Debunking Drinking Wisdom

Shortly after I passed the legal drinking age and started drinking adult beverages, I first heard the aphorism “wine, then beer, and have no fear.”  Some years later, I heard the flip side:  “beer, then wine, and I feel fine.”  The idea behind each of the sayings — which are seemingly contradictory, in case you hadn’t noticed — was that if you sequenced what you drank, you could avoid a hangover.

wineandbeerAre either of the sayings true?

No, of course not . . . and now a study has confirmed it.  Researchers from the Witten/Herdecke University in Germany and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom — two countries, incidentally, that are very serious about their wine and beer — studied whether the sequence in which alcoholic beverages are consumed might affect how people who overindulge feel the next day.  One group drank beer, then wine, and another drank wine, then beer.  A third, control group drank only one or the other.

The study found that the drinking sequence made no difference in the hangover impact.  One of the researchers explained: “The truth is that drinking too much of any alcoholic drink is likely to result in a hangover. The only reliable way of predicting how miserable you’ll feel the next day is by how drunk you feel and whether you are sick. We should all pay attention to these red flags when drinking.”  (No kidding!)

And get this:  another of the researchers makes the dubious argument that hangovers actually can have positive effects.  He stated: “Unpleasant as hangovers are, we should remember that they do have one important benefit, at least: They are a protective warning sign that will certainly have aided humans over the ages to change their future behavior. In other words, they can help us learn from our mistakes.”  Boy, scientists are perverse, aren’t they?

I’d never argue that hangovers are a good thing, but I do know this — any perceived folk wisdom about drinking that rhymes and is capable of being remembered after a few drinks probably isn’t that wise after all.

Stoned On The Strip

Yesterday legal marijuana sales began in Nevada.  Well, why not?  In the Silver State there’s already legalized gambling and prostitution, a tradition of Rat Pack boozing and partying, and a prevailing “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” ethos.   So why not add marijuana to the mix, to ensure that every imaginable mood-altering option is available to people who can pay with the coin of the realm?

They don’t call it Sin City for nothing.

las-vegas-stripNevada now is the fifth state to legalize the sale and possession of marijuana for recreational use.  In Nevada, adults 21 and over can purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana, but public use is still prohibited — because, even in Las Vegas, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Some of the Las Vegas marijuana stores, with names like Reef Dispensaries and Euphoria Wellness, opened at midnight, to take advantage of the first moments that the new law took effect, and reported long lines and brisk business.  One purchaser said “you don’t have to hide in the corner anymore and feel bad about it,” and thereby articulated one of the core concepts underlying Las Vegas culture generally.

The trend toward general legalization of marijuana seems pretty clear and probably is close to irreversible, but I’ll still be interested in how it all works out for Las Vegas.  Drinking seems to go a lot better with gaming than marijuana does.  You wouldn’t think that stoned individuals would be particularly keen about going out to gamble, where they probably would wonder whether everyone was staring at them and whether it was their turn to take a hit at the blackjack table.  Maybe Nevada is just trying to stimulate sales of Dark Side of the Moon.

Bachelorettesville


Nashville must be the top bachelorette party destination east of the Mississippi.  You see the bachelorette groups everywhere — pedaling together to power the bicycle bars heading down Broadway, slamming down Jell-O shots, singing along with the band at the Honky Tonk Saloon, and whooping it up on the sidewalk — and always smartly attired in matching shirts and hats with clever slogans about love or being drunk, and sometimes both.  As soon as one group leaves, another bachelorette band arrives to take its place.

Why is Nashville such a popular bachelorette destination?  Well, why not? It’s got lots of saloons and live music and drink specials and pedal bars and all of the features of a modern bachelorette fantasy.  And let’s just say that the ladies we saw were taking full advantage of the chance to cut loose, starting bright and early and hitting it hard.  They were having fun in the bride-to-be’s last hurrah.

I’m guessing that what happens in Nashville stays in Nashville.

Moonshine 


The bar where we ate dinner last night was very well-stocked, but I paused for a minute at the serious collection of jars — until I realized it was all moonshine.  Well, we are in Tennessee, after all, eating in a place called The Stillery, and there wasn’t a revenuer in sight.

