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Monday morning musing: Is sober overrated?

Three Sheets to the WindI’ve been waiting for “jolly” Lauren Clark’s wonderful column in the current Ale Street News to pop up online, so I could point you to it: The Pink Elephant in the Room.

She begins: “Ever notice that beer writers never talk about getting drunk?”

And concludes (among other things): “And so we’ve been policed, and have policed ourselves, into a sometimes comically polite way of talking about beer.”

For further reading I suggest, Pete Brown’s “Three Sheets to the Wind” (soon to be released in paperback in the U.S., so you don’t have an excuse not to). You’ll find plenty amusing examples of the sort of honest writing Lauren explains most beer writers avoid. And more from Lauren at

Finally, to understand the “jolly” reference at the top you have to read her column. That’s the point of the link, dammit.

Thank goodness we don’t still have a duty on hops. Thanks to Todd Bates, a new Mexico organic farmer exploring hop growing, for this link. The debate from 1890 was over a tariff on imported hops designed to protect domestic hop growers. But the letter provides considerable insight into why New York did not remain a prominent hop producing area.

– A wine industry consortium is developing a protocol to provide a free, easy-to-use, wine industry specific, greenhouse gas (GHG) protocol and calculator that will measure the carbon footprints of winery and vineyard operations of all sizes. Shouldn’t breweries be doing something similar? (And now we take you to Chris O’Brien.)

– NBC 10 has a feature on Beer Babes — women who drink beer, not trinkets who decorate magazine articles. Since Pursuit of Ale (you might want to turn down your speakers, because this link takes you to a MySpace page) started a year and a half ago 300 different women have taken part in the beer club. Just another reason that Philadelphia is “America’s best-beer drinking” city – right all you Philly Beer Week folks? I will admit the calendar just keeps getting more amazing.

Who has the best beer culture? The headline sure got my attention. Somehow I was expecting more than a discussion about Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

22 Responses to Monday morning musing: Is sober overrated?

  1. SteveH February 25, 2008 at 6:04 am #

    Hate to sound like one of her targets, but I really don’t “drink to get drunk” anymore. It’s a useless, out of control state — and usually results in a usesless, out of control, terrible feeling state the next morning!

    There’s a huge difference between that warm feeling of a couple beers and outright drunk, and maybe that’s where Jolly Ms. Clark is finding a blurred definition.


  2. Todd February 25, 2008 at 7:59 am #

    I agree with SteveH. Why waste a good beer with a drunken feeling? That drunken feeling only inhibits the next beer. If there were any good NA beers, I’d drink them. Why has hop tea not become a reality? I had some up in Yakima and it was great. Back to brewing a Latir Lager- with alcohol.

  3. Stan Hieronymus February 25, 2008 at 8:40 am #

    Have you carefully read what she wrote?

    She doesn’t require that you worship to the porcelain god. And she’s right that few writers (or those who review beers at the various sites) mention that the “buzz” is part of enjoying beer.

  4. David February 25, 2008 at 8:48 am #

    Very well-written article in ASN. Thanks for pointing it out Stan. The timing is interesting. I had thoughts about what people would think when I posted this weekend about a gathering we had. I purposefully kept it low-key with phrases like “I seem to recall it was around this point in the evening we started singing the “B, double E, double R, U N” tune…” and “Admittedly my notes from the evening are limited, and, shall we say, scratchy.”

    Will folks get the wrong impression? “Drunk” does indeed have different connotations to different people. No one here drove under the influence of even stumbled out, but there was lots of joviality. 🙂

    I’m reminded of this quote from Lew Bryson’s blog: “In its most beautiful form, the buzz is a warm expansive feeling that puts you right in the zone … what zone, it doesn’t really matter, but you’re so damned centered in it you won’t want to leave.”


  5. Eric Trimmer February 25, 2008 at 8:50 am #

    I don’t get drunk these days, and I think a big part of that is the weight I’ve gained in the past decade.

    Three pints of high-octane beer used to do a doozy on me — I’m remembering $2 pints of the very big and very drinkable Procrastinator double bock during Monday Night Football at the now defunct New Road Brewhouse in Collegeville, PA… Ouch!

