Finding a Balance

Aside from my usual relaxations – a tall, dark beer or generous pour of whisky – I also enjoy spending time outside.  This of course explains my love of drinking outdoors.  However, to combat my ever-expanding waistline I can sometimes be found running and hiking the numerous parks and trails throughout Washington and its surrounding suburbs.

Outdoor activities, especially those undertaken alone, readily allow quiet reflection and the privacy of one’s own thoughts as well as some fresh air and an escape from city traffic.  So when the weather cooperates and I am able to resist the allure of a weekend breakfast drink, a long run or hike is pleasantly rejuvenating.

These two activities – drinking and exercise – appear to stand in direct opposition to one another.  While out for a run on a cool, sunny Saturday morning recently, I took the opportunity to consider this apparent contradiction more closely.  Do they in fact oppose each other?  It is possible to equally balance enjoying fine drink while remaining fit?  Or must one always negatively impact the other?

My quandary is not unique.  In preparing for my first marathon I realized it was necessary to substantially decrease the frequency of my drinking.  It was training discipline required before the marathon that was most difficult, not the race itself.  Friday night drinks were substituted for Saturday morning runs.

Some choose to sacrifice quality rather than quantity when training.  Low carbohydrate and low calorie beers are marketed towards this niche demographic, the athletic drinker.  One local bar – known for stocking over three hundred different domestic craft and import bottled beers – jokingly describes a certain lite beer as “training beer.”  These facts beg the question: does staying fit mean relegation to weak beer?

Instead of drinking those watered down light beers, try a thick lager or porter; Belgian abbey ales are also especially choice.  Take the time to savor it, perhaps even nurse it.  In consideration of running another marathon this fall, I’ll use my running philosophy when I drink: slow and steady finishes the race.  And makes a beer last.

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Published in: on October 26, 2010 at 10:39 pm  Comments Off on Finding a Balance  
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It’s Complicated

I’ve noticed a developing trend in drinking as of late – cocktails are turning into quite a complicated matter.  They are no longer simple combinations of liquor and a mixer or two; today they are precisely created concoctions of flavor-infused spirits, herb flavorings, and various foodstuffs.  Showcasing these elaborations are drink menus that are as complex and specific as their restaurant counterparts.

Simplicity is a cornerstone of my drinking philosophy.  Traditional cocktails are fine and good; I too enjoy an Old Fashioned or Manhattan on occasion.  But more often than not, a single spirit – prepared neat or on the rocks – is usually a better choice.  Ordering a drink should not require extensive instructions; and if your cocktail contains more than three ingredients, chances are it’s not worth ordering.

Yet the more I read the more it seems a transformation is occurring: barmen are becoming like chefs, possessing extensive training and complicated equipment to match.  Once happy to take your order with a smile and perhaps a wisecrack, today’s mixologists are stepping out from behind the bars to invent cocktail recipes and preparation techniques.

With these inventions comes increasingly mechanized barware.  The jigger, strainer, shaker, and corkscrew, those long time workhorses are overshadowed by rotary evaporators, carbonators, and centrifugation devices.  Bars are like chemistry laboratories complete with white coats.  And the simple drinker, seeking a humble beer or dram of whisky, is left scratching his head in confusion.

Perhaps this current trend reflects the growing professionalization of bartenders – those who seek to make a name and career for themselves, again much like chefs.  Or perhaps it is an unnecessary complication, like the cocktail umbrella, to a simple pleasure.  Motorized machines and culinary institute-like training may be a nice diversion, and maybe that’s the point.  To some, the intricate preparation, measurement, and mixing is itself enjoyable.  But I’d rather keep things simple: a glass, an ice cube, and a measure of scotch.  No instructions required.

Published in: on October 20, 2010 at 10:28 pm  Comments Off on It’s Complicated  
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Goodbye Friend, for Now

Since beginning this blog I’ve fought the temptation to pick the low hanging fruit of topics and discussion items.  Others who write or blog about drinking, including several national newspapers and monthly periodicals, have not resisted this temptation where Mad Men is concerned – going so far as to recap each episode with a light analysis of the drink choices and habits of the central characters.  These pieces are enjoyable to read each Monday morning with a cup of coffee, especially when a mid-morning break from work is necessary.  

As I originally posited, this blog is meant to be simple, fun, and maybe educational.  But today I’ll hang my head in defeat and join the ranks of those I criticize: I will write about Mad Men.  Yes, I am a hypocrite indeed.

