.

So I hit upon the perfect solution: talk about the whisky, but do so through the lens of Science! That is, we would accept the free booze, but only under the understanding that we would subject it to a rigorous taste-test in comparison with other comparable whiskies, apply the time-honored techniques of the experimental method to the results, and publish whatever they might turn out to be. Kim was up for this adventure, so we set the wheels in motion. Results below the fold.


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Making Coffee

By Sean Carroll | January 26, 2010 7:07 pm

My new-espresso-machine wave function has not yet collapsed. In the meantime, via Cynical-C, here are two videos from Intelligentsia Coffee in Venice (CA, not Italy). Making espresso, and making siphon (or “syphon,” apparently) coffee.

Suffice it to say that my level of coffee-making care doesn’t really compete.


Coffee Rituals

By Sean Carroll | January 25, 2010 8:17 am

We’re long overdule for an open-type thread around here, so let me provide the excuse by asking one of the world’s great questions: what’s the best way to make coffee?

I’m an eclectic coffee drinker; I like espresso but also enjoy a really good cup of American coffee, and I prefer coffee black but am willing to adulterate it with milk if I suspect the quality is not going to be that high. (Sugar under no circumstances.) For the past few years I’ve relied on the lowest-effort method I know of that is guaranteed to produce a good cup: freshly-ground dark roast beans, placed in a simple cone filter and hot water poured right in. Practically instant coffee, but a result that can be as good as the beans allow.

S1CO But I’d like to start mixing more espresso into my home coffee experience, so I’m in the market for a new espresso machine. If I were a physicist of means, I might go for a work of art like the Elektra Micro Casa Lever on right. Or would I? This is a spring-action lever machine, which is to be contrasted with the manual levers, not to mention the automatics and super-automatics, and then there’s the matter of boilers, switches, heat exchangers … a complete mess. The pumps are certainly elegant, but I’d also like something that is functional and doesn’t require constant pampering. So I am in the unusual position of being frozen with indecision about what kind of espresso machine to get. Any opinions out there?

The ground rules here are:

  1. There’s no such thing as right or wrong; different people have different tastes, for which different approaches are appropriate.
  2. Answers with specific comparisons of advantages and disadvantages are more useful than simple insistence on truth.

I do understand that this is the internet and rules are unlikely to be followed, but I feel I should try.

Obviously not all advice on such a topic is too be trusted. The Engineer’s Guide to Drinks thread featured a sobering (as it were) number of people who think a “martini” should just be chilled gin rather than a proper cocktail, and were proud to admit it in public! So caveat lector. And if you want to talk about something other than coffee, be our guest.


Engineer's Guide to Drinks

By Sean Carroll | January 22, 2010 8:51 am

It’s Friday and science keeps getting in the way of blogging, but here’s one of the more useful posts you’ll ever get from us: via FlowingData, the Engineer’s Guide to Drinks. Yes, there is a full-sized pdf at the original post.

Engineer's Guide to Drinks

That’s a slightly crazy Martini — 2:1 gin to vermouth. I think the pendulum has swung too far towards “dry,” but please.


If Dr. Seuss Designed Produce…

By Julianne Dalcanton | October 23, 2009 10:54 am

…he would have invented the dragon fruit.

dragon fruit

Look at it! It’s fantastic! And when you cut it open:

dragon fruit cut open

Even better! And guess what? It’s deeeeeelicious. Slightly crispy like an asian pear, but reminiscent of a kiwi.

Where have you been all my life, dragon fruit?!?!? Certainly not in mainstream US grocery stores.

Many thanks to my hosts at the DARK Cosmology Center in Copenhagen for introducing me to this wonder food.



By Julianne Dalcanton | August 19, 2009 10:43 am


Doesn’t that word conjure up the majesty of space exploration? The triumph of human drive and ingenuity?

Or perhaps, it makes you think of an automated laser-guided milking machine?

Astronaut milking machine

Seriously. Wrap your mind around that. “Automated laser-guided milking machine”.

Cow walks in when it decides it’s ready to be milked. Sensors read a tag around the cow’s neck to determine if the cow is indeed ready to be milked. If so, the machine launches a veritable Pink Floyd Lasarium around the udder, locating the teats, which are then cleaned and hooked up to the milking units. Sensors then disconnect when the milk flow drops, and the cow goes on its way.

Lasers and cows. Two fine things that I never thought I’d see together.

(and below, an informative video, if you really, really care)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink, Technology

Happy 4th of July, Muppet Style

By Julianne Dalcanton | July 4, 2009 12:58 pm

This is transcendently ridiculous.

For the many international CV readers, today is the US’s Independence Day celebration, which is in large part an excuse to bar-b-que meat products, blow up fireworks, and drink beer. If you’re tuning in from abroad, you are probable sober enough to read Daniel’s upcoming post on gravitational waves. For the rest of the drunken US crew, you can probably handle the Muppets.

PS. While we’re talking beer, I must recommend the current Full Sail Limited Edition L.T.D. (Recipe No. 3), sold in bottles with the pale blue label. Seriously. Try some.

(h/t: Again with the CakeWrecks)

Women in Space — We …um… salute you

By Julianne Dalcanton | June 25, 2009 10:21 am

As a diehard baker of extreme cakes, I understand the difficulty in complex cake construction. Truly, I do. But this commemorative space shuttle cake at an event to salute the achievements of women in space has gone fabulously off the rails.

I never thought the phrase “External Fuel Tank” could sound so, well, dirty.

Picture below the fold to protect the children. (From the always entertaining CakeWrecks).

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink, Humor
MORE ABOUT: space shuttle cake

Splitting the Bill

By Sean Carroll | December 19, 2008 10:39 am

Continuing the end-of-year purge of things I don’t have time to properly blog about: be sure not to go to dinner with this guy. He might lash out at you as everyone is heading home.

“We’re going to split the bill,” said the organizer at my friend’s ninth grade birthday party. I didn’t think much of it until I ended up paying $40 for a $10 entrée. I felt cheated because I didn’t order a drink like most others. I was afraid to ruin the party mood, so I concealed my own anger, and that ended up ruining the night for me.

Now, I almost have sympathy; if you’ve ever gone to dinner with a collection of scientists, you’ll find that their vaunted mathematical skills tend to whither under the pressure of calculating tax and tip, and the person who volunteers to collect the money often ends up chipping in extra to cover the shortfall. But Mr. Talwalkar goes far, far overboard, devising an elaborate scheme by which everyone in the party receives emails ahead of time informing them that they will be strictly limited in the menu options once they reach the restaurant. It’s a common syndrome among people with something of a quantitative bent; fixating on the relationship between the money they are paying and the tangible goods in front of them in the form of food and drink, they completely discount the goods associated with having a good time in a social atmosphere and not worrying too much about who had how many bites out of which appetizer.

Admittedly, this guy probably gets more enjoyment out of solving a game theory problem and enforcing conformity with his rules than he would by relaxing and telling stories at dinner. That’s why you have to choose your dining companions carefully.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food and Drink, Humanity

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