Calling drinking an art among young drinkers can be quite a serious statement that will most likely backlash and cast you as a snob. It is also possible it won’t be understood by most.
What can a person who downs coors lights and sips flavored vodka cocktails know about drinking, other than it being a window through nostalgia and pain, or a social lubricant to get that one night stand they came out for in the first place? And again, why should they mind what they’re about to swallow as long as it kicks in and does the trick?
That pretty much defines the conundrum I have been tangled by since I got interested in spirits and liqueors per se, their context and the art of mixology -and I righteously called it spirits, not booze or alcohol, which makes it sound like the one you buy in a drug store to heal (physical) wounds-.
Drinking has a deep cultural and colorful background that flourished during the age of Prohibition back in the 1920's, through the late 30's. Remember, what is put off limits becomes more desireable. It’s just human nature to break rules imposed to us. This might not sound an appealing story to the regular drinker, but it should be, and here is why:
You are probably buying a bottle of Smirnoff or Bacardi because you can’t afford the top-shelf overpriced XO’s, 15 years and Special Family Reserves. It might also be because you just got used to its flavor mixed with coke or cranberry juice. Either way, those are just excuses to save the bucks and adhere to a social norm of ‘getting what everyone likes and enjoys.’ In other words, you are failling to experience spirit’s vast world of tastes and histories, and you are falling into the infinite loop of drinking to forget and hop out of your comfort zone -the latter being a complete illusion funded by millions of dollars invested in advertising by the liqueor companies you are buying from.-
Like many, you probably tried your first drink at an early age, because your parents told you you shouldn’t do it. And when they finaly left for that -your- very expected dinner, and coincidentaly, your friends were over at your place for a sleepover, you had to challenge their orders: You sneaked out a bottle of whatever you found interesting in your dad’s cabinet and got drunk that same night with your pals, while playing Super Smash Brothers in your locked room.
Drinking, just like any other form of art, requires knowledge and a certain expertise to understand what you are about to pour in your glass. This knowledge is naturally accquired through time. But you don’t exactly need to be a connoiseur to drink upscale spirits and know how to appreciate them. They might be more expensive, but it does not mean that the most expensive is the best either.
There is a fine line between a snob and someone who intends to eavesdrop into the world of rare and overrated spirits to try, find and taste the difference among them.
Since you grew up being told that drinking is bad, you have seen it as such: A bad habbit that drowns people in a world of madness and flux of emotions that go from euphoria to deep depression. And to be honest, in many cases this is true. No wonder the Bible and the Qur’an prohibit innebriation. But there is another side of the story. The one that not only grew around the world of driking; but the one that put the bottle in front of the conversation and not aside it.
“Hey, let’s go grab a beer and some drinks” that’s a common phrase you hear these days among friends, co-workers or family. It has been for centuries that people get together, accompained not only by others, but by bottles of wine, spirits or beers. In the end, it is part of a ritual human kind has adopted as a social norm. Drinking and socializing goes hand in hand in every possible situation. What has been left aside, is the art of getting together to enjoy the pleasure of enjoying a drink. Reunions and parties use licqors as a tool to enhance the gathering, not as a means to gather. The social act is put in front of the drinking, undermining the importance and beauty of the spirit itself.
When this happens, you wind up purchasing cheap or ‘exotic’ bubble gum-flavored vodkas, white rum that tastes like rat poison. or tequilas that are probably not even 100% agave, but affordable to mix with whatever the host has sitting in his/her fridge. Bottom line, it becomes more like contributing to a hunter-gatherer collective if you’d switch food with alcoholic beverages as a need to subsist.
All this can be traced back to the Prohibition Era. A time where drinking in public, or accquiring spirits was altogether legally banned, thanks to the 18th Amendment which went into effect in 1920. Back in those days, comercializing or manufacturing liqueors and spirits was against the law. When you wanted to drink, you had to find hidden bars that were called speakeasies. Those places were mostly run by organized crime families or local businessmen. Not only were they hard to find, but the liqueor sold inside them was mostly bootlegged, which means it was of poor quality. Hence the fall of the Golden Age of mixed drinks which spanned from mid to the late 19th Century, before prohibition even began its talks in Congress.
Fermented alcohol drinks were called spirits because they were thoght to evoke a supernatural spirit in people, due to the unusal way they acted after drinking it.
Drinking was a fad that had to be pursued even in the darkest corners of the biggest cities such as New York or San Fransisco, knowing the feds could storm in at any moment and end the party in a very cold manner. Doesn’t that still sound familiar?
Even if those days lasted for about a decade and a half, it remained as a big cultural setback, where families were told that spirits were bad for health, ethics and morals. And don’t get me wrong: If abused of, they can clearly be a threat to life and its surroundings. But that is no news, since anything that is abused of or taken in vast quantities, can be harmful and probably/eventually kill you. In this case, we are still focusing on liqueor crafting as a noble and fully passionate form of art that can be compared to a hot meal made with the purest of love human beings could ever find in this living world.
Sadly, the part of the story that was dragged along in time was the evil and dark side of it after the 20's. The one that fosters a young person get a fake ID so they can buy their first bottle of vodka. The one that managed to create a taboo so harsh, it has grown stroger every time a new cheap bottle of liqueor appears in the market shelves, begging for socially active youngsters to consume it. The one that greets every depressed boy and girl with a firm handshake and promises to relieve their pain at a very low price, meeting their economic-affordable spendings.
Drinking, rather than being included into the culture’s knowledge that gets passed along for generations, has been kept under an age restricted frame, hiding in the basement like a Ouija board, waiting to be unearthed by curious kids who are anxious to understand and experience why parents tell them not to even try it. This, I believe, is the reason why drinking has never been able to grow as part of a popular culture in civil societies. I am, again, not encouraging excessive drinking. I am galvanizing the love of art behind a well crafted whisky, cognac, tequila, mezcal, rum or a classic cocktail such as Sazerac or a Manhattan.
2 Oz of Cognac, two dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, a dash of absynthe garnished with a lemon peel, please.
That knowledge should be taught to young people, so they understand what drinking really means and the context under which it was born and raised. We can both agree that one way or another, if somebody wants to abuse of it, they will, and nobody will stop them. So why not read about licquors, wines, beers and spirits? Why not try a variety of them to understand the different tastes and flavors and the context that lies behind them? Why not educate yourself about a culture that is deeply bonded with human history, and whose evasion has caused far more problems such as black markets, diseases and deaths than it actually should have had? Drinking can and has been considered a social issue claiming millions of lives, since its ban was endorsed by the so called drys. But spirits and licqueors have also been marked as a water of life that has enriched the understanding of men’s pallads and its eagerness to travel through dusty forgotten bottles, to uncork the secrets hidden inside them.