The moonshine came in lots of different flavors, like “apple pie.”  I’m sure many party-hearty visitors to Nashville have figured they should guzzle some shine to make their visit fully authentic . . . and then came to regret it the next morning.  I wasn’t tempted.  In college I learned my lesson well that drinking fruity concoctions where the Kool-Aid-like flavoring serves only to mask the crushing alcoholic content isn’t a wise course of personal conduct — especially when it’s served from what appears to be a garbage pail.  

With an inward nod to Granny Clampett, I let the white lightning pass and stuck to a beer.

On Target To Stay Up Late

For the last few years, Kish and I have stayed up late exactly one time each year:  the night of the firm’s holiday party.  Because we want to maximize our opportunity to visit with everybody who comes in for the party, we get a room at the hotel, stay until the party and after-party end, and then head over to the Char Bar next door until it kicks everybody out.

IMG_0100That happens at 2:30 a.m., which is far, far past my normal bedtime.

But somehow, on this one night, that doesn’t seem to be a problem.  For me, at least, it’s much easier to stay up if there are a lot of people around and interesting conversations to be had.  It’s all about your state of mind and a little careful preplanning and pacing.  You make sure you eat and establish that crucial base, you start with wine and then step down to beer rather than powering down mixed drinks, and you make sure that rather than sitting you’re on your feet, taking advantage of the chance to move from group to group and chat with friends.  The next thing you know, they’re rolling the bar away, you check your phone and it’s much later than you thought, and it’s time to move on.

The Char Bar is a good place to end up after a long night.  You’ve got your regulars, you’ve got the tipsy, weaving patrons who’ve had a few too many Long Island Iced Teas, and then you inject a late-night invasion of suit-wearing men and shiny-outfitted women.  It makes for an interesting mixture, and you can play darts, too.  It’s easier to stay alert when you are hurling sharp objects.

Searching For A Hangover Cure

Anyone who’s ever been much of a drinker knows how painful hangovers can be — and they’ve probably come up with their own theory about the best way to dodge them while still enjoying the simple, warming pleasures of a few adult beverages.

If you ask your friends what they do to avoid the dreaded hangover, you’ll find that people swear by all kinds of different folk remedies, with an almost religious intensity.  Never drink on an empty stomach.  Take two aspirin before going to bed.  Quaff lots of water while you’re out on the town.  One of our college friends contended that eating a plate of french fries covered with gravy was a sure cure, and another insisted on going out for chili dogs.  And then there are the assorted “next-day” remedies, ranging from munching dry Excedrin (to maximize its impact), to guzzling an entire pot of coffee (to allow caffeine to counter the lingering alcohol effects), to downing a large breakfast of pancakes (to soak up the remaining alcohol in your system), to sampling the “hair of the dog that bit you” (to start working on tomorrow’s hangover, today).  I’m a big believer in drinking lots of water, myself, and I am convinced that if you wake up with a hangover it’s too late to do much about it other than ride it out and swear you’ll never be so stupid again.

Now scientists have weighed in.  A study conducted by researchers from Canada and the Netherlands looked at 826 students (a perfect control group for hangover analysis if there ever was one) and examined their food and water intake, their alcohol consumption, and their resulting hangovers.  The study concluded that neither food nor water consumption had any impact on the severity of the throbbing next-day headaches and the listless, befuddled feeling that inevitably accompanies them — although those that drink lots of water feel better than those that don’t.  (Told ya!)

Instead, the study concluded, the only surefire way to avoid a brain-crushing hangover is simply to consume less alcohol.

What?  Drink less?  That’s no fun!  You know, pancakes sound pretty good right now.

Partied Out

When I started as a new lawyer in Columbus in the 1980s, the turn of the calendar to December 1 marked the beginning of a very festive month of celebration.

In those days, it wasn’t uncommon to get a surprise present or a gift basket with some wine, cheese, and crackers from someone who wanted to get or keep your business; one year I received a porcelain cookie jar in the shape of a snowman’s head and another I got a candy-dispensing contraption.  At night large parties hosted by consultants, clients, court reporters, and other law firms were the norm.  During the weeks leading up to Christmas, lawyers could always find a post-work place to revel in the brotherhood of the bar and enjoy a free drink or two, some hors d’oeuvres, and often live music, too.

