22 crazy alcohol myths you swore were true

by Featured, Random

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Some myths are just wives tales, others are started to advance an agenda.  Here’s a list of many alcohol urban legends.

large unicorn

These myths are as true as the unicorn

Does this beer make me look fat? (the beer belly)

A study published in 2003 by the Journal of Nutrition looked at the bellies of beer drinkers, wine drinkers, spirit drinkers, and no drinkers.  They measured the body-mass index (BMI) and the abdominal height of each subject.  The abdominal height is the distance from your spine to the top of your abdomen (how far your tummy sticks out).  The results showed beer drinkers had no more body fat than non drinkers on average .  Beers range between 100 and 200 calories.   You need 3500 calories to create a pound of fat.  Of course beer can only add to your caloric intake, but lifestyle and genetics most likely play a bigger part in your tummy fat.

The minimum drinking age in America is 21 by federal law

Each state can set the minimum drinking age to any number they like.  Unfortunately, the federal government passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984, which coerces states to keep the drinking age at 21.  The law does not state the drinking age should be 21.  It states any state that does not make the drinking age 21 will lose 10% of their federal highway funding.  Louisiana held out as long as they could, but eventually caved in with the rest of the nation.

Alcohol destroys brain cells and makes you stupid

Alcohol has no effect on the lifecycle of brain cells .  According to Queensland Brain Institute director Professor Perry Bartlett in Australia, drinking alcohol does not kill brain cells, even if it feels like it did the next morning. The commonly accepted notion that alcohol creates huge craters of dead cells in your brain turns out to be an old wives’ tale.  In moderate amounts, Italian researchers have demonstrated that red wine helps the brain and can prevent dementia in old age.

Parents can serve their children alcohol in America

This is true in only 30 states in America, and you can serve the alcohol only in your home to your own children.  The other 20 states state that it is never ok to give your own children alcohol in any amount.  You’ll have to look up the laws in your state to see if your state trusts you enough to know what is best for your children.

The puritans were the original forces behind the prohibitionist movement in America

There was more beer on the Mayflower than water.  Before people understood micro-organisms, drinking water was a good way to get sick.  People who drank beer were healthier and lived longer.  In fact, the first Thanksgiving had plenty of beer, brandy, gin and wine. [ed- There is some contention to the fact that the Pilgrims had beer on Thanksgiving.  The point I was making was more that the Pilgrims did drink alcohol.  The Pilgrim’s beer supplies most likely were exhausted by the first Thanksgiving.  Thanks to Bob S. for this correction on his site and the reference at Joe Sixpack .]

The large American breweries make watery beer because it’s easier

As any homebrewer will attest, it is very difficult to make the American pale lager with the same crispness and lack flavor found in the macro brews.  The large breweries make the beer that way, because that is what sells.  The majority of beer drinkers prefer this lager to other lagers.  Hopefully the craft brew movement in America will change these preferences.

Budweiser contains formaldehyde

We were so sure that this rumor was a myth, we added it to the list to research later.  This might come as a shock to you.  It shocked us when we found this on Notre Dame’s website .  Canned beer does contain a small amount of the same junk that keeps your dead Kermit (frog) fresh for biology class.  At least it used to.

Formaldehyde was used to kill bacteria that attacked the lubricant used in the manufacturing process of cans.  The cans were rinsed, but a small amount always remained.  People got used to this flavor in their canned beer.  Other emulsions are used now, so there is no formaldehyde in current beers in America (there are reports that Chinese and Thai beers are using formaldehyde).  Its legacy does remain – the newer emulsions created must have the formaldehyde flavor, otherwise it will change the flavor of the beer.  People are so used to it, that they expect it.

European/Organic wines contain no sulfites

All wines, even wines that state “No Sulfite Added” contain sulfites.  Sulfites are used as a natural preservative in wine.  The fermentation process for creating wine produces sulfites in the wine.  Additional sulfites in the form of potassium metabisulfite are added to help preserve the wine.  Since sulfite is a natural by-product of the fermentation process, there is always around 10 mg/liter of sulfite in wine.  This is true for organic wine.

wine label with sulfites

Good luck at finding wine with no sulfites. It's a natural by-product, so all wine has it.

It is a myth European wines do not contain sulfites; the EU does not require wine makers to list a warning label.  European wines still contain 40-80mg/liter just like their American and Australian counterparts.

Sulfites causes red wine headaches

Australian researchers published in Thorax (2001 Oct; 56 (10):763-9), showed that “only a small number of wine sensitive asthmatic patients responded to a single dose challenge with sulfited wine under laboratory conditions. This may suggest that the role of sulphites [sic] and / or wine in triggering asthmatic responses has been overestimated.”  However, an asthmatic reaction is very different from a headache.  No scientific study has shown any sulfite links to red wine headaches.

Beer has the same amount of alcohol as a shot of 80 proof liquor or 5 ounces of wine

Anyone who has ever had a few Belgian ales knows this just isn’t right.  Different beers and wines have a wide variety of alcohol contents.  The wine and beer are listed in this often repeated fact with incomplete information.

80 proof liquor contains 40% alcohol.  Proof is double the alcohol content.  This means that a 1 ounce shot of 80 proof spirits contains 0.4 ounces of alcohol.  Shots are usually defined as 1 ¼ ounces to 1 ½ ounces.  We’ll be generous and go with the lower figure.  One 1 ¼ ounce shot of 80 proof liquor will have 0.5 ounces of alcohol. (1 ½ ounces contains 0.6 ounces of alcohol)

Assume that the beer we are drinking is 4% ABV.  Most beers in America are around 4%.  In a 1 ounce shot of beer we would have 0.04 ounces of alcohol.  Most beers are 12 ounces, so that is 0.04 x 12 = 0.48.  If your beer is 12 ounces and 4% ABV, then one beer equals one shot of 80 proof alcohol.  Most pubs serve pints which are 16 ounces.  One pint is 0.64 ounces of alcohol.  That’s more than a shot.  If you are drinking a craft brew, this number will go up even more.

