On Alcohol

Drinking Chartreuse in New Orleans

Entertained some folks the other night and broke out the nargilah and Scotch. (I have always been a lover of rituals and experiences involving a sensitive, attuned focusing within—such as drinking an earthy red wine while eating some spicy tapas, or drinking a sweet, surprisingly deep port while munching on at least 70% cacao dark chocolate, or smoking mint double apple shisha in the nargilah while discussing the visceral joys of passing gas, or playing djembes next to the beach under the full moon and drinking a bottle of rye, or sipping maté in the early morning while the sun rises over the ridge to shine onto the still, glassy lake.) I was surprised that none of my guests knew what goes into a whiskey (or whisky, depending on what country you be in). I don’t really know much about it, to be honest, but my general understanding is that most forms of what we term whiskey consist of certain percentages of barley, corn, and rye, the percentages being determined by the type of whiskey being made and the government regulations for said type. All I really know, really, is that a Scotch is quite different than a bourbon, which is quite different than a Canadian whisky, which is quite different than a rye. And that I love a good one, no matter the type.

In any love, there is that first experience of depth, passion, and beauty that draws in the lover to his beloved like a moth to the bulb. For me and whiskey, this occurred around 7 years ago while standing on a bridge next to a waterfall, after having gone on one of my first willfully taken hikes of my young adulthood, 6 miles round-trip. I had neglected to take any water, but I had taken a flask of bourbon along (shows what kind of priorities I had at the time). I wasn’t particularly enamored with bourbon in any way yet—I think I had obtained it for the trip just because I had been reading some Hemingway beforehand. I hadn’t yet drunk any of the flask, because it was a hot day. But once the trip was ended, and we were minutes away from the trailhead, standing in the cool shade in the spray of the waterfall, I suddenly remembered the flask, and decided to take a pull—why not, I was here to enjoy myself, which in young adulthood generally entails some form of fuckedupness. I took a long swig, the sweat on my skin commingling with the droplets of airborne fresh mountain water. And I don’t know if it was because I was severely dehydrated and sunbaked, sensitive and receptive to any and all liquids, or if it was because I was breathing in the air of a beautiful mountainous forest at high elevation, or what. But I could suddenly taste every grain in the whiskey, whereas before all I tasted was alcohol. I could taste the corn, so sweet; the malted barley, thick; and the smoky rye, all mixed and aged into perfection. It was like a revelation. It was a revelation of not just the amazingness of whiskey, but of all fine alcohols: that it is not really about the alcohol at all—it’s about the divine feeling and taste and experience all together. This is a lesson that has stuck with me, and taught me that getting drunk is really just a tributary in a stream, not the outlet goal of the wide ocean. If you want to get drunk, then go drink some gasoline or Everclear or something. Drink Bud Lite. Drink moonshine. But if you want to experience something more, something deeper, something that takes a little effort and thought and receptiveness, then seek out the more expensive but more worthwhile liqueurs and whiskies and tequilas.

It might seem that I am an alcoholic from such statements, but I actually drink quite sparingly, when I drink at all—generally a glass of something at night, maybe two. One beer or two. (Which has been proven to actually be healthier than not drinking at all.) I am not an alcoholic. I am a lover of fine alcohols. There’s a difference.

But let me say something before you think that I’m just some kind of snob that spits out his wine when he goes wine tasting: I also enjoy getting drunk. And I am here today to tell you something: getting drunk off of good drinks is a hell of a lot better than getting drunk off of Everclear or Ancient Age or Jose Cuervo or some shit drink like that. It feels better while drunk. It feels better while after drunk, unless you mixed it with 5 other types of alcohol (never do that. Especially with good, moderately expensive liquors). And every type of liquor has its own unique drunk to it. An absinthe drunk is quite different than any other (but not hallucinogenic. It’s just an alcohol, alright?). Tequila and mezcal drunks are superbly unique and revelatory, in a class by themselves. Chartreuse drunks can not even be compared to anything else. Whiskey drunks, depending on the whiskey, are always interesting, sometimes rough, sometimes sweet, sometimes smooth, sometimes elegant. And wine drunks—we all love those, the warm feeling of comfort and happiness that spreads through your belly, the thickness of the tongue.

But being drunk, you see, is not simply taking shots of something and suddenly acting like a simpleton and releasing all of your inhibitions (read: secret yearnings), such as jumping up on tables and shaking your ass, or humping anything that moves. I despise the taking of shots. It’s contrary to everything that is good about enjoying the experience of drinking. It’s the simple effort to get as wasted as you can in an extremely short period of time, with extremely shitty alcohol. So that you can act like an idiot and vomit. You see, drinking a good alcohol is about enjoying it at every step of the way. You look at it in the glass, the syrupy way it swirls against the curved glass siding and slowly rolls down. The way light refracts off of its mellow tones. Then you smell it, your eyes tearing up against the burn of alcohol, until you catch the residual scents of fruit, earth, honey, or whatever else it is that is magically contained in its amber ether. Then you sip it, you taste it, you think on it, you embrace it, you challenge it, you love it. And it warmly spreads through your body and into your mind. That’s what it is to drink.

Anyway, this here little rambling treatise on alcohol was just something that I thought I should share with the wider world, because I am continuously amazed when not many other people seem to have arrived at the same conclusions.


Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

5 thoughts on “On Alcohol”

  1. If I have managed to keep you from working for even a minute, then I have served my purpose here on earth.
    If you can find some Dagoba chocolate, they have an 87% that is pretty good. I also like Green & Black’s, even though their’s is a measly 70%.
    I eat whole dark chocolate bars in a sitting. I never knew myself to have a sweet tooth until I found dark chocolate. It was meant to be. I tell myself that it’s good for me, cuz the antioxidants.

  2. Your blogs have noticeably cut down on my productivity at work. Oh, well.

    I’m a dilettante when it comes to alcohol, but, like, you, I do appreciate a whopping dose of dark chocolate. The local grocery store had some 82% cacao, which was good, but it had, alas, too much sugar.

    right-o. back to the office grind.

  3. Whiskey-baha!

    I think “moth to the bulb” doesn’t have the same sufi mystic implications as “moth to the flame”, because the bulb doesn’t annihilate the seeker at its destination.

    Care to meet at my parents’ house some time next month?

    Anyway, just stopped to give you this article about Cormac McCarthy on Oprah’s Book Club.

    His publicist actually said:

    “Mr. McCarthy respects her work, admires what she has accomplished, has an awareness of her book club, and thought it would be interesting to participate in the conversation with Oprah. […] He knew who she was when she called.”

  4. Tis true that good whisky must be sipped and savored, slowly, to postpone the point of possible excess, but what’s wrong with a few shots of black Sambucca along the way?

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