What more can be said about this series?  The show is celebrated among drinkers as the epitome of retrospective cool – drinking and smoking at work is both encouraged and practiced.  Whisky bottles and martini glasses are continuously emptied regardless of time of day.  Meetings are held while drunk, their outcomes usually preferable to those held sober.  And secretaries dutifully restock office bars.

To us modern cubicle dwellers, this is unabashed fantasy, pure and simple.

So I write to say goodbye to this season, my Sunday evening drinking companion.  Regardless of my choice of drink – ordinarily a whisky or beer – it provided an excellent setting for a slowly consumed pour and an excellent distraction from the impending work week.

Sure, another season will arrive in due course.  And what a pleasure it will be to bask in its high-def glory.  But for now, perhaps I’ll head to bed a little earlier.  Or begin a new book; I’m sure Fred Kaplan’s 1959 will do nicely.

Published in: on October 18, 2010 at 1:51 pm  Comments Off on Goodbye Friend, for Now  
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A Report from Germany

Here in the U.S. the season of fall beers is getting underway.  Local pubs and microbreweries are only now rolling out their darker, autumnal selections on draft.  Oktoberfest varieties are commonplace this time of year; however, this past weekend marked the conclusion of the traditional German Oktoberfest.

Surprising to most, the majority of the traditional German festival does not begin in October; rather, it begins in mid-September and concludes in early October.  Held annually in Munich’s Theresienwiese “meadow,” this year’s festival ended last Sunday and prompted an interesting article from my favorite weekly newspaper, The Economist.

The article, entitled “Oktobergloom” (October 9th issue), discussed an unfortunate phenomenon: Germans appear to be losing their taste for beer.  According to the article, German beer consumption in 2009 fell below that of neighboring Czech Republic and Austria, as well as Ireland.  Still, the article noted, that year Germans drank almost 110 liters of beer per person – no small amount.

This decline, in Germany of all places, is a discouraging situation.  An aging population with health concerns, wine’s perception as more upscale, and changing tastes of the younger generation are cited as reasons for this decline; apparently even “drinking beer at lunchtime is frowned upon.”  These are disheartening facts indeed.

So what does this mean for beer drinkers here in the states?  Will we be relegated to drink only American domestics, those “mass-produced beers…derided as spülwasser (dishwater)”?  Thankfully, it appears not.  While Germans are in fact drinking less beer, their national production still dwarfs that of the rest of Europe, meaning German beer is here to stay.

I suppose we Americans will have to simply buckle down to help our German friends reverse this decline.  So do your part and drink German beer whenever and wherever possible; next September, I’ll be doing my part in Munich.

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 10:50 pm  Comments Off on A Report from Germany  
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Autumnal Brews

Another Labor Day has passed and another summer has ended.  Days begin growing shorter and the weather cools.  Sweltering afternoons slowly transform into brisk evening breezes.  Leaves crackle under foot.  And when the weather changes so does one’s beer selection.  Bright floral summer flavors are traded for thicker, darker, and autumnal flavors.  Chief among these is the Märzen-style of beer more commonly referred to as Oktoberfest.

The popular rise of seasonal beers generally corresponded with the rise of the craft beer movement in the states.  Small, niche market brewers began creating limited-availability flavors particular to the season.  Following the Boston Brewery’s mainstream success (the folks responsible for Samuel Adams), more and more small and mid-sized breweries have created their own autumn-inspired beer, using harvest-inspired flavors such as pecans and pumpkin.

Along with Oktoberfest-style strong beers, pumpkin-flavored beer is becoming more widely available as well.  I discovered one such draft – The Pumpkinator – a lightly sweet ale flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin – a few years ago at one of the District’s only breweries.  Since then I’ve noticed several varieties of pumpkin beer turn up in specialty markets about this time each year.  Although it initially sounds less than appetizing, everyone I know who has tasted one is surprised, impressed, and ultimately, a convert.

Take advantage of the decreasing temperatures to enjoy a seasonal beer, one that’s bold in body, substantial in flavor, and rich in substance.  Sit outside and enjoy the cool wind that blows the fallen leaves down your street.  Have one drink more.  Because the cool autumn evenings will soon become cold winter nights; you’ll wish you had a little more meat on your bones.  Or a thicker sweater.

Published in: on October 10, 2010 at 11:29 pm  Comments Off on Autumnal Brews  
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