Phenomena

Pearls of Mezcal

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Mezcal is a traditional Mexican liquor distilled from agave. (The more commonly known tequila is actually a special type of mezcal.) As a part of the production process, distillers pour a stream of mezcal into a bowl, creating a flotilla of small bubbles called pearls. Strange as it sounds, these pearls let the distiller judge the alcohol content of the liquor! When the ratio of alcohol and water in the mixture is just right, the bubbles will have a longer lifetime before they coalesce. If there’s too little or too much alcohol, the bubbles won’t last as long. The effect depends on both the viscosity and the surface tension of the liquor, but it’s the odd way that viscosity changes in water/alcohol mixtures that creates this Goldilocks behavior. It’s a fascinating demonstration of how traditional techniques often have true scientific underpinnings. (Video credit: M. Wilhelmus et al.)

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