It was all a vestige of the Mad Men era where work and partying went hand in hand, and it soon ended.  Court reporting firms and consultants became “service providers” who cut costs so they could compete more effectively on price, and lavish parties and gifts were the first line items on the chopping block.  Legal organizations became a lot more sensitive to the problems of alcohol abuse in our profession, and people started to realize that large, liquor-infused parties probably weren’t good for the inebriated lawyers who were making fools of themselves on the dance floor or under the mistletoe, or their marriages.

These days, December has a different, more family-focused feel to it.  It’s not a bad thing.

When Churchill And Stalin Hit The Bottle

The BBC has an interesting story about a World War II summit meeting that tells us a bit about how the world has changed, and also, perhaps, about how it hasn’t.

The story took place in 1942, when Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, traveled to Moscow for a summit meeting with Joseph Stalin, the dictator who led the Soviet Union.  The two countries were new allies, brought together by their common foe, Nazi Germany.

The initial meetings between the leaders didn’t exactly go smoothly.  Churchill requested another meeting, which began at 7 p.m.  At 1 a.m. an under-secretary of the British Foreign Office was invited to join the proceedings and found Stalin, Churchill, and Russian Foreign Secretary Molotov sitting around the shredded remains of a suckling pig on a table covered with countless bottles of liquor.  By that time Churchill was just drinking wine and complaining of a headache, and Stalin made the bureaucrat drink a concoction that was “pretty savage.”  The meeting continued until 3 a.m., when the Brits stumbled back to their rooms, packed, and headed to the airport.

The drinking party was unconventional — although not unusual for the Soviets, whose reputation for long, vodka-saturated banquets continued for decades — but it did the trick.  Churchill and Stalin established a personal connection that helped the allies steer their way to victory over the Axis powers.

It’s hard to imagine our modern political leaders having drinking bouts and making bleary-eyed policy decisions at 2 a.m. after guzzling countless shots of booze.  We obviously wouldn’t want them to do so.  But the importance of making a personal connection remains as true today as it was 70 years ago during the dark days of a global war.  Summit meetings still make sense because we want our leaders to be able to take the measure of each other and establish relationships that can stand the stress when times get tough.

Cocktail Hour Down South

IMG_3591Last night Kish and I visited the Patterson House because Kish wanted to try a bacon-infused Old Fashioned, pictured above.  The drink is made with Benton bacon-infused Four Roses bourbon, maple syrup, and pecan coffee bitters.  Kish said it was “delish!”

The Patterson House is an amazing place that shows you what a cocktail lounge could be like if people just worked at it.  It’s dark and quiet, with music playing in the background at just the right volume.  Access is controlled, so you don’t have a bunch of people crowding in at the bar, shouting their orders.  As a result, you actually can have a conversation, which isn’t possible at most bars I’ve been to recently.  The place offers some well-made, lighter fare food options, too, to balance the alcohol consumption.

The bartenders and waiters clearly take great pride in their appearance and their craft.  They work hard to make the perfect drink, and their list of drink options shows the kind of attention to detail that makes that goal feasible.  From the spherical ice cubes to the vigorous shaking to the careful placement of an orange peel, this is the place to come if you want to savor a well-made drink and some pleasant conversation.

Why Would Any College Student Want An Alcohol Enema?

When I was in college we drank often, and sometimes to excess.  I remember drinking shots and slugging down awful-tasting concoctions mixed in garbage pails . . . and regretting it all profoundly when I woke up with my head on the toilet seat the the next morning.  All of that drinking, of course, occurred by slurping and swallowing the contents of cups, bottles, or cans raised to my lips.

Apparently we’ve crossed some new frontier in collegiate drinking excess, because some students are experimenting with alcohol enemas.  This practice involves placing a tube in the keister and pouring alcohol into the colon, where it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream.  As a result, the enzymes in the stomach and liver that break down alcohol are bypassed, and the drinker (I’m not sure that’s the right word, given the circumstances) gets drunk quicker.  In fact, the recipient (I’m not sure that’s the right word, either) can get much drunker, much faster.  A recent incident at the University of Tennessee saw one student hospitalized with a blood alcohol level of .40, which is five times the legal limit and in the range where people can die of alcohol poisoning.

