Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The End of History

This has been in the news quite a bit recently as an "odd story". The Brew Dog Brewery in Scotland has produced the strongest beer in the world, The End of History. At a whopping 55% alcohol by volume (ABV), I (and others) ask, how is that even possible?

Beer and wine are produced by fermenting their feedstocks, or incubating the ingredients with yeast, which consumes the sugars and converts them to ethanol under anaerobic conditions. Alcohol (specifically ethyl alcohol), is a poison which kills slowly, the old saw goes, though more quickly in the case of yeasts. Most beer yeasts max out at 5-7% ABV, with yeasts used in Belgian strains tolerating 12%. Even so, no yeast can survive and prosper at these higher proportions of alcohol. So the brewers engaged in what some brewing purists have claimed is foul play, freeze distillation. Because water has a higher freezing point than water (which is why the vodka in your freezer remains a liquid), if you freeze the beer and remove the ice crystals, the remaining liquid is enriched in alcohol and the other flavorants. In the case of End of History, that includes juniper berries and highland nettles.

Only 11 bottles have been produced, each within a taxidermied roadkill squirrel or stoat. The price tag is not a trivial matter. Depending on whether you want a stoat or a squirrel, the bottles were 500 or 700 pounds, though now they are sold out. BrewDog still has inventory of their other ultrahigh gravity beers, including Tactical Nuclear Penguin at 32% ABV and Sink The Bismarck, at 41% ABV. These ultrahigh gravity beers are still illegal in Alabama; the Gourmet Beer and Wine Law signed last year increased the accepted ABV content from 6% to only 13.9%. However, this has greatly expanded the inventory of my favorite local wine and beer merchant, Gus.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I don't usually weigh in on the football thang, but...

Now, I follow SEC football, being an alumnus of Auburn University, but I prefer to leave football talk to the approximately 1 million other sports blogs out there, as a case of nonoverlapping magisteria. They don't talk about fungi, and I usually don't talk about football, even though it is an integral part of the Alabama experience. But I found this too funny to pass up. A video game store in Tuscaloosa replaced the cover photo of tough Tim Tebow with an image of his more sensitive side, crying after losing the SEC Championship to 'Bama.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The cause of Yunnan Sudden Death Syndrome revealed: mushrooms

A friend of mine posted this article from the BBC concerning the lethal poisoning of over 400 Chinese people in Yunnan province. The Yunnan Sudden Death Syndrome had been observed for over 30 years, and the cause has recently come to light. A small mushroom, Trogia sp. (Marasmiaceae), has been found to produce toxic amino acids, which may be acting synergistically with environmental barium. Interestingly, the Yunnan province is known for its wild mushrooms, many of which are exported around the world. This Trogia, however, has been deemed too small to be marketable, and is eaten locally.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Matango! My Review

Matango! (Attack of the Mushroom People)
Color. 1963. 89 minutes, unrated. Directed by Ishiro Honda (famous for Godzilla and other kaiju films). You can watch the whole thing (in Japanese with English subtitles) here.
I recognized Akira Kubo from other Toho films, namely Destroy all Monsters, and Monster Zero. He was also in the Akira Kurosawa classic, Sanjuro. Other stars are also familiar Toho character actors. Also Yoshio Tsuchiya, also a star of several Godzilla films and Kurasawa classics. Kumi Mizuno, one of director Ishiro Honda's favorites.
The film begins like a dramatic version of Gilligan's Island. A ship with a passenger manifest including a professor, a singer, a plain jane, a mystery writer, and a millionaire (as well as a skipper and his flunky. Matango came out a year before Gilligan's Island.
The version I watched was dubbed and had subtitles. There were some interesting differences in the translation and the subtitles.
28 minutes in, we get to the first fungal reference. A derelict oceanographic ship covered in mold. Different colored mold in different parts of the ship. Radiation keeps the mold at bay. Thirty minutes in. We meet Matango, the giant mushroom. If only it were edible...
They are warned by the Captain's Log. DON'T eat the MUSHROOMS! They may contain nerve-damaging agents.
42 minutes in. More mushrooms. apparently growing on wood. "If you were starving, you'd eat them, wouldn't you?"
At 48 minutes, the first monster sighting. The damp! What happened? They seen the first mushroom man and then what happens?
1:09, The rain makes the mushrooms GROW.
1:13. The millionaire eats the mushrooms and starts tripping. The truth is revealed. Eat the mushrooms, become a mushroom. Oh. the laughing voices.
1:21. Apparently mushrooms are polite and knock before trying to ambush you. Is Matango a Russula? It breaks off pretty cleanly.
So how does it end? I don't want to spoil it.

As monster films go, this one wasn't particularly scary. I admit, the mushroom people don't have anything on Godzilla or any of the other kaiju. I do appreciate some of the touchs that I would expect from such a mycophilic culture as the Japanese. I did enjoy this movie more than I expected I would as a film. It tended to follow the Toho formula pretty well, dedicating almost half of the film to character development before the first tease of monster, with more and more monster footage leading up to the climax. It was easy to riff on it as I watched, a la MST3K. If you're a mycophile, it's definitely worth a watch, but over all I'd give it about 3 spores out of 5.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, America!

It is the Fourth of July, which every red-blooded American knows is Independence Day. Today we commemorate our secession from the United Kingdom, through the ratification of the Declaration of Independence (which you can read here). That's all for today, but I'll have more very soon.