Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
Having gone to a large catering hall here in New York for a party last night, I was struck by the importance of waiting in line at the bar during the festivities. When one goes to a restaurant, the waitress brings drinks to the table, but not in this situation. The partygoer is then thrust into the position of being his or her own connection to get a drink. While the queue for drinks got progressively shorter after what was ostensibly “happy hour,” the fact is that the two bartenders were working feverishly for most of the night.
Why were the bartenders so busy? Well, one explanation is obvious: in social situations, people enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages, for it makes social interaction easier, thus alleviating some of the burden of saying, “Hi, nice to meet you.” There is an intensity to these moments for many people, and a couple of good stiff drinks certainly paves the way for less inhibitions.
Another reason the bartenders were so busy was the recurring crowd: people coming back for another round. Much of this can be attributed to the use of very short glasses. Even a mixed drink like rum and Coke was being served in a small glass, thus the likelihood of return for another round in a much shorter time-frame.
This scenario is just one of many drinking situations that I have experienced over the years. In a restaurant bar where patrons wait to be called to their tables, the drinking can get quite frenetic as well. The obvious purpose here is getting a couple of drinks under one’s belt prior to moving to the table, where the priority will be the serving of the meal and less drinking. Again, glasses here seem smaller than they should or need be, thus guaranteeing a swift turnaround and a busy bartender.
Then there is the local tavern where one can see an enhanced level of a kind of speed drinking. In very popular establishments, it is not uncommon to find people lined up two or three deep waiting to get a drink. There are two things working to define that moment: too many people wanting a drink, and people wanting to get drunk. Okay, I’ve said it because it is true. People are drinking quickly, and there is a pervasive sense of beating the clock of some unseen time-keeper; it seems to be a question of how many drinks can we pour down our throats in an hour?
Some of us got this way in college. I remember the old quarters game, when I was drinking pitchers of beer on special nights (bars around colleges frequently have these nights that facilitate this kind of thing). Games like these are meant to get one drunk, and the enjoyment of the drink is sort of lost in all this. When one’s purpose is to go out and get blitzed, pretty much any alcoholic drink will do. The taste, quality, and consistency of the beverage is insignificant. Anyone who’s tried tequila can attest to that.
This reminds me of a line from Shakespeare’s Othello: “…that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal their brains.” What is the purpose of getting drunk? It would not seem possible that people want to destroy brain cells, but as someone gets increasingly inebriated, the brain does get, shall I say over-lubricated, in essence taking away its precision and allowing for a more liberated behavior that will result in a dull accounting of the moment. How many people who have drunk too much wake up the next day and recall nothing? Indeed, their minds have been somewhat stolen in those instances.
I think that one credible answer to the problem of drinking to get drunk is to get a drinker to appreciate the drink. What I mean by this is more of a quality-control issue. American beer is pretty much a thin, rather tasteless concoction (last night for instance, the tap beer that was served seemed like soapy water in a glass with no head or flavor). Having spent extensive amounts of time in England and Ireland, I can attest to the quality of the beer being an important matter. More than that, the size of the drink lends itself to moderation. When one orders a pint of lager or Guinness, there is a significant drink with wonderful flavor to be enjoyed and savored.
One of the things I noticed over there was what I like to call the “art of the pint.” The art involves both the drinker and the bartender. Pints require the tenacity and skill of the pourer. I recall pubs in Ireland especially for this, where pints of Guinness are most definitely crafted. These are not drinks whose glasses can be filled haphazardly or swiftly. A pint of Guinness is born, ever so slowly; the barkeep fills the glass halfway and then waits for a settling before topping off the luscious brew with a creamy white head. One does not grab this kind of drink and knock it back; it requires the same patience on the part of the pourer, and thus leads to a more enjoyable and leisurely experience.
Pints also lend themselves to healthy social interaction. English and Irish pubs are brimming with warmth and the vigor of conversation, a convivial sense of hospitality and hearth. Once one has a pint in his or her hand, it is possible to speak to people one has never met before as if they were long-lost friends. The amicability of the moment is a mutual thing, for the interaction is not as drinkers getting drunk, but more as people enjoying friendly discourse while they happen to sip a pint of their favorite beer.
I am not trying to say that some people don’t get drunk whilst drinking pints, but they have to go to much more effort in order to do so. I remember getting a pint in an English pub (the glass, by the way, is perfectly shaped for holding as one talks, walks, and throws a dart) and just taking my time with it, nurturing the relationship between glass and beer and mouth. There is no rushing an English or Irish pint, if one wants to enjoy the extremely wonderful brew that is so far removed from the processed drivel to which Americans have become accustomed. In that is the art of the pint: a drink of serendipity for we Yanks, to be sure.
If we all learned to imbibe in this fashion, a less hurried and more satisfied class of drinkers would emerge. It would not be all about timing or how many drinks one has, but the quality, flavor, and sociality that is inherently involved with these beverages.
So, America, discover the art of the pint. Irish and English brews are increasingly available these days in shops and distributors. One can even purchase the appropriate glassware; by the way, Irish and English pint glasses are distinctively different, so choose one to suit your individual grip. There are also very excellent German beers available by the pint and the traditional tall glasses to go with them. Once Americans try these wonderful brews, there will be no going back to the pasteurized and homogenized gruel they currently know as beer.
So, leisurely pour a Guinness or Bass Ale or Weisse beer into the appropriate glass, savor it slowly, and think of what good old Ben Franklin said. Cheers!
Copyright © Victor Lana 2005