Sunday, February 05, 2006

Habby beerday!

It's been a really nice weekend. I went hiking on Saturday for the first time in... well, I guess two weeks, but it's felt a lot longer. This was my second ascent to Mission Peak, this time coming from the southwest. When I started I couldn't see the mountain tops because they were covered in mist; the further I climbed, the higher up they ascended, until I reached the top and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Beautiful.

Anyways. I'm getting a wee bit concerned that some of you may be under the misapprehension that I'm becoming, um, "healthy" or something. Far from it. I figured that this would be a great time to write about how great beer is.

After the company holiday party back in December, I spent some time reflecting on my history with alcohol. I know some readers of this blog are regular drinkers, and at least one is a teetotaller, but I think most are occasional social drinkers like myself. Just thought I'd put down my recollections about my relationship with booze.

I was a total boyscout growing up. I did not drink any alcohol until after I turned 21. (The one exception: I think I had some communion wine at an Episcopalian Eucharist when I was 17.) Part of this is because I am, at heart, a law-and-order kinda guy; partly it's because my parents seemed so fiercely opposed to drinking. Most of all, it's just because in high school and college I hung out with people who didn't drink, so the temptation was never really there. (Many of these same people have gone on to become quite talented drinkers since leaving for school or reaching their majority. I suspect that the longer one puts off drinking, the better one becomes at it.)

Still, despite the fact I didn't do it, I wasn't really opposed. I think I've known since high school that I would drink once I turned 21, in much the same way that (big shocker here) I'll try pot once if it ever becomes legal. I basically examined all the potential objections and decided they didn't apply to me.
  • Religious: Drinking had an aura of sinfulness about it, and was often described in my church experience as something unsaved people did. Still, in my reading of the bible, I only saw warnings against drunkenness, not alcohol itself. And why would Jesus create wine if it was intrinsically bad? I decided I could drink and still be a good Christian, so long as my drinking did not lead to anything bad.
  • Health: Cirrhosis and stuff were held up at the consequences of liquor. But, I determined that most people who drank occasionally escaped these threats, and some research even suggested that wine could help your heart.
  • Cost: There are special taxes on alcoholic beverages, and some people spend a lot of money on it. As long as it was an occasional expense, though, I didn't see any problem.
  • Scandal: Drinking causes you to lose your judgement and do foolish things. This seemed risky, but I figured that with careful experimentation, among friends, I could figure out what my limits were and how to deal with it.
  • Permanent brain damage: Yes, Virginia, beer kills brain cells. This was my one rationalization: "Well, we only use 10% of our brain anyways, so it'll hardly hurt anything important. Besides, I think too much anyways."

So I felt fine not drinking. But why SHOULD I drink? The list was short:
  • Socialization. Also known as "Peer pressure for people over 21." A lot of people drink, and while I didn't worry about offending them, it seemed like it would be fun to join them.
  • Better living through chemistry. I'm a fan of self-medication, with caffeine my main drug of choice. It's kind of fun to change the way my mind works and experience an alternate reality for a while.
  • Lowered inhibitions. I tend to be pretty guarded and uncommunicative, even with my closest friends. Several times Brad had mentioned that he wondered what I would be like after drinking, and I was curious myself.

I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to do. I laid down a few ground rules for myself. I would never drink alone. I wouldn't get drunk or out of control.

I turned 21 during one of the best summers of my life, while working for an internship at Raviant. A few weeks before then I went to my first bar with some co-workers, a blowing-off-steam social occasion after a stressful week that had seem several layoffs. I had a root beer and played pool and watched with interest as the others had a few beers or none at all.

I went back home for the week of my birthday and went out with highschool friends (along with another who was also a July 5 birthday). I was the first of them to turn 21 and the group included some people who still don't drink, so it would have felt very awkward to start there.

My very first beer was inauspicious. I went to a Lifehouse concert in midtown Kansas City. I was in this enormous line that stretched all the way around the venue. After waiting for a while, someone came down yelling something like "Anyone over 21 can come into the bar and get in early!" I was like, "Score!" It wasn't the greatest bar... two Miller Lite girls were parading around, and beer was being served in plastic cups. I figured, "What the heck," and bought a Miller Lite (yes, I know this is ironic) and tipped the bartendar a dollar. It didn't taste that great, but I finished the cup before the doors opened. The concert was fine, I wasn't really tempted to have another beer.

