Monday, August 15, 2011

For the Good of Mankind: Experiments in Alcohol

If you have ever taken part in a research study you will no doubt share the feeling that you are kind of like a monkey being shot into space. You are an intrepid being with a safety helmet snatching the "real" glory from the Yuri Gagarin's and Neil Armstrong's of the world to benefit humanity by boldly going first.

You probably aren't being shot into space, but hopefully you are at least not getting a shot in the arm. I wouldn't be part of a study involving needles (unless maybe they were knitting needles--and even then I would have serious reservations).

I would be a part of a study that involved, say, being paid for free drinks. Much better than the other way 'round, eh? Let me tell you a 100% true story. Step into my shoes for a moment....

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Corks and Mould: When to Worry and when to Drink

I’ve eaten mouldy bread before. Generally when I do so it’s because my eyes have failed me, luckily my tongue is there to pick up the slack. I once went through a period in my life when I drank coffee that tasted of mould on a regular basis. It’s not that I like the taste of mould; I find the flavour rather reprehensible. Three straight hours of dry philosophy lectures will convince you to drink pretty much anything so long as it offers the guarantee of staving off an embarrassing wake-up call and a drool soaked notebook. Some advice to recent university entrants: clean out your coffee thermos on a regular basis, although it may be made of steel the taste and scent of mould can linger for months no matter how thoroughly you clean. While I do hate mould and its’ wretched flavour I am willing to look past it for a worthy cause.

Cork taint. Much like when the human body rejects an organ after a transplant only to poison the entire body, wine may reject it’s cork poisoning the wine. Not that the wine will hurt or kill you but it will taste bad. Mould is generally the main culprit in producing a “corked” or cork tainted wine. As I have said I am not a fan of mould but I am willing to look past it, however I have yet to become such a chronic alcoholic that I am willing to guzzle down some foul wine just to catch a buzz. Corked wine is not corked because you can see the mould rather it is corked because you can taste and smell it. A wine that is corked will taste like you are licking a wet sheep (in a bad way) this is of course opposed to the desirable characteristic of lanoline (wet wool) one might find in beautiful Semillon blend.
This is what cork taint looks like... be aware

Should you ever encounter the smell and/or taste of wet cardboard or wet dog in a wine don’t worry… unless the liquor store is closed and you have no other bottles to open. Any liquor store worth it salt will gladly refund or exchange your wine (assuming you haven’t drank it all). Theoretically the winery that unfortunately supplied the liquor store and then you, the customer, with an off wine will get the news that there is something wrong with one of, perhaps many of, their bottles: this is a good thing.

If the problem isn’t cork taint, to which there is no solution other than using a seal than a cork, the winery needs to know that there is something wrong. It may be more than just one bottle that is off: it could be an entire batch. Assuming the winery wishes to succeed in the future it better figure out why and fix the problem ASAP. While many people are too shy to return a wine that is off and may just pour it down the sink while making a vow never to buy brand X again, this is not the heroic solution. If you should be the first to report a pervasive problem, rather than pour it down the sink, you may end up actually saving a winery from financial collapse. You’ll be a hero! If you were just unlucky and got a corked wine then you won’t be a hero but at least you’ll get a new bottle of wine, or at least you should if the liquor store is even somewhat reputable.

Any wine or liquor store should gladly refund your money or offer a new bottle of the wine you returned if you bought one that was faulted. Of course if you drink most of the contents of a bottle of wine and then try and return it for a refund or an exchange the shopkeeper will be justifiably reticent. If you do happen to buy a bottle of wine that is faulted put the cork back in the wine (it is easiest to do this if you actually shove the top end of the cork back in as if it were the bottom end) and return the wine, hopefully with no more than a glass missing, within the next day or two.