Paul Clarke’s most recent post on the New York Times Proof blog about why and how we cocktail writers and bloggers enjoy alcohol is very much worth reading. The most-used tag on Proof is, sadly, “alcoholism;” the focus there has been more about excess and abstinence than responsible drinking. Paul’s post remedies some of that:
I drink because I like it, and for reasons that usually place “effect” a step or three down the list. I love the spicy sweetness of whiskey and I’m a total sucker for the herbal ballet of a good vermouth; when tasting well-made spirits and cocktails composed from them, I can admire the skill of a talented distiller, along with that of a bartender who understands what they have. While plenty of spirits and cocktails are so artlessly made as to make me consider early retirement, there are great new things being done by bartenders and distillers, making this an exciting time to be a drinker.
Drinking also satiates my historical and culinary curiosity: as a fan of obscure and sometimes obsolete spirits and cocktail ingredients, I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time searching for liqueurs, bitters and other products that appeared in bar manuals from the 1860s through the 1950s, but which disappeared from bars decades ago. Recreating these drinks and having the chance to taste them gives me a richer perspective of other eras and places, an experience I usually find far more satisfying than the simple buzz I could get from something as pedestrian as a vodka and tonic.
Paul goes on to discuss why he drinks moderately at home in the hope that his young children will later follow his example, an approach he expects to be far more successful than banishing alcohol from the house entirely.
My own experience is similar to Paul’s (minus the children). Last spring I went dry for a week just to see what that would be like. It didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t miss drinking. I didn’t have any problem socializing with friends minus alcohol’s relaxing effects. I certainly didn’t miss getting drunk (not that there’s anything wrong with that on occasion). What I did miss was the experimentation and exploration of new spirits and cocktails. With a well-stocked home bar and a dozen cocktail books on the shelf, it was like having a giant box of toys and not being allowed to touch them.
Paul gets it exactly right. We could go without the drinks, but the intellectual engagement that comes with mixing them is much more addictive than the warming buzz.