Monday, January 5, 2009

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Proof of Too Much Booze?

As a 20-year “Friend of Bill W.’s” I am a bit embarrassed
by my fellow ex-drunks’ pious attitudes.

Sometimes I forget that I’m in the minority

and that the vast majority of people can drink

(and occasionally overindulge)

without grave consequences.

~ Bruce, voicing a minority comment
on Iain Gately’s “Besotted — Etymologically, That Is”

If you haven’t seen the blog Proof over at, go check it out. Articles approach alcohol and drinking from diverse angles as contributors “consider the charms, powers and dangers of drink.” Writers include Paul Clarke, Susan Cheever, Glenn Eichler, Iain Gately, and others. If you read AND drink (or used to drink), they may be familiar names. Particularly revealing are the comments sections of each article. It’s here where drinking and abstaining Times readers duke out their differences.

Among non-drinkers, comments typically range from tight-lipped disapproval to off-the-charts sputtering rage leveled against drinkers. One of my favorites is in response to Eichler’s list of alcohol-fueled lines from holiday parties (“None of these are real, and also they are not funny at all”—many of them are, in fact, funny: see below). But the sheer vitriol heaped upon drinkers by recovering alcoholics across all the stories was something of a shock.

It’s not that I don’t know recovering alcoholics. Of course I do. Given the role alcohol plays in my professional life and the pleasure it’s given me personally, however, I forget on a day-to-day basis that drinking can be ruinous for some, that there are those who simply cannot or should not drink, and some for whom others’ drinking has presented heart-wrenching challenges.

For those of us who can have a drink or two, then stop, the proposition that casual enjoyment of well-crafted cocktails or fine spirits—even the occasional PBR—leads to ruination and ignominious death seems preposterous. But the implacable alcoholics and their joyless flames over at Proof set me thinking about the sheer volume of alcohol we have at home.

Well over a hundred bottles of liquor are readily apparent as visitors step into our living room. The copper-topped dry sink is covered with whiskey and brandies, its cabinet stuffed with single barrel bottlings and limited releases. The wheeled, two-tiered, mid-century bar cart is so laden with rums and caçacha that moving it is difficult. Bottles are filed by type and size in two additional closets and the kitchen counter is frequently host to bottles I haven’t filed or that I’m using in research, not to mention the various infusing, pickling, and candying experiments underway. In the last five years, our bowl of limes has gone dry exactly once.

Such a collection always seemed like…well, a working collection to me, a research tool—much like having a culinary library so extensive that I rarely need to leave to find that one bit of information I want to track down. Need absinthes for some 19th century baroque cocktail? Check. What about genever for a Dutch treat? Sure. What brandies are best for sidecars? Let’s find out. Does it really matter what kind of gin goes into a bijou cocktail? Here, try four small versions and be your own judge. Once we settle on the best gin for the job, let’s see what bitters make the thing shine. Just want a Jack and Coke? I can help you there, too, though I’m likely to try steering you somewhere else.

I’m looking at this forest of bottles in a new light now, though. A casual visitor could well be appalled at this collection, to see it, in fact, as a red flag indicating certain alcoholism and impending doom. I don’t and neither to the people who know me well. But still, there’s the matter of appearances. Perhaps more of this liquid library could go behind cabinet and closet doors.

I mean, really, do I need two dozen rums at the ready each and every day? We’re not talking about hiding the stuff (now there’s a trick that suggests someone should drop by an AA meeting), but maybe three or four rums for the cart are sufficient while the remainder rests a whole two meters away in a cool, dark place behind a door. That's better for the liquor in the long run, anyway.

I’ve got to mull this one over. If I don’t play this right, it means putting books in storage to make room for booze and that is truly the last step of a desperate book addict.

~ ~ ~

Excerpts from Glenn Eichler’s “Really, It’s the Booze Talking”

“Has anyone ever told you that you have the air of a much more successful person?”

“I don’t believe we’ve met. Oh, really? Right next door? Ten years?”

“We’re not really budgeted for a vacation this year, what with the exchange rate and my gambling addiction.”

“I have to apologize for not reading your new book yet. It’s just that the last one was so awful.”

“I don’t usually drink this much, but you’re insufferable.”

“I had pants on when I came in, right?”



Trid said...

While my collection doesn't come close to rivaling yours, it does garner the occasional "Wow, look at all that booze. Are you sure you don't have a drinking problem?"

In response:
1) If either of us had a drinking problem, there wouldn't be this much remaining
2) Not a drinking problem, a *buying* problem.

Besides, who is this "Jack" fellow anyway...and what exactly is with his affinity for coke?

Matthew Rowley said...

Trid ~

1) So true. Other than vermouth and, oddly, Luxardo Maraschino, there isn't a single bottle we empty on a regular occasion. The sheer volume of liquor here seems indicative of two people who simply buy more than they ought. Ergo:

2) You hit it on the head. I am by nature and training (there's that curatorial background) acquisitive. If anything, I have a tendency to being a completist (e.g., collecting every bit of Lovecraft material I can, all the moonshine postcards still around, all the varieties of bitters I know about, everything by certain authors, every ad campaign certain Dutch agencies launch, etc.). The tendency has clearly crept into my liquor-buying habits.

Given February's upcoming MxMo theme on frugal drinking, I've put additional purchases on hiatus, drinking only what I've got in the house. Come June 2010, we should be down to a bottle of Patron and some grapefruit bitters.

Trid said...

You'll get through it all *that* quickly?

RumDood said...

Totally agree with Trid. It's not a drinking problem, it's a buying problem. I have the same problem.

I do not drink compulsively. I buy bottles of alcohol compulsively. I have over 200 bottles, 115 of which are rum.

Matthew Rowley said...

Trid ~ well, with help from friends, we'll get through a lot of it. Care to pitch in?

Dood ~ I'm envious of your rum collection. While whiskeys have always formed the foundation of any liquor cabinet, rums have taken the fore in recent years. Could any class of spirit be more delicious and varied? Well, brandies, of course. And, you know, now that I think about it, there are a few ryes I've been meaning to get my hands on.