Drinking, Men & Problem-Solving

I feel a bit like Karnak with that title, but recent news articles have conspired to force one inevitable conclusion: the world would be a lot better run if (maybe) men had a beer or a cocktail more often.

Now I’m not suggesting we return corporate America to Mad Men levels of excessive alcohol consumption, but I’m also not so naive as to believe that we are a nation ruled by teetotalers.

That would be truly horrible.

What I am saying is this: science & facts back up the assertion I’m making. Men, particularly, seem to be better equipped for innovation and problem-solving if they imbibe/partake/slake their thirst regularly.

Per Researchers at The University of Illinois in Chicago:

“We found at 0.07 blood alcohol, people were worse at working memory tasks, but they were better at creative problem-solving tasks,” psychologist Jennifer Wiley reported on the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS) site.

Wiley conceded that her findings run counter to popular belief that alcohol hinders analytical thinking and muddies the mind.

“We have this assumption, that being able to focus on one part of a problem or having a lot of expertise is better for problem solving,” says Wiley. “But that’s not necessarily true. Innovation may happen when people are not so focused. Sometimes it’s good to be distracted.”

And per an opinion piece of U.S. Presidential drinking habits in the New York Times:

I’ve always thought the beer buddy threshold was nonsense. Still, it’s worth considering what a White House without a tippling tenant would be like. Sobriety, laudable in many respects, does imply rigidity of thought. The best presidents were open-minded, and generally open to a drink. The nondrinkers, at least over the last century or so, were terrible presidents.

Neither article advocates drunkenness or drinking to excess, but a little bit of social lubricant can be a good thing: for easing a tense meeting, a terse negotiation or helping connect the dots of a stubborn problem.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go make myself a drink. 😉

“To Alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems!” – Homer J. Simpson

Of Malts & Wood

Sometimes you don’t need a reason to celebrate, you just need to raise your glass to the fact that you continue to draw breath and wake up in the morning.

Jenn & I have been working on a killer stretch of lack of sleep, work-related obligations and some non-minor family drama that have left us pretty raw of late.

So Saturday night I let my hair down a bit. I went to my local liquor store and made two purchases I thought would ensure an enjoyable evening: a four pack of Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron and a dram of The Balvenie DoubleWood.

Both beverage brewed (or distilled) of malted barley and achieving their unique flavor/taste profiles from the use of wooden barrels. Not so unique for the Scotch, pretty special for the beer.

Here’s what the wood imparts to the beer (per the label, emphasis mine):

An unfiltered, unfettered, unprecedented, brown ale aged in handmade wooden brewing vessels. The caramel and vanilla complexity unique to this ale comes from the exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood from which these tanks were crafted. At 10,000 gallons each, these are the largest wooden brewing vessels built in America since before Prohibition. It’s all very exciting. We have wood. Now you do too.

Palo Santo Marron
Palo Santo Marron

The Scotch takes its wood no less seriously, they just talk about it differently:

The Balvenie DoubleWood is a 12 year old single malt which gains its distinctive character from being matured in two woods. Over its period of maturation it is transferred from a traditional oak whisky cask to a first fill European oak sherry cask. Each stage lends different qualities to the resulting single malt ~ the traditional casks soften and add character, whilst the sherry wood brings depth and fullness of flavour.

The Balvenie DoubleWood
The Balvenie DoubleWood

I’m an accomplished beer snob, but I’ve only recently succumbed to the siren song of Scotch. I must have spent a full half hour in the liquor store aisle consulting my brother over the phone and the sales guy at the store. In contrast the beer took me all of 30 seconds to pick once I realized it was in stock.

Comparisons are crass (apples & oranges?) but the Palo Santo Marron is easily one of the deepest, most complex beers I’ve ever had while I’ve been told that The Balvenie (even the DoubleWood) is one of the sweetest and most honeyed Single Malt Scotches.

If I wasn’t a Scotch convert before, I am now. I must’ve sat with the empty glass in my lap for an hour while we watched a movie, keeping it handy so I could continue to smell the residue left in the glass. The nose and the experience were almost better than the drinking. Almost.

I’ll never give up beer, but having something new to geek out on is always fun. It’s that much better knowing that it’s just a different expression of a fermented malt beverage aged in wood.


Got a favorite beer or Scotch? Let me know in the comments.

UPDATE: Here’s a great Scotch pronunciation video guide from Esquire magazine as hosted/narrated by the Scottish actor Brian Cox.

Also, in the comments, Russell points out a New Yorker article on Dogfish Head & Sam Calgione that talks about the Palo Santo wood. I must’ve shared that here or Twitter at some point. If not, it’s new to you.

UPDATE II: This video may or may not be applicable.