    But it takes a lot more beer to do the job these days.

    Plus, I usually eat food while drinking beer, and that helps keep me sober.

    Gone are the days when all you needed to throw a party was beer and some people. Grown-up parties always have food.

  6. SteveH February 25, 2008 at 8:54 am #

    I have read it Stan, and was just pondering these statements:

    “I have a hard time believing people who spend a sizable chunk of their time reading or writing about beer are that responsible about their alcohol intake.”

    She has a hard time believing it, but I don’t — I live it.

    “Getting drunk, sorry, “jolly,” is one of the pleasures of being an adult.”

    I think her real misunderstanding here is the definition of the term “drunk.”
    Intoxicated with alcoholic liquor to the point of impairment of physical and mental faculties. That to me is “getting drunk.” Something I don’t care to do these days, but I still enjoy my beer, two or three a day. Sometimes less.

  7. SteveH February 25, 2008 at 8:56 am #

    “…what zone, it doesn’t really matter, but you’re so damned centered in it you won’t want to leave.”

    And the fine line there is that reaching intoxication is beyond that zone.

  8. Stan Hieronymus February 25, 2008 at 9:29 am #

    Steve – So high alcohol beers get such love only because of the flavor?

  9. zythophile February 25, 2008 at 9:29 am #

    It’s strange that in 10,000 years of beer drinking we haven’t discovered the best way to prolong that feeling of “being in the zone”, the space somewhere between one and four pints where the world is a better place … maybe because the width and depth of “the zone” varies so much depending on what you’re drinking, if you’re eating, where you are, who you’re with an a hundred other variables.

    It’s certainly true, however, that we should not be afraid of proclaiming loudly that alcohol, used moderately and wisely, makes you feel good.

  10. SteveH February 25, 2008 at 9:44 am #

    “So high alcohol beers get such love only because of the flavor?”

    LOL — are you quoting the BeerAdvocate thread?

    But if you’re asking me, yes. But I don’t deny that some of that flavor comes from the alcohol. OTOH, if I’m having an Aventinus as my beer of the evening, I won’t reach for another (Aventinus or otherwise).

    Again, looking for an enjoyment that stops before inebriation. The 26th reunion of my college graduating class is this year, I think I’m beyond drinking-for-the-drunk. Or maybe I’m just too old. 😉

  11. Swordboarder February 25, 2008 at 11:39 am #

    I just had a discussion with someone this weekend about how many hours a day I think about beer. I think the average is around 10. It was a shock for this person who spends almost no time thinking about it.

  12. Bill Farr February 25, 2008 at 12:53 pm #

    OK, I’m massively confused. Every published beer writer I can think of mentions alcohol for both its taste contributions and its effects on the drinker in their reviews. Lew Bryson does, the Alstroms do, Eric Asimov does (much more so with beer than with wine, by the way), the numerous writers for those newspapers you find at liquor stores and bars do, the guys who do the occasional “beer review of the month” for papers like the Chicago Tribune do. So who is Ms. Clark referring to? Beer writers mention alcohol’s effects in their reviews much more often than do wine writers.

    Although, why _should_ alcohol be mentioned? Do coffee writers always note the caffeine zing in their reviews?

    To the secondary discussion — that Ms. Clark doesn’t recognize gradations between levels of alcohol effects in her article: that’s just weird. Just because even one glass of something can have an effect doesn’t negate statements like “I don’t drink to get drunk” or “I rarely drink to get drunk.” By saying this, one isn’t saying one doesn’t care about the alcohol’s effects.

  13. Bill Farr February 25, 2008 at 12:58 pm #

    Heck, didn’t Michael Jackson mention the joys of alcohol?

  14. Stonch February 25, 2008 at 3:12 pm #

    She’s obviously never read my blog.

  15. Stan Hieronymus February 25, 2008 at 3:50 pm #

    She’s obviously never read my blog.

    Her point would be that your blog is different. As is “Three Sheets to the Win.” and Martyn Cornell was early to comment.

    I’d venture that if Rate Beer and Beer Advocate were UK-centric the conversations would look much different.