Wine alcohol contents are anywhere from 10% to 16%.  We’ll assume 14% ABV for this example.  One ounce of wine will have 0.14 ounces of alcohol.  Five ounces of wine will have 0.70 ounces of alcohol.  That is much more than a shot too.

Lesson learned: shots actually have less alcohol than typical servings of beers and wine.  You need to pay attention to the alcohol content to make accurate comparisons.

Bottles of tequila in Mexico have worms in them

Tequila does not have worms.  You are thinking of tequila’s close cousin mescal.  In the 1950s, Jacobo Lozano Paez started bottling mescal and noticed the worms gave mescal a distinctive flavor.  The worms were getting into the beverage during the processing of the agave plant.  He came up with the idea of adding whole worms to mescal.  The worms are harmless, and are more of a marketing gimmick.  The worms will not make you hallucinate.

Rolling Rock’s “33” refers to the year prohibition was repealed

While Amendment XVIII was repealed in December of 1933, the source of 33 has a different origin.  It refers to the number of words in their slogan on the bottles of Rolling Rock.  The author was keeping track of the words in each proposed slogan and forgot to remove it.  The number made it to production and was included on the bottles.  The mystique surrounding the number encouraged the brewery to keep the number on the bottle.

Alcohol will make you feel warmer

It’s the reverse.  Alcohol lowers your body temperature.  Too much alcohol in very cold weather can cause hypothermia.

Corona beer contains urine from the workers

This myth was traced back to a Heineken distributor in 1987.  The myth is false, and one can only wonder why this myth was started.  Heineken was the number one beer import in America in 1987, and Corona was a close second.  Corona learned of the rumor when Nevada grocers started removing Corona from their shelves.  Corona traced the rumor back to Luce and Sons of Reno, a Heineken distributor.  Corona sued and the case was dropped after Luce recanted the rumor.

Pennies under the tongue will help you pass a breathalyzer test

It won’t.  We couldn’t even find the fake science behind this myth.  This myth is so “out there” it is hard to believe anyone would believe it.  The copper in the penny, which is mostly zinc, does nothing to the breathalyzer.  Breath mints and prayer do not defeat the breathalyzer test either.

Coffee will sober you up

Your body processes about 0.015 percent of blood alcohol content per hour.  Coffee, showers, nor exercise will speed this process.  Gender, weight, age or any other factor has no influence on this process.  You just have to wait to sober up.

Beer before liquor, never been sicker – liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.

The rate of consumption determines if you get sick.  The mix or order has no influence on your ability to “hold your liquor”.

Aspirin while or before drinking prevents hangovers

Aspirin will not prevent or reduce your hangover.  Taking an aspirin before drinking will actually increase the speed of intoxication and make your intoxication more severe.  The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that found aspirin before alcohol will actually increase you blood alcohol levels by 26%.  They also found that the alcohol will stay in your system longer because your metabolism is slower.

Acetaminophen can be even scarier.  This drug, commonly found in Tylenol, is toxic to your liver when it mixes with alcohol.  Aspirin or Ibuprofen might help with the headache the next morning, and are a safer choice.

Absinthe is a hallucinogen

This is a very famous myth that resulted in the beverage’s ban in many countries.  Many believe the main ingredient wormwood causes insanity, because it contains thujone.  Researchers believe the alcohol content (~70% ABV) would have a much stronger affect than any amount of thujone in the drink.  Researchers also question if absinthe in the 1800s contained the reported amounts of thujone required to have its toxic effect.  In 2007, three licenses were granted to make Absinthe in the United States.  These absinthes are thujone-free (less than 10ppm).  The modern versions will get you drunk, but if you see pink elephants it is because you had too much.

Homebrewers should avoid lambic yeasts because they will infect everything

Many myths surround these yeast and bacteria.  Since they are “wild”, it is assumed they have supernatural powers above and beyond the normal beer yeast.  Brewers worry the critters will lurk in every crevice of your home or brewery and infect every beer you ever make again.  If you are using porous fermenters (wood barrels), you might need to be concerned for that particular container, but glass, better bottles, and stainless steel are all safe.  Just make sure you clean your equipment, and properly sanitize it.

Coors supports Nazis

With a name like Adolph, how can this be wrong?  Well for starters, the Coors brewery was founded sixteen years before Hitler was born.  There is no evidence ever reported that anyone in the Coors family were Nazis or ever supported Nazis.  This is an unfounded rumor, most likely started due to the company and families conservative leanings.

Coors logo

The name is German, but the Coors family were in the USA long before the Nazis were in power

Canadian (or insert another country here) beer is stronger than American beer

90% of the beer in the world is under 5.5% ABV.  The myth most likely results in the conversion from ABV (alcohol by volume) to ABW (alcohol by weight), or the fact American macro beers tend to be lighter in flavor and body.  The alcohol contained is similar in all countries.

Darker beers contain more alcohol

Coors Extra Beer is about 4.84% ABV.  Guinness Stout contains 4.27% ABV.  Budweiser has 4.6% ABV.  Samiclaus, a dark Swiss beer, is about 12% ABV.  Typical Belgian Golden ales are around 7%-10%.  You get the idea.

The color of the beer has no corolation to the amount of alcohol in the beer.  You can usually find a beer (ligher or darker) which has more alcohol than another beer.

What myths have you heard?

Hopefully you found this enlightening.  Next time someone pops one of these myths on you, you can direct them here for the truth.  I’m sure there are more myths out there.  Which ones have you heard?

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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!