Ditching the drinks during Dry July

It’s the start of the month of July. For many in the southern hemisphere that means lots of snow, thermal undies, down jackets and snuggling up to a fire with a glass of fine red wine, while our northern hemisphere friends undoubtably think about beaches, sunblock, ice cream and a frosty lager.

An alternative approach to the month, however, is as a great detox opportunity – this month is also known (in New Zealand, at least) as Dry July, a challenge to go without alcohol for the whole month. To quote the Dry July website, “Dry July is a non-profit organisation determined to improve the lives of adults living with cancer through an online social community giving up booze for the month of July.”

Those who take up the challenge are known as DJ’s, or Dry-Julyers. You can either do it on your own as a personal challenge, or formally sign up and have a go at raising funds for the Dry July charity, thereby potentially helping those living with cancer towards an improved quality of life.

Refrain from pouring your favourite tipple for the month of July. (© All Rights Reserved)
Refrain from pouring your favourite tipple for the month of July.
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Dry July started in 2008 as a challenge among friends, but even in its first year close to a thousand people participated and more than $ 250 000 was fundraised. The initiative has gone from strength to strength, and to date more than $ 11 million has been raised.

Even if you only enjoy the occasional social tipple, giving up for a month is not easy – there are always special occasions, social events, parties and more where we typically enjoy a beer or a glass of wine. It’s all about self-discipline, for your own health and wellbeing, and to support a good cause. Not to mention the amount of money you can save by ditching the drink for a month!

So, cheers to a Dry July. I see lots of water, fruit juice, coffee and tea in my immediate future!

Celebrating stout beer (not just for nursing mothers and athletes…)

So, today is International Stout Day. I recently discussed stout beer, Guinness in particular, on Arthur’s Day, the 28th of September. But what the heck, I don’t need too much convincing to return to this lovely, dark, malty style of beer again. And of course Guinness, despite being the most famous of the stouts, is far from the only stout beer out there.

Lovely day for a Guinness! 🙂
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Guinness is an example of an Irish Stout, also known as a ‘Dry Stout’, one of a range of traditional stout styles.  Dry stouts tend to be very dark in colour, with a toasted, coffee-like taste. Because of their robust taste they are often thought to be quite high in alcohol, which is not always the case – a can of Guinness Draft, for example, has only 4.2% alcohol – lower than many standard lager beers.

The second main stout category is the ‘Imperial Stout’, a stout beer of Russian origin, which is also quite dark, but with a brown, rather than black, hue. This is typically the strongest of the stout beers, with alcohol percentages often up towards the 10% mark. A stout hearty enough to curl a Russian bloke’s chest hair, Imperial stout was traditionally a popular drink to warm the cold winter evenings.

Another style of stout is the ‘Milk Stout’, also dark in colour, but often low in alcohol. The main feature of a milk stout is the addition of milk sugar, or lactose, to the brew, making it sweeter and smoother than dry stout.

Finally, ‘Oatmeal Stout’ is very similar to milk stout, but has an even smoother and sweeter taste, thanks to the addition of up to 30% oatmeal. The ‘oatmeal and milk’ image associated with this type of stout has helped strengthen the idea of stout beer as a hearty meal in it’s own right. The nutritional value of oatmeal stout made it a popular choice in centuries past for nursing mothers and athletes in England .

Beyond the traditional categories above, stout beer is still developing and evolving, with various new styles appearing, such as the ‘American-style Stout’, a medium-bodied malt beer with hints of caramel and chocolate, created using various specialty malts. Often quite dark-roasted, with a burnt-coffee flavour.

Stout beers are also quite popular with home-brewing enthusiasts, and I fondly recall one of the more pleasant beer-tasting experiences I’ve had, at a get-together of the Wort Hog Brewers Club in South Africa. One enterprising home brewer had a specialist stout he called his ‘Black Forest Stout’ – a traditional, full-bodied dry stout with chocolate and berries added to the brew to create what I can only describe as the liquid equivalent of a dark, moist black forest cake. Lovely stuff!

I unfortunately don’t have access to a black forest stout at the moment, but I’m sure a glass of Guinness from my local pub will more than adequately hit the spot.

Happy Stout Day, everyone! “May your Guardian Angel be at your side to pick ya up off the floor and hand ya another cold stout from the store!”

Celebrating International Beer Day!

With yesterday’s Champagne celebrations scarcely behind us, it’s time to start celebrating another tipple – today is International Beer Day!

This day is a global celebration of beer, and an opportunity to get together with friends to toast your local brewers and bartenders, in pubs and breweries around the world.

Buy people beer – it makes you more attractive!
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Ever wondered why you find people more attractive after you’ve had a few beers? Sure, it is partially due to the fact that alcohol lowers your inhibitions, making you more open and friendly to others in general. There is, however, also an interesting scientific explanation.

Apparently, facial symmetry is said to have evolved as a measure of attractiveness as it signifies good genes. And apparently we subconsciously feel attracted to outward signs of genetic quality, to ensure better offspring. So, people are unconsciously drawn to people with more symmetrical faces.

Now in a study led by Dr Lewis Halsey of Roehampton University, a group of female volunteers were subjected to a range of tests before and after consuming alcoholic drinks. Among these was a test where participants were shown 20 sets of faces that had been manipulated so that one was symmetrical and the other not. After a tipple or two, people were found to be much less able to distinguish between the symmetrical and non-symmetrical faces. This effect proved directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed – the more tipsy, the less discriminatory participants became.

So, if you’re one of us normal guys or gals who lack the perfect facial symmetry to prove your genetic superiority, this day is especially for you. Have a beer, and while you’re at it, buy a round for those around you. Your popularity will increase plenty – trust me.