Spirits. They sound kind of mystical, don't they? Certainly in medieval times the art of distilling was known to only alchemists and learned monks. It's perhaps due to their mystic and mysterious past that so many myths and misunderstandings surround the inhabitants of the top shelf.
But we're in an age of enlightenment and reason. Surely it is time to let go of all prejudice – not only to your fellow man, but to every race and creed of distilled liquor, too. Hence my list of five boozy myths that can be done away with.
1. Gin makes you depressed
In fairness, this one is true – but only in the sense that all alcohol is a depressant in that it slows the function of the central nervous system. Chemically, gin will make you no more or less melancholy than any other alcoholic beverage. Why we tend to focus on gin is due to a period of English history sometimes referred to as the Gin Craze.
For a large part of the 18th century, England was awash with gin, thanks in part to economic protectionism restricting the importation of liquor from Catholic Europe. This protectionism combined with a glut in grain and poor regulation eventually led to gin being as cheap as beer. By 1743 it was estimated that every man, woman and child was drinking 10 litres of gin per person, per year.
Campaigners against gin, such as artist William Hogarth, portrayed it as a depraved and vile liquor that was depriving the lower classes of their moral virtue, causing mothers to abandon their children, making plebeians depressed and even leading to cases of spontaneous human combustion.
2. Tequila makes you crazy
Ask anyone and they'll tell you that different types of liquor affect them differently. It's a widely accepted truth that tequila will make you go wild – that it's pure party-juice. Unfortunately, scientists and academics aren't the sorts to settle for widely accepted truths. Learned types tell us that beverage alcohol – ethanol – has the same chemical effect on us whether we consume it as whisky, gin, vodka, brandy - or tequila.
So why the prevailing myth? Well it's psychosomatic, really – the situation that will have us slamming back shots of tequila at a party is vastly different from the one that will have you sipping on a single malt scotch at the club.
The rate at which you consume a spirit and whether or not you enjoy it neat or mixed will all affect how quickly your body absorbs the alcohol contained in the spirit, and in turn how we perceive that spirit's effect on us.
3. 'Hair of the dog' will cure a hangover
As much as I enjoy a Bloody Mary, I don't for a minute pretend that it will repair any damage done by a previous night's exploits. Ethanol is a toxin that your liver has to process to remove from your system – hydration and time are the only real answers to the hangover dilemma.
But what about the empirical improvements you might have noted in the past? Well getting back on the sauce after a big night may ease the pain initially, but it will only really serve to delay the effects of your impending sore head and churning tummy.
4. Mixing drinks will get you more drunk
Ever been told 'never mix the grape and the grain'? We've all gone ahead and mixed our drinks anyway, maybe even with disastrous results. You'll find, however, that as long as you drink a unit of alcohol whether it is made from malt, grape or other at the same steady pace you'll avoid (for the most part) any catastrophe.
This is a myth which has grown out of misunderstanding of ethanol and different beverages' relative strengths. It always pays to know how strong the drink is that you're consuming and to remain aware of how quickly you are consuming. Mixing what you are drinking can admittedly make this harder to manage, but there is no such thing as a "chemical reaction" in switching from beer to wine halfway through an evening that will come back to bite later.
5. Vodka can't be detected on your breath
Ever heard the theory that drinking vodka won't show up on your breath? It was Smirnoff which really helped establish this myth; indeed, the United States is a leading vodka market and one of the earliest slogans was “Smirnoff's White Whiskey, No Taste, No Smell”. Their 1960s' slogan - “it leaves you breathless” - really helped cement this concept in the American psyche.
Whilst it is true that alcohol by itself doesn't have a very strong smell and that vodka has less congeners and fusel oils (impurities that add flavour) than scotch whisky for example, after a few drinks you'll still have that distinctive alcohol breath. Why, you ask? Well it's to do with the metabolites – by-products such as ketones – produced by your body trying to process the alcohol. Your body can't metabolise ketones that enter your blood stream, and air coming into your lungs is exchanged into your blood. So when you exhale, the ketones are expelled and detectable as that distinct bad breath.
What's the craziest drinking myth you have come across?