Tippling Tips

Can you please solve all our alcohol-related mysteries?

Of course, it's an academic question. Few people actually order rye whiskey. "Usually people that ask for it are from Canada and they want Canadian whisky, not rye," reports Rodney Caprio, bartender at Cool River. "We only carried one brand here, and in my three years I sold only two shots."

Why do we use "proof?"

According to the Cumberland Mountain Community Services Board in Cedar Bluff, Virginia, deep in the Appalachians, the word "proof" is a remnant of that romantic era when backwoods still operators pawned barrels of iffy alcohol onto tavern owners--in between feuds, of course.

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In order to prove the alcohol content, the tavern owners poured some of the drink over gunpowder and ignited the concoction. Other stories involve a mixture of water, alcohol and gunpowder. The gunpowder flashed at roughly 100 proof or about 50 percent alcohol.

"Saloons would buy whiskey in barrels and it was supposed to be proof, and gunpowder was their way to check it," Samuels says. Early in the 19th century, hydrometers eliminated the need for gunpowder proof. "Jim Beam--my godfather--used to tell the gunpowder story, but he was talking about his grandfather's time."

Nowadays, Americans designate proof as twice the alcohol content by volume, with a proof spirit containing 50 percent alcohol. The more precise British measure proof as 12/13 the weight of an equal portion of water at 51 degrees Fahrenheit, making 100 proof 48.24 percent alcohol by weight or 57.06 percent by volume.

The Burning Question crew prefers to just take a few swigs from the bottle. If we don't wake up until Monday, it's proof enough for us.

Why does alcohol make members of the opposite sex look better?

For once folk interpretation and scientific reasoning agree: Alcohol doesn't make the opposite sex look better; it just impairs a person's judgment, reduces inhibitions and slows reactions--sometimes until the next morning.

"Alcohol loosens people up, makes people talk," reasons Jeff Haubner, hanging out at Whisky Bar. "And once you start talking, well, some shit will stick." Lori Burzynski, knocking back beers at The Gingerman, agrees. "Because you're drunk, your senses are all screwed up," she slurbs. A slurb, by the way, is Burning Question slang for a quote taken from someone under the influence.

Sometimes senses become so skewed that odd things occur. For example, Angelika Swearingen, bartender at Milk Bar, recalls when a drunk man began flirting with a couple of mannequins propped up along the wall. Fortunately for that particular lush, alcohol depresses the brain's memory function.

Some people, however, still hold on to the idea that alcohol distorts our perception of appearance. "Women get drunk so they can become more attractive more quickly," Cantrell slurs after a few drinks. "Wait, I got that backwards. We get drunk so they can be more attractive."

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