Thursday, March 22, 2018

We are what we drink


Last week, Stanley mentioned that we were in the last throes of writing our stand-alone, Dead of Night. I'm pleased to report that on Tuesday we added the final full stop to the last sentence, and sent it off to our agents and our editor in the UK. Stanley pointed out that the book was already available for advance purchase in the UK on Amazon. Who knew Amazon sold books that hadn’t even been written yet?

If anyone is concerned that we have shelved Kubu in favor of our new protagonist, Crystal Nguyen, don’t worry. Kubu will be back next year. We’ve just accepted a two Kubu book deal with Orenda, and at least the first will feature a younger Kubu trying to find his feet in the CID, working under Assistant Superintendent Jacob Mabaku. And he’ll be back in the US, too—we’ve just signed a deal with Poisoned Pen Press and we are absolutely delighted to be joining them!

All this is by way of introduction to the fact that my mind is now quite blank—emptied of Crystal and not yet reloaded with Kubu. (Some may say that that is its usual state anyway. Thought I’d get in with that one first.) So that is how I sat down to write this blog.

Usually something has happened in the news during the week that intrigues me, but the last week was totally swamped with the news of Cambridge Analytica. I don’t think anyone wants to hear more about that.

There was one thing though. Genetically modifed beer. A research student at UC Berkeley thought of it. Students think a lot about beer anyway (probably second only to that business that takes two of them), so why not? His idea was to splice mint and basil genes into yeast in order to cut out the hops. Hops are expensive, hard to grow, and drink gallons of water. The idea is to replace the bitterness/yeastiness introduced by the hop flowers by adding it directly in the yeast. The London Times took a somewhat tongue in cheek approach with a headline: Abandon all hops.  After insulting the Royal Family or criticizing Football, it’s hard to imagine anything that would get the English more upset than messing around with their beer.

However, in a blind taste test, a panel was convinced—the new yeast made decent beer that matched the hop flavors. Interesting, because the genes spliced were from mint and basil. Sounds more like something you might meet in the southern states than in California. But even the researchers are a bit dubious about the commercial viability of their discovery; brewers are very conservative people apparently.

Most drinks seem to be going the other way—organic wines, handmade craft beers, niche spirits. People have strong feelings about what is best, the right way to do things, and so on. Some of this goes almost to the occult with biodynamic wine making involving buried cows heads and harvesting at full moon.

From my rather limited experience, I can say two things about these types of wines. One, they are usually expensive, and two, they are often very good. The expense clearly comes from all the extra overheads. You start off with insects eating the vines, progress through people having to wake at midnight at full moon (overtime), and end up with the wild yeasts spoiling multiple barrels. The fact that it’s often better may be a result of all these things, but it will be the result of all the extra care and commitment that the vineyard manager and wine maker put into the process.

And organic means different things in different places and different industries. Even quality control regulations vary from place to place. In Burgundy you can chaptalize wine (add sugar). That would be anathema in South Africa (mainly because our problem is too much ripening and so too much sugar). In Burgundy you can’t irrigate vines. (Why would you? Have you been there in winter?) Here it’s completely standard.

All this, of course, interests people at the top end of the market. The vast majority of wine sales go to people who want just three things (1) alcohol, (2) something that isn’t repulsive to drink or produce an instant migraine, and (3) alcohol.

So how about GM beer? In my opinion, all it needs is a catchy name and an appealing label. Suggestions can be sent care of UC Berkeley.

At the end of this stream of subconsciousness, I realize that I still haven’t got anything to write about this week. Well, maybe in a fortnight…


  1. The trick is to make it sound exotic, with a brand name something like "Nhop Byeer"... sounds vaguely east-asian, vaguely Scandanavian, it's definitely got to be good! The secret is to NOT explain that it's made without hops. That be a non-starter for too large a segment of the beer-swilling union.

    1. I really like Nhop, or maybe N'Hop. Maybe register while there's still time!

  2. Michael, speaking in the dialect of NYC, I don’t know from beer, GM or otherwise. But I know Kubu has found a lovely home at Poisoned Pen. What great news.

  3. See what happens if you (translated “I”) don’t look at MIE for 48 hours, one misses all the important breaking news brewing out there. Here, here on the hopless beer, but cheer cheer on joinining the Poisoned Pen Press saloon! Yes, that’s how we describe ourselves—as saloonmates. Welcome aboard, Michael and Stanley. It will be a great fit!

    1. Thanks, Jeff. We are delighted to be joining you at the saloon!