Today, I stopped by the little liquor store around the corner from my house to pick up a couple of things. As I was leaving I marveled at all the different ways that exist to do the same thing – get drunk. Thinking about it further, I marveled at the fact that intoxication can support a store dedicated entirely to the art of…getting drunk. And not only one store, but a store in every other strip mall, or every couple of miles.
And then something dawned on me: I like drinking.
I don’t mean that I like getting drunk, or wild parties, or hanging out in loud bars – I mean that I like the actual act and ritual of drinking. I’m surprised that I haven’t realized this sooner, really, because I’ve liked drinking since the early 1990’s. But, there you have it…I like drinking. I really look at it as part of the heritage of my country. Liquor has played a big part in the formation of the United States, and its evolution. How many deals in the Old West were sealed with a shot of rot-gut? How many gentlemen’s transactions in the South ended with a glass of smooth Kentucky whiskey? How many business deals in the 1950’s took place over martinis and scotch? Drinking doesn’t make me an alcoholic, but it does include me in the long list of great Americans who also liked to drink.
Something about the liquor store made me think of all the single-purpose stores that are out there, like comic book stores. When I walk into one of those, I’m completely lost. I never got into comics, and I can’t fathom an entire store being supported by those little picture-books. Sewing stores, golf stores, gun stores, kite stores, kitchen stores…they all exist, and have people devoted to them, I guess.
And I can walk into a liquor store and know my way around, and know how to talk to the clerk without sounding like a complete idiot. One way to explain it would be to say that drinking is one of my hobbies, and I think that’s valid. Hobbies have their own specialized equipment and supplies, and they generally give you some enjoyment if you give them some work and some money. Drinking has all that.
Now, I’m not an expert on drinking by any means. There are connoisseurs of wine, beer, whiskey, scotch…you name it, someone’s an expert on it…and a group of other people will be snobs about it. But, I can have an intelligent conversation about, or make an informed choice of beer, wine, vodka or whiskey. And more importantly, I can enjoy a drink of any of them.
When I was in college, in my 20’s, I went on a real beer exploration kick. I collected bottle caps and marked all the beers I tried on an index card or two, and I probably tried 300 beers or so. I brewed a couple of batches of homebrew. And, I went from beer newbie to beer snob and back down to an appreciator of beer. When someone asks me what my favorite is, I have to answer in broad styles, such as light, hoppy beers for sipping on hot days, and thick stouts for cold days and hearty steak meals.
Likewise, in my 30’s I started tasting wines from the wineries near my home in northern Michigan, and I grew to appreciate fruity whites like Rieslings, and dry reds like a nice Merlot, and how to pair them with foods and appreciate how a good wine makes a good food taste even better.
Somewhere in there, my wife and I taste-tested a string of vodkas and settled on one as our favorite. And right now I seem to be having a small obsession with bourbon and mixed drinks. I don’t have a bar or a whole liquor cabinet, but we have a shelf where we’re collecting enough things to mix a variety of cocktails from the ingredients we have on hand. I’m currently having a love affair with Old Fashioneds (a la Mad Men) and Whiskey Sours. One of the things I picked up today was a bottle of sweet vermouth, so I can mix and try a Manhattan. If I get some Campari I think I could try a Negroni. These drinks date back to the 50’s, and that classic period of post-WWII America that was bustling, and hopeful and successful, and I like to feel a little bit of that come back through a tasty mixed drink.
Somebody once asked me, “so…you’re a drinker, right?” At the time it made me bristle. “A drinker?” What does that mean? I appreciated a good beer, but a drinker? I think today if somebody asked me that, I’d say “Yes. Yes I am a drinker.”