It turns out there was a practical reason to pay attention during your boring high school chemistry class — it might have made you a better bartender.
Scientists are beginning to pay more attention to the chemistry of alcoholic beverages. They note that mixing cocktails is a very elementary form of chemistry. The bartender experiments with different combinations of chemical substances, looking to find just the right mixture of taste, appearance, and alcoholic punch. Every mixologist understands that, of course — but it turns out that the chemistry of booze is even more interesting than that. Most alcoholic beverages sold in America don’t have labels that identify precisely what goes into the liquor and whether, for example, the ingredients are natural or artificial. That’s because, in the U.S., alcohol is regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and not the Food and Drug Administration, and the main focus of the labels is the alcoholic content.
There’s some logic to that, I suppose. If you really like a flavored vodka, for example, will it make a difference to you if the flavor is artificial and the grain that is fermented to create the drink was raised through liberal use of pesticides? Most people don’t drink to promote their health, they drink because it relaxes them and they have more fun when they’re loosened up. The precise nature of the substances that get them to where they want to go without barfing onto their shoes really aren’t that crucial.
Anyone who’s worked mixing drinks knows that, to be a really exceptional bartender, you need to be a bit of a psychologist, relationship counselor, priest, character judge, and comedian, among other attributes. Now we need to add chemist to the list, too.