I think that was the last time I drank that summer. Over the next year more and more of my friends turned 21 and drinking became more of a possibility. Again, none of us were gung-ho boozehounds, but a few people were looking forward to starting drinking, or drinking legally. I fondly remember Brad's 21st birthday, which at one point saw us watching "Castle of Cagliostro" while alternating swigs from a 21-year-old flagon of whiskey.

From roughly then up until graduation, my alcoholic universe revolved around a wonderful place called Cicero's. In the Delmar Loop, we had frequented this great Italian restaurant since our freshman year, enjoying its delicious and relatively cheap food as well as its pool tables. Now, we bowed in awe to its beer. To this day I have not seen a beer list as thorough as Cicero's; their stock varies, but you could generally count on over 60 beers on tap and 100 in bottles. We made a pact to order something different every time we went, and would sample each other's beer. I consider this one of the most educational experiences in my college career, as I developed my palate and developed not only the capacity to enjoy beer, but to analyze and discuss each brew's characteristics. It also spoiled me and turned me into a beer snob, which is unfortunate, since to this day I can't stomach the major American brewers and end up paying twice as much per drink as anyone else.

Of course, beer is just one class of alcoholic beverage, with wine and liquor filling out the triumvirate. I don't have anything philosophical against either of these, I just don't spend as much time in environments where they are consumed. I will very occasionally have a glass of wine with a meal, but if beer is an option I'll nearly always opt for that instead. I had a handful of experiences with shots in college, and am somewhat conversant in the different liquors, but again, given the choice I'll steer towards beer. For some reason, for the two weddings I've most recently attended, I've done simple cocktails (rum and coke, etc.) instead of beer. Who knows why.

I actually drink less now than I did senior year in college. I still only drink socially, so I don't have much of a stock at home (no beer unless I'm expecting company, just a few bottles of liquor and wine that last a long while before consumption). My consumption remains relatively stable, often just one Guinness that I will nurse for the entire night. Again, I do enjoy the relaxed and loquacious feeling I get when drinking, but I tend to be cautious of the consequences, particularly if I know I'll be driving home.

My favorite drinks? When in a bar I'll either get a Guinness or a Sam Adams, you can count on them having one of those on tap unless they're a total dive. Guinness has wonderful texture and weight, you know what you're drinking when you sip it. Sam Adams is lighter but still good without leaving an aftertaste, and best of all, permits you to do a Dave Chappelle impression when you hoist it in the air. If it's a brewpub I'll check out whatever they are offering, usually tending towards the darker brews.

My all-time favorite beers were all first discovered in Cicero's and include Young's Chocolate Double Stout, Dead Rogue Ale, and several sweet Dutch beers. These can be hard to find, but most good grocery stores will have at least a few in the liquor isle.

I have so little experience with wine that I can't even comment on that.

My favorite shot is an Irish carbomb. It seriously tastes like candy when you drink it down. I refuse to drink gin. I prefer rum over whiskey or bourbon, though I enjoy all three. I'll try any shot you give me, but will only do one an hour.

I don't think I've ever been drunk. I've definitely had times when I could really feel something happening, but it's always been cereberal for me; I've never lost my balance or gotten sick or done something I regreted the next day. Once I reach the happy place where I'm enjoying everything, laughing a lot and participating in the conversation, I'll usually just coast on that for as long as I can.

So, while I'm almost sure I've never been DRUNK, I can tell you about the closest I've been. It was New Year's Eve of 2003; I had graduated from school and spent six months working at Cerner. The group of people who went through orientation together had largely stayed in touch and would occasionally do stuff together. An invitation went out for a New Year's Eve bash. It was one of those deals where everyone pays $20 to get in, but everything else is free - the beer, snack food, party favors, etc. Afterwards we would all crash at my friend Arthi's apartment at the Plaza.

