December 31, 2013

And You Thought [Insert Crappy Beer Name]* Tasted Like Piss!

Ignore the headline on this article from the Atlantic - it's the kind of thing that comes from running an excerpt adapted from a book as a standalone article.  It doesn't purport to prove what it promises, but there's an interesting bit of history buried in it.  Besides, I clicked on it, so you, gentle reader(s), must bear some consequences, right?

In an all-too-slight discussion of whether the roots of religion can be traced to the use of hallucinogenic plants and the like, the article detours into a discussion of one particular plant, Amanita muscaria or "fly agaric," which is described as "certainly the world's most famous mushroom."  Whatever that means (it gets good tables at restaurants?).  It's available all over the globe, used everywhere from northern Asia to Mexico, and (by one telling) may be the basis for the substance Soma discussed in ancient Hindu scriptures.

But that's not the interesting, and mildly amusing, part.  No, that comes courtesy of Philip Johan von Strahlenberg, a colonel in the Swedish army of the early 18th century.  See, for 21 years at the beginning of the century Sweden (and others) fought a war with Russia (and others), during which von Strahlenberg became a prisoner of war.  He spent 12 years in Siberia and, in 1736, wrote a book about his observations of the locals:
Among other things he described the use of Amanita muscaria as an intoxicant by the local people. He also noted the following unusual behavior: 'The poorer Sort, who cannot afford to lay in a Store of these Mushrooms, post themselves, on these Ocassions, round the Huts of the Rich, and watch the Opportunity of the Guests coming down to make Water; And then hold a Wooden Bowl to receive the Urine, which they drink off greedily, as having still some Virtue of the Mushroom in it, and by this way they also get Drunk.'
Lest you think this is just a Swede with a grudge making fun of the locals, the practice first revealed by von Strahlenberg was confirmed by further observation.  Said observation provided more details on the practice, including the fact that the shroom is so potent that:
it was observed that the drinking of drug-containing urine could continue for up to five cycles passing from one individual to another before the urine lost its capacity for intoxication.
When it comes to getting fucked up, human beings can be a pretty determined and resourceful lot (one of many reasons the War on (Some) Drugs is such a farce).  Think paint huffers or addicts who, when the find out they can no longer crush Oxycontin pills, turn to the next best thing - heroin.  Regardless, drinking piss has to rank right up there on the list of WTF ideas.

* I'm not a beer drinker.  I wasn't even a drinker at all until I met my wife (boy does that sound worse than it really is!).  In order to provide verisimilitude to you, dear reader(s), I asked around for a good example of a shitty beer that might be said to taste like piss.  Sadly, I got too many varying answers to make it possible to choose one.  Apparently a lot of it tastes like piss, so I'm not really missing anything.  So, in order to get the full snark experience, please insert the name of your least favorite beer - the kind you'd take to a mortal enemy's party - in this spot.

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