Is yeast preventing drunk bunk?

This may be considered the best job ever: professional drinker. Literally, a person who drinks beer all day and gets paid for it. Apart from wanting to figure out where to apply, you have to wonder: with drinking all that beer day in and day out and not feeling the effects of intoxication, how do these professional drinkers do it?

One such professional—Jim Koch, who is the founder and brewer of Sam Adams, tasting every batch of beer before it leaves the brewery—gave NPR’s The Salt the trick of the trade.

All it takes is a teaspoon of baker’s yeast and a small amount of food (usually yogurt, in Koch’s case). Ingest both immediately before drinking a pint, and voíla.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years,” Koch told The Salt.

But what is it about the single-celled fungi of yeast that evades intoxication? According to Koch (and biochemist/brewer Joseph Owades), an enzyme in yeast breaks down the alcohol in the stomach prior to getting in the bloodstream.

The Salt wasn’t entirely satisfied and launched an experiment using three average-sized individuals in their mid-thirties. Its goal was simple: Which method worked better to help with intoxication? The study included three tests: drinking two beers and nothing else, two beers and Koch’s yeast-yogurt method before each beer and, lastly, two beers with 16 ounces of water before each one.

Prior to the test, the subjects fasted for eight hours.

The Salt is the first to say that its test of three-individuals wasn’t a representative sample; nevertheless, the conclusions were clear. If Koch’s method of yeast-yogurt works, it only works a little. What does work somewhat better, according to its tests, was drinking water before drinking the beers.

According to Benjamin Tu, a microbiologist at the University of Texas, the yeast-yogurt method didn’t work because of sugar. “Yeast can degrade ethanol,” he said. “But they love other sugars—glucose, maltose—more. When those sugars are around, the cells turn off the genes needed for alcohol degradation.” Some beers, and yogurts, contain sugars. Additionally, “…the exposure time of the alcohol to the yeast is too low,” Tu continued. “Any effect of the yeast on blood alcohol content will be marginal.”

Even though the yeast-yogurt method may work for Koch—potentially because he has a higher tolerance for alcohol, which his liver can metabolize more quickly—the water trick may. According to The Salt, it’s all about the water diluting the alcohol in your stomach.

Then again, the article warns, it may be unpleasant (and potentially dangerous) to ingest that much liquid in a short amount of time.

The key to lowering your risk of intoxication are the same tricks that have been around for years: either don’t drink as much, or enjoy slowly with a meal.

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