Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hops, the Original War on Drugs

...The Protestant reformists were joined by merchants and competing royals desiring to break the brewing monopoly of the church. The result was, ultimately, the end of a many-thousand-year tradition of herbal beer making in Europe and the narrowing of beer and ale into one limited expression of beer production, that of hopped ales or what we today call beer.

The majority of historical beer writers insist that this was only because (after some 10,000 years) our ancestors accidentally discovered that hops was antiseptic enough to preserve beer. Our ancestors were neither that blind nor narrow in their empiricism. Hops kept the beer from spoiling, yes, however a number of other herbs possess strong antibacterial properties and can help beer "keep."

Many of those herbs were commonly used in ale, for instance wormwood and juniper. But hops possesses two characteristics notably different than the herbs it replaced - it causes the drinker to become drowsy and it diminishes sexual desire. Protestant literature of the time, denoting the "problems" associated with the gruit herbs, contradict contemporary beer historians and are in actuality some of the first drug control manifestos on record.

Emphasis mine. I had a local gruit yesterday and it was delicious, like a bloody mary made love to a lager.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Horrible hormones

Like a mindless zombie controlled by a menacing overlord, the spider scampers back and forth, reinforcing its silky web. Not long from now, the subservient arachnid will be dead, its web transformed into a shelter for the spawn of the creature that once controlled it, according to a new study.

No, this isn't science fiction; it's the somewhat terrifying (but very real) tale of the orb-weaving spider Cyclosa argenteoalba and the parasitic wasp Reclinervellus nielseni, two species that carry out a strange relationship in Hyogo prefecture, Japan.
Together, the wasp and the spider provide a perfect example of host manipulation -- an ecological process in which one species (the parasite) and its young (the parasitoids) manipulate the behaviors of another species (the host) to their advantage.