Jim Koch, the co-founder and chairman of Boston Beer Company, the maker of Samuel Adams, recently did an interview with Esquire magazine.
In it, he revealed his secret to binge drinking without getting totally wasted — which seems like a useful tip for the executive of a beer company who might have do a lot of taste testing or if you want to keep your head on at a work function.
The secret, Koch told the magazine, is to take active dry yeast (which you can get at the grocery store) before drinking. He suggests taking one teaspoon per drink. Koch mixes it with yogurt to make the powder go down smoother, but you can eat it any way you want.
How this is supposed to work
The yeasts make an enzyme, called alcohol dehydrogenases (ADHs), that works to break down the alcohol before it hits our system. This supplements the natural breakdown of alcohol (about one to two drinks per hour) that our body normally does. The combined effect means that less alcohol reaches your blood and your brain — you don’t get as drunk.
If this works, there could be some downfalls.
Toxic byproducts are created when the ADHs break down the alcohol. This is what causes a hangover the morning after a night of heavy drinking. Since the yeasts add extra ADH into the body, thus creating more toxic byproducts, we are guessing this this little trick could potentially make your hangover worse, even if you managed stay sober.
There’s also a risk of getting too much yeast into your system. Since these organisms naturally produce alcohol, overdoing it on the yogurt-yeast concoction could have the opposite effect of making you even drunker. In one case, a home brewer turned himself into a alcohol-creating machine whenever he ate too much sugar.
Doubts are surfacing
There are already some questions about the effectiveness of Koch’s drink-without-getting-drunk method. Our stomachs are a tough place. They secrete all kinds acidic compounds to break down food. And they naturally push food through our systems, so the yeast wouldn’t stay in one place for long.
Would the yeast even survive in your stomach long enough to keep you sober through an all-night binge?
On a sceptics forum, some people expressed their doubts. “The proposed mechanism of the higher alcohol tolerance is highly implausible,” according to commentor Fabian. He sites two papers that have studied how these enzymes act in acidic (low pH) situations.
Inside the stomach the pH is around 1-2, the activity of enzymes is typically strongly dependent on the pH. Outside of their optimal pH range enzymes generally work much slower or not at all.
Yeast ADH has a pH optimum in the neutral to alkaline range, at low pH values it is not active at all. The following two papers looked at the effect of pH on ADH and both observed that ADH was unstable at low pH values
The yogurt may play a role in neutralising some of the acid in the stomach, enabling the yeast to live on, even in the harsh environment, though even if the pH raises, it’s likely a short window in which the alcohol-breakdown enzymes can work.
Commentor Streblo says: “It takes about 45 minutes for your stomach to drop in pH after eating/drinking. Hence, I would argue there is a short, but plausible window for ADH to be active. Additionally, the ADH may be active in the small intestine rather than the stomach, per se.”
Who volunteers to test it out?
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