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Nuclear fallout and busted kegs

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Beer drinkers can be an intrepid bunch, especially when it comes to experimentation. This weekend, I stumbled across two bizarre stories that make you wonder, “how far would I go to better understand beer?”

The first takes us to the Nevada desert, 1955, where the U.S. government staged a number of domestic nuclear experiments. One of the most famous, Operation Teapot, studied how nuclear fallout affected a mannequin-populated town (humorously depicted in the most recent “Indiana Jones” installment). According to a recent blog posted by Restricted Data, a sub-test of the experiment was dubbed Operation Cue and its purpose was to measure the radiation contamination of packaged beverages within various proximities to Ground Zero. Given that clean tap water isn’t a viable option in a nuclear apocalypse, the government deemed it important to see how your beer would hold up after the bomb was dropped. Here’s what the report found:

“Examination made immediately upon recovery showed no observable gross changes in the appearance of the beverages. Immediate taste tests indicated that the beverages, both beer and soft drinks, were still of commercial quality, although there was evidence of a slight flavor change in some of the products exposed at 1270 ft. from GZ [Ground Zero]. Those farther away showed no change.”

Splendid. Of course, who knows how that taste tester fared after sampling contaminated beer?

Which brings us to another flavor-evolving experiment set in present day Illinois. Last weekend, Ronnie Lottz, owner of Cigars and Stripes in Berwyn, Ill., invited some friends over to unearth a keg of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot he’d buried in the bar’s beer garden back in 2007—the burying was an experiment to see if beer ages better in underground kegs. Unfortunately, Lottz dug up the 5-year-old barleywine only to find the keg mysteriously damaged.

“No one really knows what happened,” Lottz told local news site My Suburban Life. “We pulled it up, and there was a hole in the keg. Not sure if there was a weak spot in the metal keg or what happened, but it was a big disappointment.”

But, at least the day wasn’t a total disaster. Lottz also had a half-barrel of Bigfoot circa 2009 squirreled away underground, so he dug that one up, too, which apparently “tasted great.”

Clearly, this all puts my own “how quickly can I chill a beer” investigation to shame. What’s the craziest beer experiment you’ve ever conducted?


Chris Staten is DRAFT’s beer editor. Follow him on Twitter at @DRAFTbeereditor and email him at chris.staten@draftmag.com.


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