Friday, January 1, 2016

30 Days Dry – Part 4: What Drinking Means To Me

When I taste that first sip of beer, I am reminded of how my mom first started going out with my dad because he liked how she enjoyed drinking beer. When I hear the rattle of ice against the side of my high ball glass full of whiskey, I'm transported back to my childhood bedroom. Listening in the dark as I lay in my bed, I would wait until I heard the sound of the ice in my dad’s whiskey glass as a signal that he was home from a late night at work. Only then would I feel relaxed and let myself slip into sleep. In the soft warmth that comes from a great drink I am reminded of the camaraderie and the joy of times with friends, sharing drinks, helping me learn to stop trying to be someone else and to love being myself.

Alcoholic beverages are as central to many cultures’ identity as fashion, cuisines, art and music. You can understand Italian culture without knowing great Italian operas, but you miss experiencing something profound about being Italian without knowing these great works of art. In the same way drinking an American lager will bring you an understanding of Midwestern working class roots in a way that few other experiences can.

Wines, beers, liquors and spirits are powerfully personal and culturally significant. My understanding of these beverages has connected me with my family and my cultural history. I have extended family members who barely speak English that only through drinking whiskey have we crossed cultural barriers and created meaningful memories.

As a second-generation immigrant, learning about American drinking culture in college and beyond has helped me make sense of a world that far too often, still feels foreign. Each new drink I tried and each new tradition I participated related to drinking brought me closer to what it meant to be American.

In each sip of an alcoholic drink I feel my culture and my family. I feel closer to the world around me, connecting with generations of artisans that contributed to the creation of what I am enjoying. I am also sharing an experience with people around the world and through time who have drank the same beverage that I am enjoying.

The process of distilling, brewing and fermenting has the potential to create unparalleled flavors with wonderful nuances and complexity. Like a great opera, knowing a great whiskey takes work, exposure and expertise to appreciate. And like with a masterpiece of an aria, after learning about a great whisky, the experience of drinking that great spirit can be an emotional and beautiful experience.

It's not all about high art. Like a hot dog on a Fourth of July cookout, even a mediocre beer with the right friends can help create unforgettable eating experiences.

On the same section in a store that you can find artfully crated spirits that reflect great human achievement built on years of study and innovation you can also find lower down on a bottom shelf, mass-produced beverages only drunk for escapism. It is in these extremes that we find the best and the worst of the human experience of drinking alcohol. In that top shelf you find the beauty of human expression through flavor and tradition and in the bottom shelf there is only a stale taste that reflects the burden of a pleasure turned into a darkness that clouds one's soul in regret.

To love alcohol is to know what it can bring to life and what it can take away. Alcohol can feel both essential and extraneous, inspiring and depressing. It is a force that has brought families together and torn families apart. Alcoholic beverages for some bring out the best in us but in others bring forth the worst parts of our humanity.

I really enjoy drinking but I've taken this break because it seems like far too often drinking was not a culturally meaningful experience. It was simply a way to escape. I have my stress and my difficulties but I have a blessed life and never did the escapism of drinking alcohol make me feel better about the challenges in my life.

My relationship with alcohol continues to evolve. If I find myself missing the meaningful experience of drinking, I will take a break, like a recently have to reevaluate. Someday, I will probably walk way from drinking for good. Will I miss it? I hope so, and for the right reasons. If I miss it for the wrong reasons than it'll be a confirmation that walking away truly is for the best.

No comments:

Post a Comment