  16. SteveH February 26, 2008 at 6:52 am #

    So, I pondered this discussion last night as I cracked a Pilsner Urquell while prepping potatoes for dinner with my girlfriend.

    As I savored the great, double-decocted malt and the spicy hop flavor of the Saaz, enjoying the crisp mouth-feel and light body of the beer, the question of “dinking for the buzz” (never mind the “drunk”) was prominent in my mind.

    Mulling this over after peeling and quartering the Yukon Golds and getting the water on the stove, I cracked the second Urquell and was again taken by the melanoidin character of the moravian malts and thought about just how much I’ve always enjoyed that flavor and missed it in other beers.

    Finishing the second Pils and thinking back on the “buzz” question, I realized that I wasn’t. Buzzed, that is. Albeit, the Urquell is a nice 4.5 ABV, so getting buzzed could take a few — but it was at that point I realized I wasn’t foolng myself in my skepticism of Jolly Lauren’s opinion; my direction for purchasing the Urquell, and all the beer I buy, is motivated by what I’m expecting to enjoy in the flavor more than anything else.

    Sure, there was a long-ago time when I was like many new beer drinkers out there; seeking something new and exciting with character and octane that slaps your face like Astor did Bogey in a few scenes, but I’ve climbed that peak and am making my way down the other side of the slope — taking in the scenery and looking for beer that I enjoy for flavor and unique character more than a resulting droopy head and sluggish speech.

  17. Lauren Clark February 26, 2008 at 12:30 pm #

    Well, hello everybody. Sorry to enter the conversation so late. Thanks for taking the time to read my column, and then to comment about it on Stan’s blog. (Hello Stan – thanks for the mention.) I’m glad this discussion is happening.

    SteveH — I’m not saying *every* craft beer enthusiast is being dishonest or unforthcoming about his/her intake, just that a lot of them are. You are obviously what I referred to as a pillar of moderation. And I’m sure you have company out there. Cheers to all of you.

    Bill — Well, I’ll have to take a closer look (Lew’s quote being the case in point). However, I was trying to make a distinction between simply mentioning a beer’s effects on the drinker — “Hey, this beer is strong! Watch out!” — and being as rhapsodic about the “jolly” good time one had while drinking it as one is about its hop aroma, malt sweetness, etc.

    Zythophile — Thanks for pointing to the crucial role of context and subjectivity in being “in the zone.” I agree with you completely. We don’t drink in a laboratory.

    Stonch — Nice blog.

  18. Bill February 26, 2008 at 12:39 pm #

    Is it possible that professional beer geeks are immune to the effects of alcohol? At the numerous beer related events I have attended, the “pros” seem to maintain their composure late into the night while seemingly consuming mass quantities of “samples”. I can’t imagine that this comes from anything but practice, practice, practice.
    Now that I have “studied” enough to last until the bitter end and beyond, I notice another peculiar trend. The best samples are often saved for last. Wouldn’t these samples with high expectations of pleasure be best served early on when the students have a clear head and a clean palate? Some of it may be that we need liquid courage to bust out the really rare stuff. Does anyone not remember consuming the contents of that empty 750 on the morning counter even though you cellared it for 5+ years? If you answer no, you too could be a “beer professional”

  19. Lew Bryson February 26, 2008 at 6:50 pm #

    David, I’m glad someone actually reads that stuff…and here’s the rest of that column.

    Which was all about drinking for effect. Yeah, I do it. And in that column, I said just the same thing Lauren did. We don’t talk about it, but we damn sure do it. And I think we do ourselves a disservice by pretending it doesn’t happen.

  20. SteveH February 27, 2008 at 6:23 am #

    “Which was all about drinking for effect. Yeah, I do it.”

    Each and every time you drink beer?

  21. Lew Bryson February 28, 2008 at 4:48 pm #

    Each and every time? No. I don’t drink beer for the same reason each and every time, regardless of the beer. I have a few different reasons.

  22. SteveH February 29, 2008 at 6:13 am #

    “I have a few different reasons.”

    Same here, and to the point I was making that “drunk” is rarely one of those reasons (at least these days).

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