Beer Batter Defense Fishy. . .at best.

An 75 year old Wisconsin man has come up with a whopper:   The odor of alcohol detected, and later confirmed after blood testing, by police came from the traditional, Wisconsin-centric “Fish Fry.”  Cheese-heads would appropriately respond, “Malarkey.”

While there indeed exist novel, sometimes surprising, and yet scientifically accurate, defenses to impaired driving, one would be hard-pressed to buy the Beer Batter Defense.  First, the amount of alcohol associated with one batch of fish would be negligible.  Second, such de minimis ethanol would never survive the temperatures associated with a fryolator.

Alton Brown, Host of Good Eats and food science guru, lists the following ingredients in a pretty standard beer-batter recipe.

2 Cups Flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Dash Old Bay Seasoning
1 bottle brown beer, cold
1 1/2 pounds firm-fleshed whitefish ( tilapia, pollock, cod), cut into 1-ounce strips
Cornstarch, for dredging

One would be remiss in failing to note the ingredient list makes enough for four servings.  As such, even an Andre-the-Giant sized appetite of multiple servings of fried fish, a blood alcohol reading of .06 just is not scientifically possible.

In the era of micro-breweries and high specific gravity brews, there are some variances in the amount of alcohol in a bottle of beer.  Generally speaking, an 1.5 oz “shot” and 8 oz glass of wine and 12 oz beer each contain approximately 15cc’s of Ethyl Alcohol.

Assuming for the purposes of argument Guinness Beer was the “brown bottle beer” of choice, the ABV Alcohol by Volume in the United States for Guinness is 5%, which is slightly higher than Miller High Life (had to stick with the Wisconsin References) ABV of 4.6%.   As such, each serving of fish might be at most “coated” with 3 liquid ounces of beer. . .or approximately 1/4th of a beer.

The reported Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), which does not generally rely upon an algorithm or widely ranging “partition ratios,” in the Beer Batter Defense was 0.06.  While less than what is generally deemed to be the “appreciable impairment” amount of 0.08 in many states, one beer, irrespective of being an 12 oz bottle, a pint, a Guinness or a Miller High Life, is NOT going to result in an 0.06 reading.

Intoximeters, Inc., manufacturer of the Intoximeter EC/IR II and AlcoSensor FST, Drink Wheel projects the ethanol reading to be somewhere in the range of 0.002 g/210 Liters of breath.

The legal limit in North Carolina is 0.079 g/210 Liters of breath.  A reading of 0.08 therefore technically is “above” the legal limit.  Again, the projected reading would be 0.002, not 0.02.

There are variables such as age, weight, sex and liver health that can affect absorption and metabolism of ethanol from the body.  Even if one was given to quaff copious portions of glutenous beer batter prior to cooking, it would take 12 or more orders of fish to start making a difference.  That puts the Beer Batter Defense on a precarious perch.

Boiling Point

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) are in part defined by having a low boiling point.  Ethyl Alcohol or Ethanol is an VOC with a boiling temperature of 173.1 Degrees Fahrenheit.  Alton Brown cooks his fish at 375 Degrees, meaning any alcohol in the fish batter would have long since burned off at the point of eating battered, fried fish.  As an interesting side note, alcohol can be used as a substitute for water in baking / frying, as it does not result in the same level of gluten production.  Indeed, pie crusts do better with at least some amount of vodka, which makes it easier to handle without ruining a flakey crust.

Bill Powers is an attorney in North Carolina.  He regularly lectures on the law, science and technology associated with DUI DWI and Impaired Driving matters.  Bill is the 2015 Vice President of Communications for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and is a member of the Governor’s Statewide Impaired Driving Task Force in North Carolina.

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