This might just be a weird incident at one school that shouldn’t be assumed to be a trend.  Even if alcohol enemas are just limited to the University of Tennessee, however, what would possibly motivate a kid to drop trou, stick a hose up his butt, and ask another person to do the pouring honors?  Is getting drunk as fast as possible really so important that you would do something so outlandish, disturbing, and dangerous?  I’ve got to believe that any student who has experimented with alcohol enemas has some very serious problems.

Vodka Shots In The Belvedere Ice Room

Last night we had an excellent meal at the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler. Fine company, fine food — and also the unique opportunity to don winter parkas and drink chilled vodka shots in a kind of man-made ice cave.

The Bistro features a supercooled Belvedere Ice Room that is maintained at a constant 12 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.  Inside, under ghostly blue light that somehow accentuates the cold, various vodkas are stored in little cubbyholes carved into walls of ice, and trays of shot glasses rest on a table made of ice.  The idea is that vodka should be kept at freezing temperatures, and if you drink fine vodka under such conditions you avoid “the burn” of the alcohol at the back of your throat and therefore can better appreciate the quality of the liquor.

I’m not a vodka drinker, but how can you turn down the once-in-a-lifetime chance to put on a parka, enter a frigid, ice-sheathed room, and taste vodka selected for you by an expert host wearing a mad bomber hat?  Our hardy band sampled vodkas that were potato-based, wheat-based, and even corn-based, from Russia, Poland, and Canada.  Our favorite (and the favorite of the host) was the last of the four vodkas, a Polish blend called Uluvka. The host said it tasted like pure water, and it did.  (Of course, this raises the question of why you would want to drink liquor that tastes like water, but that is a question we’ll have to leave for another day.)

Incidentally, the combination of the meat locker temperatures, blue light, ice-lined walls, freezing cold hooch, and fur-lined winter coat did seem to minimize the burn of the alcohol.  That may explain why vodka is the national drink of Russia.

About That “Instant Drunk” Spray . . .

I suppose this was inevitable:  they’ve invented a mouth spray that causes you to become instantly intoxicated, but lasts only briefly and leaves no hangover.

The secret, apparently, lies in how the small amount of alcohol (.075 milliliters) is aerosolized.  Rather than having to guzzle Cosmopolitans or Manhattans for hours — less if you’re a lightweight — until the alcohol is finally absorbed into your bloodstream, you’re immediately affected by the alcoholic mist.  When the effects wear off, you don’t have a headache and, if the story linked above is to be believed, you could even pass a breathalyzer test.

I think this product misses the point.  You should achieve a state of intoxication only after moving progressively through stages of the drinking process, such as the stage of wondering whether you should have another drink and the (much later) stage where you think you are the most hilarious person in the bar and wonder why no one else seems to agree with that assessment.  Drinking should be a long-term social experience, not a quick spritz from a sleek inhaler.

That said, I wonder whether sales of the inhaler will skyrocket when last call comes around and people looking for companionship feel their standards need some quick and effective adjustment.

The Party Nations

Who hasn’t idly wondered which countries hammer down the most alcohol?  Thankfully, the World Health Organization has released a report that answers that crucial, nagging question.

Where does the U.S. stack up?  We’re middle-of-the-pack, actually.  Americans consume, on average, 9.4 liters of alcohol per person, per year — about half the average of the booziest nations.  Of that amount, 31 percent is consumed in spirits, 16 percent in wine, and 53 percent in good old beer.  I feel that I have done my share in the beer category, at least.

Who’s number 1?  The wine-swigging French?  Nope, they barely crack the top 15, finishing at number 14.  What about Ireland?  That would be wrong, too — the Irish barely beat out the French, finishing at number 13.  How about our vodka-guzzling Russian buddies?  Closer, but not quite.  The Russians finish at number 4.  No, the top three are Hungary, the Czech Republic, and overall winner Moldova.  The studly Moldovans pound down 18.22 liters of alcohol per capita and they apparently aren’t picky, either:  they drink about as much spirits (4.42 liters) as beer (4.57 liters) and wine (4.67).  In short, Moldovan partiers will be happy to drink just about anything you put in front of them before they collapse.

Where in the world is Moldova, anyway, you ask?  It’s a former part of the Soviet Union, located between Romania and Ukraine.  It’s also so small — only slightly more than 4 million people — that a few serious tipplers could skew the national average.