Categories: Arts and CultureFood and Dining

The Science Behind The Drink With Chemist Eric Simanek

IdeaFestival 2017 begins today, and one presenter is speaking on a topic that is probably pretty familiar to local attendees: whiskey.

But chemist Eric Simanek, the Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Texas Christian University, has taken a look at the science behind the drink.

He gave me a quick preview of his presentation.

On how his book “Shots of Knowledge: The Science of Whiskey” came about:

“Universities are filled with all sorts of interesting kinds of students, and perhaps selfishly, I didn’t want to work with just science majors. My real joy is talking about science with everyone from theater majors to business majors to science majors.

“And one way to get college students’ attention is to come up with a course name like ‘Whiskey.’

“The challenge teaching a course like Whiskey is that there aren’t any real supporting pieces of information — no collected series of documents. By chance I bumped into the head distiller of Firestone and Robertson Distilling one day in the hallways of TCU. Tongue-in-cheek, I said ‘Hey, let’s write,’ and some two or three years later, we have a book.”

On why scientific knowledge is more important than ever:

“I think now more than ever, it’s really important for the general population to have an appreciation for science and the vocabulary of science. We don’t have to look far in the news today to see very complex issues simplified to some number of words or characters. We have people’s opinions about known and scientific principles whimsically change based on information on the web.

“There are words in our society that are so politically-charged that all conversation stops — words like ‘embryo.’ These are scientific concepts and what we need to do as a society is elevate our level of discourse and not necessarily agree, but at least have a conversation. And everybody has to be a part of that conversation.”

On the most surprising thing that came out of writing the book:

“The most surprising thing that I recognized in putting together the book with Rob was that there’s beauty and complexity in the simplest of things. This beauty and complexity is not restricted to just people who study science. It’s a complexity and beauty that is open to anyone who is interested.

“I think that the book will hopefully generate or regenerate curiosity, which I think is important characteristic that increasingly hard to foster in today’s world.”

More information about the 2017 IdeaFestival can be found here.

Ashlie Stevens

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter. Her main interests include art, food and drink, and urban preservation. Among other publications, her work has been featured in print or on the web at The Atlantic, National Geographic, Slate, Salon, The Guardian, Hyperallergic, Louisville Magazine and Eater.

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