Was Cliff Clavin Right About Natural Selection?

There’s a fairly famous quote that’s often attributed to the character Cliff Clavin on Cheers, even if it never was on the show.  It’s called the Buffalo Theory and it goes like this: 

Well you see, Norm, it’s like this… A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo and when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Now, as we know, excessive drinking of alcohol kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. And that, Norm, is why you always feel smarter after a few beers.

McGovern is probably a cooler drinking buddy than Cliff, too.

While that’s a crackpot theory, I came across another one that’s just as interesting but more based in science (and created by a real person).   It’s was theorized by Pat McGovern, an archaeological chemist from U-Penn and Sam Calagione’s co-conspirator in many of Dogfish Head’s ancient brews. It comes from an article in the New York Times about ancient medicine.

McGovern postulates that we may be genetically predisposed to enjoy a drink because of natural selection.  You see, throughout human existence diseases like cholera and other little nasty buggers laid in wait in the water supply.  Drinking water was dangerous.

But drinking beer wasn’t, as the boiling and fermentation required to make beer killed many of the nasties living in the water.  Beer was safer than water, and those who imbibed may have had an advantage. From the Times article:

“It’s possible that people who drank fermented beverages tended to live longer and reproduce more” than did their teetotaling peers, Dr. McGovern said, “which may partly explain why people have a proclivity to drink alcohol.”

So there you have it.  The cool kids lived and the nerds died, and that’s why this website exists and you’re reading it.  And we’re all cool, because we’re alive.

Deep, no?




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Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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10 Comments on “Was Cliff Clavin Right About Natural Selection?”

  1. Jeff Schwartz
    January 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    On a similar note – I always joke with my wife that she should sue the crap out of the red wine industry for all their claims of health benefits if I die young….

    • January 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

      Or send them your medical bills if you live a long time. You’d be dead without the wine, right?

  2. 1Time4got
    January 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    There should be one caveat to this theory. Drinking St. Louis horse piss in a bottle; Golden, Colo. bear run-off in a bottle; or muskie effluence in a bottle from Milwaukee will lead not only to the death of your taste buds created to enjoy good beer but an early death as well. Other than that the theory is sound.

  3. January 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    Interesting! Or could it be the “beer goggles theory”? You know, alcohol makes the opposite sex more attractive ot one another thereby increasing reproduction. Just sayin’. . .

    • January 12, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

      You’ve got appoint there. Plus men have long relied on alcohol to get them into situations with lady folk that their looks and moderate charms could not.

      I bet without booze the population of earth would be like 73.

  4. scott
    January 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm #

    I love this theory, my buddy had printed this out and taped it to his bathroom door, along with other interesting tid bits, to read while on the throne. while being genius and weathering the storm of time, its just not practical when it takes me thirty minutes to call a taxi…… “dam numbers… where am i .. oh hello?, I need a taxi.. yeah, I’m at……., hang on.”

    • January 13, 2011 at 9:42 am #

      That’s true. Perhaps you had more than three beers and started killing of the stronger members of the herd.


  1. Tweets that mention Was Cliff Clavin Right About Natural Selection? « Beer & Whiskey Brothers Blog -- Topsy.com - January 12, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rachel Meadows. Rachel Meadows said: RT @Beerandwhiskey: Was Cliff Clavin Right About Natural Selection?: There’s a fairly famous quote that’s often… http://goo.gl/fb/wPuPh […]

  2. Famous cliffs « Zooky World - November 14, 2012

    […] White Cliffs of Dover: Alan Duncan/Wikimedia Commons. Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) from Cheers: Beer and Whiskey Brothers. Jimmy Cliff: MTV Hive. Montgomery Clift: Wikipedia. CliffsNotes: […]

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