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The Responsible Appreciation of Alcohol

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To a teenager approaching the legal drinking age, alcohol has many intriguing mysteries and potential traps. They have no doubt spent years observing friends, family and strangers imbibe, enjoy and abuse alcoholic drinks. They may experience peer pressure or they may already have strong views and arguments for abstaining from alcohol in preparation for those early adolescent social situations, or they may have already tried alcohol either under parental supervision or clandestinely.
It was the beginning of about eight years of regular binge-drinking behaviour, where I often drank to get drunk and spirits (or guns, as we called them, as in ‘Time to switch to guns!’) were purely a means to get drunk quicker. 

Personally, I didn’t drink alcohol until I was 18 years old (the legal drinking age in Australia). I didn’t really go to parties so I avoided the peer pressure situations and I was relatively comfortable with remaining sober. That all changed when I moved out of home and went to University. It was the beginning of about eight years of regular binge-drinking behaviour, where I often drank to get drunk and spirits (or guns, as we called them, as in ‘Time to switch to guns!’) were purely a means to get drunk quicker. If I drank whisky, it was often drowned in a sweet mixer and served with plenty of ice. Sweeter was better because it was easier to slam back fast and far gentler on my underdeveloped palate. I didn’t drink because I enjoyed the taste, I drank because it gave me Dutch Courage and a misplaced assumption it improved everything from my confidence to my dancing skill and most importantly to a late teen/early twenties male, it made me more attractive to the opposite sex.
My Dad would have disowned me if I ever mixed it, so if I drank single malt in those early days it was neat or not at all. 
I was familiar with single malt whisky back then, but it was expensive (very much so over a bar) and although potent, it wasn’t something you could drink quickly so you got drunk slower. My Dad would have disowned me if I ever mixed it, so if I drank single malt in those early days it was neat or not at all. Mostly it was not at all, since it did not align with my goals of getting drunk quickly and impressing an attractive girl with my drunkenness.

My first job was working at a bar (I actually met my future wife there) and although I was still well within my binge-drinking phase, it did give me a greater appreciation of alcohol and its effects. It was mandatory to complete a Responsible Service of Alcohol course before working in a bar which taught you some basic bar skills and explained standard drinks, the effects of alcohol consumption and how to deal with drunken customers.

I look back on those years now and while they were a lot of fun, I spent a lot of time throwing up in someone’s garden, feeling sorry for myself or throwing up on myself in a garden. I made a lot of bad decisions under the influence of alcohol and have many regrets, but I also matured a great deal in a relatively short time. I don’t binge-drink anymore and in fact, I rarely get drunk. Mostly because the effect of a hangover seems a thousand times stronger now that I am older and kids don’t respond well to “Leave Daddy alone, he wants to die in peace!” spoken in a muffled shout from under a pillow.

So what sage advice could my older sober self, impart to my younger drunken self?

For starters, there is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol or not drinking it for that matter. It’s a choice we all have to make and you can change your mind if you want. I knew someone once who would alternate one year on, one year off alcohol – I wouldn’t recommend it though. But, if you decide to drink why not be more of a sophisticated drinker than race to drunkenness and hopefully not spew in the process?

Whisky, good whisky, is an amazing alcoholic beverage. It has layers upon layers of complexity and subtleties that can elude even the most seasoned aficionado. It can be enjoyed a variety of ways, neat, with ice, with a simple mixer or in a more elaborate cocktail and it comes in an almost limitless number of varieties. I often hear “But I don’t like whisky.” as if one whisky defines all others. I can guarantee there is a whisky out there (probably more than one) and a way to drink it that you would absolutely love. For me, it goes beyond the drink. I have enough knowledge of whisky making and its history to appreciate it as fine craft product. So much time goes into making whisky, that it can be a truly transformative experience to sample a drink that has spent more time in a barrel evolving than you have been alive. I can sit with a glass of whisky and nurse it for an hour or more, sampling the aromas far more frequently than taking a sip and experiencing the explosion of warming flavours in my mouth and down my throat.

Often my next drink was ordered, just so I had something to do with my hands or risk looking like a weird drunk-but-not-drinking person beside the bar.
That last point is worth noting for a young drinker. I remember the trepidation surrounding holding an empty glass or no glass at all. Often my next drink was ordered, just so I had something to do with my hands or risk looking like a weird drunk-but-not-drinking person beside the bar. The only time it was safe to not be glass-in-hand was when dancing and my best dance moves didn’t come out until of was at least three sheets to the wind. 

There is nothing stopping a younger drinker from learning to appreciate the subtleties of whisky.

Your friends may smash back dozens of “Scotch and Cokes” in a night, but I bet your modest number of “expensive” top shelf whiskies will both cost less financially and hurt less the next morning. You can hold that whisky glass for an hour at the bar without looking out of place, just avoid getting involved with shouts. Who knows, you standing steady by the bar with a glass of Glenmorangie in your hand may even seem more attractive than your mate soaked in Jim Beam and Coke, barely standing by themselves, propped up by the bar beside you.
The responsible appreciation of alcohol leads to the responsible consumption of alcohol. 
The bottom line is the sooner you see spirits as an experience worth taking your time enjoying rather than a fast track to drunkenness; the sooner you will become a mature and responsible drinker of alcohol. Good whisky is a means to become such a drinker and is a conduit to many enjoyable nights out and a way to become someone people want to be around rather than a known piss-wreck. The responsible appreciation of alcohol leads to the responsible consumption of alcohol. Something we should all strive for and instil in our kids for their own safety and social development.

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