We met up at the apartment around six and headed to a nearby Mexican restaurant. Our numbers waxed and waned throughout the evening but we generally had around fifteen people, evenly mixed between guys and girls, surely a rarity for employees in a software company. The food was quite good and I was indulging in a couple of margaritas. They tasted very good, but didn't seem to be affecting me much. Until we stood up to leave. That's when I had one of those "WHOA!" moments and knew I was in for a fun night.

The party itself filled two nightclubs in Westport, the Velvet Lounge and the Ambassador. Most of our night was spent in the Velvet Lounge, a three-story affair. Virtually all the clientele was in our age bracket roughly 20-25; it was crowded but not enough to feel claustrophobic, noisy enough so you could hear someone right next to you but no further. Throughout the evening we travelled in clumps, breaking up and reforming as the night went on. I was delighted to discover that the music was actually pretty decent, with a good representation from classic alternative bands (whoa, I can't believe I just typed that, but you know what I mean) and some listenable current tunes.

And, while I wasn't a boozehound, I did partake of the sauce that night. Knowing that I have a place to spend the night without driving definitely makes me more willing to test my limits, and although I don't recall exactly how many brews I had, that number is probably my record to date. I was excited and animated, still just socializing within my group but contributing more than normal. Midnight came and went, everyone toasted, and we kept on going. Around 1AM I headed across the street to the Ambassador, which is more of a music club than a drinking establishment, and actually got on the dance floor for close to an hour. Read all my previous disclaimers; I'm bad at dancing WITH someone, but put a hundred people on the floor all bouncing around to a beat - well, I can do that.

I missed the big caravan heading back to Arthi's and so I walked six of the blocks down to the Plaza before Mike, Mike's girlfriend and Aaron drove by and picked me up. In the apartment everyone was just sprawled all over; I laid down but, as usual after I've been drinking, was massively overstimulated and wasn't able to drift off until after I noticed the sky starting to turn light.

Even then, though, I woke up five hours later feeling great, no headache or anything. So while that's the night where alcohol had the biggest impact on my behavior, I'm still unsure if I qualified as "drunk."

The second-most I've ever drunk was at my going-away party from Cerner. It started off as a farewell dinner at a nice little restaurant/pub we'd been to before; and over thirty people showed up at one time or another. At the end there were just about ten people left, hard-core drinkers all. That's the night I did shots, which really pushed me over. I think drinking beer is self-regulating to some degree, because it fills you up so you physically can't keep drinking; shots just deliver alcohol and so are more dangerous. It was a great time, but also a little awkward; I knew I needed to drive home that night to meet Justin, who had already scheduled a visit that weekend, so I wanted to make sure they all knew how much I appreciated it and was enjoying myself while keeping myself in good enough shape to drive. I gave myself about 90 minutes between my last drink and walking out the door and handled it just fine, a really fun tribute to my formative 18 months at Cerner.

And since then... I don't want to say "It's gone downhill," because that makes it sound like I really miss it, which isn't exactly true. But I no longer have regular drinking opportunities, so I just enjoy the occasional hit from time to time. Last month my parents served wine with our Thanksgiving meal, a first for our family and something I greatly enjoyed. I think that, moving forward, that will be the more common model: no longer using a bit of alcohol to get myself in the mood to dance, just casually enjoying some good-tasting spirits with people closest to me.

Well, that's all I have to say about that. Enjoy the game, everyone. Go Seahawks! Cover the spread!

1 comment:

  1. Am I the teetotaller? I have been drunk twice though. Actually three times. And just two weeks back I accepted hot coco with I didn't even bother to clarify what in it from Sarah in Tomiura when I slept over at her her place with Julia. And that definitely was NOT worth it. If I'd slept at home I might not have gotten the flu--Sarah doesn't even try to heat her apartment so your just as cold as you would be outside.

    Did you know the blood alcohol allowance in Japan is zero? You can't drive period if you've had anything. That's what trains and cabs are for.

    Anyway, drinking and me, yeah, not mixing well so far. Sometimes it's like, "Oh, you could join the fun if you drank," but that's never how it works out. Frankly I admire people who are more staunch in their abstinence than I am. If I go, "Well, maybe, OK, I guess I'll give it a try," and someone else goes, "Thanks, but I don't drink," then I'm totally, "D'oh!"