Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

Bevvie metal
Carry your hot and cold beverages safely
By MAG RUFFMAN, Special to QMI Agency

Otterbottle thermoses and water bottles are lined with stainless steel instead of plastic, and come in several sizes and colourful designs.

It was a chilly spring morning in 1974 when I got up at 5:00 a.m. I had a track meet that day, and hot chocolate was the best way to endure the cold, dark three-hour bus ride.

After heating the milk in a saucepan, I stirred in an equal portion of Nestle’s Quik powder till the mixture was thicker than road tar, then transferred the precious hotness carefully into the family thermos. I screwed on the lid and then the matching metal cup with the black plastic lining that made everything taste weird.

I walked one mile to school cradling that thermos as though it were a kitten, so pleased with the thought of drinking my secret energy fuel on the lurching trip north to Parry Sound.

Half a block from the high school I could see the big yellow bus idling. I waved my thermos in the air, signaling to my teammates that I had the beverage situation covered.

And that’s when it happened. The thermos slipped out of my grasp and plummeted to the pavement. I heard the sick sound of glass shattering.

“Noooooooo,” I shrieked, falling to my knees and tearing off the cup and lid. I peered into the thermos.

Instead of its mirror-finish mouth I saw an ugly jagged rim. And my precious hot chocolate was swirling with shards of glass. GLASS!? Of all the stupid things to line a thermos with! (My indignation was proportional to my ignorance of thermos construction.)

Steely mealy

Fortunately for droppy people, the vacuum flask (aka thermos) has come a long way since it was invented in 1892 (a few years before my track meet).

We now have steel-walled units, which are ridiculously durable yet still have that thin layer of airless space between the inside and outside walls to stop conduction and radiation. Contents stay hot or cold for hours, depending on what temperature they were when you filled the container.

My favourite Canadian vacuum flask is the Otterbottle, created by Calgarian Shannon Andrukow.

The activist and entrepreneur started her company a few years ago, when she couldn’t find a decent BPA-free portable water bottle. (BPA is bisphenol-A, a chemical used to harden plastic since the 1960s. It was recently discovered that BPA mimics estrogen as it readily leaches out of containers – after being exposed to heat, bases or acids – possibly triggering early puberty in girls and wreaking hormonal havoc in males, as well.)

Icked out by BPA, Andrukow researched and developed a stainless steel alternative to replace the ubiquitous plastic water bottle. (Did you know that Canadians consume about two billion litres of bottled water per year? Oh, and 90% of Americans have traces of BPA in their urine, according to a recent study.)

Stainless steel gives water a nice clean flavour with no plastic aftertaste. And since the bottles are opaque, the water doesn’t taste like a swamp after exposure to light or warmth. So if you don’t like the idea of peeing chemicals, it might be a good time to switch to stainless.

The Otterbottle’s robust construction is as strong as, well, steel. And the worst that can happen after a catastrophic drop is that the bottle sports a small dent.

Andrukow has just introduced Otterbottle stainless steel vacuum flasks in several sizes and colourful designs (along with an insanely convenient insulated tote bag for transporting meals and beverages). The containers retain heat or cold for up to five hours, and Otterbottle donates a portion of each sale to the David Suzuki Foundation.

Mag Ruffman appears weekdays on Real Life on CTS. Visit her online at

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