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Here's What Happens When Fish Get Drunk

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Let it be known: Humans are not the only ones whose egos are bolstered by booze. A recent study suggests the humble zebrafish becomes a more confident leader when intoxicated.

How does one get a zebrafish drunk, you ask? A team of researchers led by Maurizio Porfiri, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering’s Dynamical Systems Laboratory, did so by letting them swim in a solution of ethanol. The solution ranged in alcohol concentration (0.00, 0.25, 0.50, and 1.00 percent ethanol) and some fish got stronger solutions than others. After a fish marinated in the sauce for five minutes, researchers dropped it into fresh water with a school of sober fish and monitored their response to their boozed up buddy.

The results showed that, much like humans, when zebrafish have a slight buzz (those exposed to the .25 percent and .50 percent ethanol concentration), they throw their inhibitions out the window. They swim faster, and show little fear or hesitation. And when they’re around their peers, they go even faster—and surprisingly, the sober fish increase their speed to keep up.

The tipsy fish also showed signs of leadership; its assertive movements steered the direction of the entire group. When the intoxicated fish turned, so did the others. Researchers think this may be because they were influenced by the fish’s alcohol-induced boldness, which they might have interpreted as a sign of leadership.

But, as with humans, it pays to know your limits. Fish exposed to the 1.00 percent ethanol solution lost their leadership skills and lagged behind the other fish, seemingly a bit stumbly and slow. Researchers hope the study can lead to future revelations about how the behaviors of one drunken individual influence an entire group.

But why are scientists getting fish wasted in the first place? It turns out, we’ve been doing it for a while.

Zebrafish, specifically, have a lot of similarities to humans when it comes to development, behavior, and genetics, says Sachit Butail, coauthor of the new paper. And of course, alcoholism and the impacts of drinking on humans are incredibly relevant to modern society. We’ve been studying how alcohol affects zebrafish embryos for years. In 2011, researchers exposed embryos to small amounts of alcohol and found it caused them to be more anti-social as adults. This could lead to new insights into how a pregnant woman’s alcohol consumption impacts unborn babies.

Just last year, researchers—including some also behind the new study—got zebrafish drunk before dropping a robotic decoy fish, designed to look like and act like a fertile female, into their tank. Sober fish eagerly welcomed the new robotic companion. But when under the influence, they avoided it.

But the real question here is this: Do fish get hangovers? Sachit said he couldn’t speculate, but that “they get back to complete normalcy after a day or so.” I guess they really aren’t so different from us.

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Courtesy New District
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Food
Say ‘Cheers’ to the Holidays With This 24-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar
Courtesy New District
Courtesy New District

This year, eschew your one-tiny-chocolate-a-day Advent calendar and count down to Christmas the boozy way. An article on the Georgia Straight tipped us off to New District’s annual wine Advent calendars, featuring 24 full-size bottles.

Each bottle of red, white, or sparkling wine is hand-picked by the company’s wine director, with selections from nine different countries. Should you be super picky, you can even order yourself a custom calendar, though that will likely add to the already-high price point. The basic 24-bottle order costs $999 (in Canadian dollars), and if you want to upgrade from cardboard boxes to pine, that will run you $100 more.

If you can’t quite handle 24 bottles (or $999), the company is introducing a 12-bottle version this year, too. For $500, you get 12 reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines from various unnamed “elite wine regions.”

With both products, each bottle is numbered, so you know exactly what you should be drinking every day if you really want to be a stickler for the Advent schedule. Whether you opt for 12 or 24 bottles, the price works out to about $42 per bottle, which is somewhere in between the “I buy all my wines based on what’s on sale at Trader Joe’s” level and “I am a master sommelier” status.

If you want to drink yourself through the holiday season, act now. To make sure you receive your shipment before December 1, you’ll need to order by November 20. Get it here.

[h/t the Georgia Straight]

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Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Food
A Brief History of the Pickleback Shot
Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's sour. It's briny. For some, it's nauseating. For others, a godsend.

It's the pickleback shot, an unusual combination of drinking whiskey and pickle brine that has quickly become a bartending staple. Case in point? Kelly Lewis, manager of New York City's popular Crocodile Lounge, estimates she sells at least 100 pickleback shots every week.

Pickleback loyalists may swear by it, but how did this peculiar pairing make its way into cocktail culture? On today's National Pickle Day, we hit the liquor history books to find out.

PICKLEBACK HISTORY, AS WE KNOW IT

As internet legend has it, Reggie Cunningham, a former employee of Brooklyn dive bar Bushwick Country Club, invented the shot in March 2006. He was half bartending, half nursing a hangover with McClure's pickles, when a customer challenged him to join her in doing a shot of Old Crow bourbon whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice as a chaser. As he nostalgically tells YouTube channel Awesome Dreams, "the rest is history."

Cunningham went on to introduce the pairing to more and more customers, and the demand grew so much that he decided to charge an extra dollar per shot, just for the addition of pickle brine. After that, the mixture spread like wildfire, with bars across the world from New York to California and China to Amsterdam adding "pickleback" to their menus.

THE PICKLEBACK'S UNCLEAR ORIGIN

Two shot glasses topped with small pickles.

Neil Conway, flickr // CC BY 2.0

Sure, Cunningham may have named it the pickleback shot, but after reviewing mixed reports, it appears pickle juice as a chaser is hardly novel. In Texas, for example, pickle brine was paired with tequila well before Cunningham's discovery, according to Men’s Journal. And in Russia, pickles have long been used to follow vodka shots, according to an NPR report on traditional Russian cuisine.

Unfortunately, no true, Britannica-approved record of the pickleback's origin exists, like so many do for other popular drinks, from the Manhattan to the Gin Rickey; it's internet hearsay—and in this case, Cunningham's tale is on top.

SO, WHY PICKLES?

Not sold yet? Sure, a pickle's most common companion is a sandwich, but the salty snack and its brine have terrific taste-masking powers.

"People who don't like the taste of whiskey love taking picklebacks because they completely cut the taste, which makes the shots very easy to drink," Lewis told Mental Floss. "Plus, they add a bit of salt, which blends nicely with the smooth flavor of Jameson."

Beyond taste masking, pickle juice is also a commonly used hangover cure, with the idea being that the salty brine will replenish electrolytes and reduce cramping. In fact, after a famed NFL "pickle juice game" in 2000, during which the Philadelphia Eagles destroyed the Dallas Cowboys in 109 degree weather (with the Eagles crediting their trainer for recommending they drink the sour juice throughout the game), studies have seemed to confirm that drinks with a vinegary base like pickle juice can help reduce or relieve muscle cramping.

WAYS TO PARTAKE

While core pickleback ingredients always involve, well, pickles, each bar tends to have a signature style. For example, Lewis swears by Crocodile Lounge's mix of pickle brine and Jameson; it pairs perfectly with the bar's free savory pizza served with each drink.

For Cunningham, the "Pickleback OG," it's Old Crow and brine from McClure's pickles. And on the more daring side, rather than doing a chaser shot of pickle juice, Café Sam of Pittsburgh mixes jalapeños, homemade pickle juice, and gin together for a "hot and sour martini."

If pickles and whiskey aren't up your alley, you can still get in on the pickle-liquor movement with one of the newer adaptations, including a "beet pickleback" or—gulp!—the pickled-egg and Jägermeister shot, also known as an Eggermeister.

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