Alcohol Myths: The Facts for When You Don’t Know What to Believe


Does gin really make you more depressed than other types of alcohol? Can absinth make you hallucinate? Will placing a spoon in the top of a Champagne bottle stop it from going flat? And why is there a worm in tequila?

One of the best things about alcohol is the stories, people and personalities behind the brands and products. But, over the years, re-told and passed down, these stories have changed form and multiplied to many. So many and so abstract are some that it has become hard to decipher between the truths or the wives’ tales of our industry.
We therefore, thought it was about time that drinks trade went out to the leading brands and health professionals on each of these ‘truths’, to debunk the age-old myths of the alcohol industry.

Words by Hannah Sparks

Tequila Has Worms

There are many myths surrounding the worm often found in a bottle of tequila, too many to mention here, but the biggest has in fact, already been said.

What is often known as the ‘worm’, is in fact a gusano – a type of larva that lives in the leaves of the agave plant and a delicacy in Oaxaca, Mexico. Additionally, a gusano is never found in tequila, but in mezcal – made from a type of agave plant found specifically in the state of Oaxaca, unlike tequila, which is made from the blue agave plant grown in regions around the city of Mexico.

Tequila expert and Managing Director at Agave Love, Phil Bayly says gusanos were initially added to mezcal to add flavour, and possibly a bit of colour to the spirit.

Additionally, the gusano is often thought to have hallucinogenic powers – “eat the worm and see the goddess of mezcal” – a marketing tool for export Phil suggests. “Truth is, u have to drink the whole bottle to get to the worm and by the time you have done that you are ready to see anything”, Phil said.

Absinth/e makes you hallucinate

Like the gusano larva, there has been a long held belief by many that absinth is a hallucinogenic. While today this is not the case, before the 1900s this was actually true.

The word absinth originates from the Latin name for the bitter herb wormwood – Artemisia absinthium (the main ingredient in absinth). Wormwood has long been known (since at least the 1500s) to have more additional ‘benefits’ than your average herb. Among a number of these is that wormwood (specifically the thujone ingredient found in wormwood) is a hallucinogenic.

Before the 1900s, there was no limit on the amount of wormwood that could be included in absinth, which led to a number of societal problems (as can be imagined), and by the 1900s absinth had been banned in most countries. Many pieces of artwork from the period can still be found today, depicting drinkers ‘seeing’ a green woman, representing the hallucination caused by absinth and explaining where SouthTrade’s popular absinth brand, Green Fairy took its name from. Eventually bans were lifted, but with laws in place to ensure that only a very small amount of thujone is used in absinth – 35mg/kg in Australia.

Today therefore, absinth is not a hallucinogenic, although a number of brands continue to tell the myth to keep some of this spirit’s mystery and romance alive.

The Two-Size-Too-Big Angostura Label

The Angostura aromatic bitters label has to be the most questionable label in existence. Many often take a double glance, quickly realising that the label is far too big for its bottle. Why? Well there are two stories that claim to answer why, but in Allan Shearer’s own words (distributor of Angostura island2island Beverage Company’s CEO): “no one really knows the truth, but what everyone agrees on is that it happened entirely by accident”.

The first story says that the oversized label is a result of the production being rush to make it into a competition. One of the Seigert brothers ordered the bottles and the other ordered the label (the Seigert brothers were the sons of Dr. J.G.B Seigert, inventor of Angostura bitters), but what they’d forgotten to do was to discuss the sizing between them. By the time they realised the two didn’t match, it was too late. “They didn’t win the competition”, Alan explains, “but the judges told them to leave it as it would be what they call ‘signature labeling’ – no one else would have an oversized label. And they were right, the error led to an unmistakable product and a marketing tool that has stood the test of time.”

The other story is that it was simply the result of the laidback Caribbean attitude. “When someone ordered the wrong size of label and the mistake was spotted, everyone thought someone else would correct it. But no one did. So when the current supply of labels ran out, they simply attached the oversized labels”, Alan says.

Nevertheless which story is told, Angostura’s label has become the trademark of the brand recognised all over the world today – a lucky mistake one could say.

Gin Makes you Moody

In short, gin does not make you more depressed than other types of alcohol.

Like all alcohol, it affects the chemistry of the brain by suppressing serotonin and norepinephrine levels, which can cause some people to feel depressed, but there is no concrete research to suggest that gin acts as more of a depressant than other types of alcohol.
Instead, it is thought that this myth comes from a time in history when in England gin was being drank by all – men, women and even children, and far too much of it. This time, known as the Gin Craze, was a result of a number of societal problems in the country during the 18th century and as a result gin became blamed for misery, rising crime, prostitution, madness, higher death rates and falling birth rates – a depraved substance, or so it was called.

A spoon in the top of an open bottle of Champagne will keep its fizz

For this one, we have to put our hands up and say the jury’s still out. The best way to prevent a bottle of Champagne, or sparkling from going flat quickly once opened is to use a simple stopper, and most recommended is a stopper with metal wings that clamp down. However, there is some truth, when a metal spoon stands up next to a cork in testing, that it actually works better at keeping the fizz (bubbles or gas) in the wine.
Professor Richard Zare at Standford University actually tested this and said: “What we found was a surprise – at least to us. The spoons, silver or stainless, were not especially successful in maintaining the sparkle of the wine. But spoons and all other treatments worked better than re-corking the bottles.
However, the research also found that leaving the bottle open and untreated (without a spoon) scored better than with.
“These results are complicated by the fact that no two bottles that received the same treatment got the same score. The researchers suspect this result is in the nature of sparkling wine made by the Champagne method. Each bottle us a separate micro-environment”, the research concludes.
The theory is that the metal of the spoon acts as a temperature regulator – absorbing the warm air away from the neck of the bottle, leaving the air around the teaspoon cooler. Therefore, as cold air is denser than warm air, it prevents the gas from escaping.
Still unsure, we asked the experts: “Generally, we would not recommend keeping the bottle in the fridge without a seal for longer than a 12-hour period”, Moët’s Brand Manager, Juliet McInnes said. And we’re sticking to that.

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