I thoroughly enjoy alcohol.
I love the patience and craft involved in making what is functionally a poison enjoyable and desirable. I love the various ways it can be consumed, the kaleidoscopic pallet of flavors, colors, and styles that people have discovered over the millennia, and the fact that like any great creation it can be used and abused.
I love the conviviality that can spring up across barstools and beer halls. My wife has told me that I need to be careful where I go to sit down and write because I’m likely as not to lose time just getting into conversations with total stranger.
I’ve written about my favorite “genres” of bars, and mentioned some of my favorites around Portland. I’ve written a bit about how fermentation works, how to brew your own mead, and my favorite cocktails. I’ve even written about my favorite non-alcoholic beverages… but I have yet to write about my favorite drinks.
Not specific beverages or cocktails or places- the confluence of ALL of them with a particular feeling or mood. What times of the day, under what circumstances, do I find myself not saying “Ugh, I could use a drink” but “The right drink would make this perfect.”
Kick off your shoes, fill a glass, and vibe with me for a minute.
The Post-Shift Drink
The most-lauded, and most dangerous, of popular drinks for the working man.
It’s the end of your shift. Maybe it was great and you and your team knocked it out off the park- or maybe it was hell on Earth and God knows how you got through it alive. Regardless, you’re all there. You’ve seen your way through to the other side, and now it’s time for the come-down. A place nearby, or maybe the restaurant bar and the owners allow everyone a shift drink of whatever they managed to get cheaply.
It’s you and your people, on the far side of an experience that only you and people like you could ever really know in your bones. Now you can relax. You are your own again- a person and not a machine. A man and not a beast of burden. “A little somethin’ somethin’” with the boys to wind down.
I love these drinks, but there’s a reason they can be dangerous. Not only is it the definition of numbing after a rough experience, the peer pressure to drink more than you should is considerable. These are your people, after all. You’ve demonstrated you’re one of them. You belong. You don’t wanna mess that up, do you?
If you belong- if they truly respect you- “your people” won’t pressure you to drink more (or at all.) The Post-Shift is wonderful, but if you find you can’t do without it, are spending more than you ought to at the bar every work night, or negotiating too many hangovers and lost experiences for their sake, it’s time to switch the shots for just some high-fives and head home.
The Social Drink
“Social lubrication.” “A shot of courage.” “Pick your poison.”
From its very discovery, drinking alcohol (particularly beer) was a social event. Drinking together meant unity, openness, community, and hospitality. The Dionysian mystery cults of the Ancient Greeks were religious orders where getting drunk was seen as communion with the divine power of Dionysius, the god of wine AND ritual madness.
So when we meet up with friends on our days off, or want to take someone out on a date, it’s no surprise we suggest that we “go for drinks.” We cover rounds, pay tabs, and share a substance that- among it’s other effects- lowers social inhibitions and acts as a vasodilator, widening blood vessels and increasing blood flow. It’s not just “beer goggles” that make people look more attractive- we loosen up socially and mentally, and get a warm lovely blush to our faces.
I’m a bit of a storyteller as well as a barfly, and I’ve lived with myself long enough to know how chatty I can get when I’ve had a few. Social anxiety fades into the background. When you can’t socialize without booze, that’s a problem. That’s you relying on a substance to function in the world. In the moment it’s fun, but over time it can be expensive and somewhat crippling. If you struggle to find reasons to be around people that don’t include drinking, it may be that they are more “drinking buddies” than actual friends.
There’s nothing wrong with a little “social lubrication,” but don’t let it be your only way to get out into the world.
The End of the Day Sip
“Ugh, FUCK THS DAY.”
The day sucked. You’ve made it home, or you’ve finished the work day and you are out alone. Just you belly up to a bar, and as far as you’re concerned everyone else in the building can piss off- you just wanna be alone and mourn the loss of 16 hours of your only life. Just a shot, maybe two and beer. Consolation so you can head home, go to sleep, and bear to wake up and do it over again.
Of all of my personal rules for drinking, the Cardinal Rule is ”Never drink when you are sad or angry.” Alcohol removes your inhibitions. It numbs you. Being able to feel and manage your feelings is as important as socially handling yourself through them.
Feelings and emotions are a part of you. If you are “drowning your sorrows,” you are drowning.
Reach out to others. Face your issues, and handle your bullshit. There’s no sin in self-consolation, but don’t let it replace getting to the root of your problems. You can’t keep something down without staying down there with it.
The Quiet Drink
This one’s my favorite. Rarer than it should be, but not as rare as you may think.
It’s the End of the Day and you are tired… but it’s the good kind of tired. Everything you can or should do has been done. You’ve come out the other end- and now it’s time for quiet.
Maybe it’s a favorite bar. Maybe it’s your living room or porch. The mood is the same- now is the time to sit, meditate on the day, consider tomorrow, and rejoice in another day well lived. The drink is soothing rather than numbing. It’s celebratory rather than conciliatory. The taste of that particular beverage makes the moment complete. It’s You, in your element, in your space, enjoying your time. You have done your duty for the day, and none may ask more of you.
Alcohol has no moral compass. Alcohol is a drug and intoxication a tool as much as every other. Drinking or abstaining do not immediately make you a good or bad person. It’s using alcohol well, appreciating it, and respecting it (and yourself) that make that call.
“Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” There’s no reason to hurry that last bit along.