At age 83, I remain the only person from my peer group who can still drink alcoholic beverages. My doctor knows better than to tell me I can no longer imbibe my favorite libations. He knows better, but after my heart surgery last January, I know he wouldn’t hesitate to proscribe them if he thought I was abusing my beer, wine, sake, whiskey, gin—other stuff-like-that-there. And, yes I do mildly abuse the stuff on some carefully controlled occasions.
In my world, there are two different kinds of alcoholic beverages: those designed to get one inebriated and those designed to be enjoyed moderately for their own wonder. Take beer, for instance. There’s the infamous Coors-Bud-Miller yellow industrial swill. These companies are intent on destroying the world’s great beers by producing an exceedingly mundane product with few appealing characteristics other than moderate alcohol content. One can drink several bottles of this stuff and not really notice the damage to sobriety that is taking place until it is too late.
The product appears to appeal to18- to 21-year-olds who purchase the stuff illegally and indulge it surreptitiously. These young people are easily led to overindulge for a variety of reasons. They usually don’t have the time or a place to consume it. Indeed, they are often forced into drinking in their (or their parents’) automobile, where the release of inhibitions and close proximity of members of the opposite sex can sometimes have unintended consequences. If anyone in this country ever did a survey on how many of us were conceived in automobiles, the results might be quite shocking. I was adopted, so there’s a fairly good chance I was conceived in a Model T Ford, but how about you, dear reader?
Nevertheless, the consumption of alcoholic beverages solely for the effects on one’s sobriety is dangerous. Few of us started drinking because we wanted to get drunk, although we might have wanted to explore “slightly drunk” just to see what that was all about. I submit that a single drunken episode is all that most folks need to bring an end to exploration in that area. It’s just not fun, is it?
Drinking in Flavor
One way to explore the delights of drinking is to take up alcohol consumption for the simple enjoyment of flavor and character. This is the path that I’ve found great pleasure in following. That’s what our craft-brewing revolution is all about, isn’t it? The flavor and character of the huge variety of fine beer styles they have produced over the last few years is remarkable.
It doesn’t take very long to learn to enjoy even the most aggressive of these many styles of beer. Take IPAs, for example. They are not only very hoppy, but some are aggressively so. Who wants a hideously hoppy brew with a hundred bittering units (BU)? Me, me, me, that’s who! Hops add wonderful character to even the most mundane brew, but they are not taken easily into one’s love are they? Yet, if one follows the first IPA with a second episode on another day, perhaps we’d notice that the second IPA isn’t quite as difficult as the first had been. The first thing you know, you’ve become a lover of hoppy brews.
Sour beers in the Belgian style are another type avoided by most young drinkers. These wonderful Belgian styles are spectacular additions to our craft beer world, but they, too, are an acquired taste.
These days there is whole range of great alcoholic beverages out there. When I was young, dry red or white wines were not on my list, although an occasional sweet white wine was appreciated. Today, I love the taste of a good dry wine, and feel myself well treated in such company, but I can’t imagine drinking them until I pass out.
Another great “craft” revolution is taking place even as I write this: Distilled spirits are being revived and re-designed. One can get some really fine distillations in a bottle these days. Steve McCarthy’s Clear Creek Distillery, here in Portland, is producing a great Scotch whisk(e)y; their 10-year old stuff is wonderful and will soon be 12 years old. They import good Scottish malts and our Widmer Brothers brew the wash. We also have two distillery pubs here and more are planned.
Light beer? Gimme a break. If drinking beer makes you fat, don’t eat so much chocolate or fat-laden steaks! Better yet, drink a glass of really fine beer, like Hair of the Dog Fred, at 10 percent ABV, and follow that with two glasses of water. Now you have “lite” beer where you need it—in your stomach—and you don’t have to endure the indignity of being caught drinking such swill!
If I drive, the alcohol will still get to me, but the addition of water slows that process considerably, especially if you learn to imbibe slowly. As for water consumption, I might consider a single glass of water with a regular strength brew, like Deschutes Black Butte Porter, or Widmer Hefeweizen.
For another choice, relax, settle back and sip some sake. Slowly. Carefully. Follow that with water, too. And also with your wine, whisky and other libations—always follow with water. Incidentally, I find the idea of adding water to a glass of good Scotch whisky almost revolting. Sip that wonderful whisky slowly, and then sip some water. Don’t guzzle! Drink less to enjoy it more.
Water was the big lesson for me in the last 20 years. In my youth I laughed at water drinkers, but now I know that adding an occasional glass of good, cold water is sometimes the best of all possible drinks.
But I digress, and that’s our beloved Michael Jackson’s job. Bless him. because I should be telling you folks how to manage your lives so that you can still be drinking when you are 80.
A Life Plan For Sober Drinking
OK, maybe not all that sober! I was educated in the genteel arts of sober-drinking in the Marine Corps during World War II. I may have related here how I was drinking with friends at 18 years of age not long after joining the Marines at 17 in 1943. I drank too much and they had to pour me over the fence at the base to avoid being caught arriving late after liberty (unforgivable in that organization). My mates took care of me, but no one in the Marine Corps that knew me ever let me forget that episode.
In those days, no one ever asked the age of a soldier, sailor or Marine at any bar in the country. Indeed, one could have been served in a Boy Scout uniform at many places. On military bases, the libation was so-called 3.2 beer (by weight, which is 4 percent by volume). One had to imbibe a fair amount, well over what one could obtain, to reach inebriation with that stuff. Only officers were allowed distilled spirits, and as near as I can remember no one at all drank wine. On Okinawa we were issued 3.2 beer free, which was much better than nothing. That may sound dismal, but it was good fortune for us young drinkers. The Korean War was a little better and I was over 21 as well, but I never actually learned to appreciate hard liquor either. The result was that my young drinking years were pretty well supervised. Our young people today are not so lucky. Their drinking has no limits; never mind being taught how to manage the stuff they do get.
By the time I had survived two wars and a college education, I was pretty much a sipper of whatever libation I could get my hands on. It doesn’t take all that much alcohol, on any one occasion, to get “too much.” I was lucky to have been educated on the perils of drinking. I sat down with myself one day to take note of the fact that I was drinking daily and perhaps more often than was reasonable. I started to regulate my consumption a little bit, but I had no intention of quitting.
That’s when I started limiting myself to three drinks a day (mostly, as the reader may imagine, of beer). I also decided to take command of my own drinking by stopping consumption of alcohol at least one day a week. I rounded this out nicely, I thought, by careful consumption when necessary at beer festivals, meetings and such.
It was especially helpful when, during the mid-1980s, the French people were shown to be consuming, regularly and somewhat enthusiastically (as they had always done), a fair amount of wine. Not only that, but they were healthier than we were, and were also enjoying themselves without the threat of prohibition held over their heads by some religionists in their society. These studies had shown me that many Frenchmen were consuming an average of three glasses of wine daily.
Meanwhile, our government has attempted to promote various versions of its own semi-prohibition controls. They settled on two drinks a day, and only one for females. Naturally, I thought three were, then and now, a better arrangement for me. I’ve no idea where the notion came from that female persons should limit themselves to a single drink a day.