“I know I’m drinking myself to a slow death, but then I’m in no hurry”*…
As the co-founder and chairman of the Boston Beer Company, Jim Koch has appeared in countless Sam Adams commercials over the last thirty years; he drinks the product on camera, and– true lover of his brews that he is– off camera as well. In an Esquire interview with Aaron Goldfarb, Koch explained “How to drink all night without getting drunk.”
“You wanna know my secret? How I can drink beer all night long and never get drunk?”
In fact, I had always wondered that. Though this was the first time I’d ever formally met Koch, I’d “met” him in the past at a few beer festivals. Those sorts of events are always kind of Bacchanalian shit shows, with people imbibing dozens of beer samples in a short period and soon stumbling around large convention halls drunk of their asses. Brewers included. But not Koch, who I’d long noticed was always lucid, always able to hold court, and hold his own with those much younger than him. This billionaire brewing raconteur was doing likewise with me at 4 PM on a Thursday afternoon despite the fact we were both now several beers deep. So what was the secret?
“Active yeast. Like you get at the grocery store.”
Koch told me that for years he has swallowed your standard Fleischmann’s dry yeast before he drinks, stirring the white powdery substance in with some yogurt to make it more palatable.
“One teaspoon per beer, right before you start drinking.”
He’d learned the trick from his good friend “Dr. Joe,” a craft beer legend in his own right. Educated at Harvard with a troika of degrees (a BA, a JD, and an MBA), Koch is no slouch, but the late-Joseph Owades was a flat-out genius. With a PhD in biochemistry from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and an early job in the fermentation sciences department at Fleischmann’s, Owades probably knew more about fermentation and alcohol metabolism than perhaps any man who has ever lived. Koch calls him, in fact, “The best brewer who’s ever lived.” He used that immense knowledge to eventually become a consultant for most of the progenitors of America’s early craft brewing movement such as Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, New Amsterdam Brewing in New York, and, yes, the Boston Beer Company. There he became good friends with Koch, helped perfect Boston Lager, and passed on to Koch his little yeast secret…
You see, what Owades knew was that active dry yeast has an enzyme in it called alcohol dehydrogenases (ADH). Roughly put, ADH is able to break alcohol molecules down into their constituent parts of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Which is the same thing that happens when your body metabolizes alcohol in its liver. Owades realized if you also have that enzyme in your stomach when the alcohol first hits it, the ADH will begin breaking it down before it gets into your bloodstream and, thus, your brain.
“And it will mitigate – not eliminate – but mitigate the effects of alcohol!” Koch told me…
Does it actually work?
Of course, I had to honor my longtime hero Koch, and a new beer hero I’d just learned about in Owades, and try this trick myself. So the next day I grabbed a six-pack of beer and a packet of Fleischmann’s and went to work. The older I get, the more of a lightweight I surely become, but after shoveling down six teaspoons and tilting back six bottles I felt nothing more than a little buzzed. Koch told me he keeps a breathalyzer around at all times just to assure he’s never too drunk. He never is. And, though I had no tangible “proof,” besides the fact I was still awake, I was pretty sure I wasn’t all that drunk either. Forever more I’d be yet another guy discreetly carrying a white powder around at bars. I’d advise you do likewise.
Read the full story, and see Aaron’s video report of his test (which answers such follow-on questions as “does the yeast make one flatulaent?”) at Esquire.com.
* Robert Benchley
As we put the butter back into the fridge, we might send gritty birthday greetings to Samuel Dashiell Hammett; he was born on this date in 1894. Hammett worked as an agent of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency from 1915-1922, when– disillusioned by the organization’s role in strike-breaking– he left to become a writer, providing copy in an ad agency until his fiction earned enough to support him. Hammett drew for his fiction on his experiences as a “Pinkerton Man,” and created an extraordinary series of characters– Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), NIck and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), The Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse)– on the way to becoming, as the New York Times called him, “the dean of the… ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.”
In his book The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler, considered by many to be Hammett’s successor, observed,
Hammett was the ace performer… He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of The Glass Key is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.