The Atlantic Tackles Binge Drinking

A few weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a surprisingly brief report on American binge drinking.  Using their definition of binge drinking – consuming four (for women) or five (for men) or more drinks within a short period of time – they laid out the information using mostly bullet points, charts, and graphics.

The Atlantic’s collective response, on the other hand, was nothing short of massive.  In fact, it was so overwhelming that as I tried to summarize and synthesize the various articles, my post became unwieldy, long winded, and disjointed.
So here, in all its minimized glory are the articles from The Atlantic and its various sister, cousin, and step-child sites analyzing and commenting on the CDC report.  Consider it a short follow-up to last month’s edition of Booze News.
The Atlantic Cities, The Geography of American Binge Drinking, by Richard Florida

The Atlantic, Confessions of a Binge Drinker, by Derek Brown

The Atlantic Cities, Colder States = More Binge Drinking, by Richard Florida

The Atlantic Wire, Today in Research: A Definitive Answer on Drinking and Health, by Rebecca Greenfield

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 12:12 am  Comments (2)  
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Booze News, 5th Edition

Happy belated New Year!  Booze News is back for its fifth installment.  This time, The Economist provides a pair of articles on the wonders of Belgian and British beer, some thoughts from an Atlantic contributor on an increasingly popular herbal liqueur, and finally, some information on why drying out after the holidays is just a waste of time.

I’ve previously written about Belgium’s fantastic Trappist ales.  And it’s not just those seven specific brewers.  Generally speaking, Belgian beer is some of the best anywhere.  The Economist agrees, but supports the conclusion with a bit more analysis.  In addition to reputation, “Belgium is also home to the world’s biggest brewer. Anheuser-Busch (AB) InBev, based in Leuven, a small university town half an hour by train from Brussels, turns out one in five of every beer sold around the world.”

Belgium’s geographic location also doesn’t hurt: “the climate and the land are excellent for growing barley and hops, the basic ingredients of beer. Belgium is also known for its high-quality water, vital for turning out good beer.”  Furthermore, “at one time or another most of Europe’s great powers have held sway over Belgium; many have left behind influences and flavours.”  No doubt then why Belgian beer is just so incredibly tasty.

Read the Economist article, Belgian Beer: Brewed force

Looking north and homeward to the British isles, The Economist next considers Britain’s long history and culture of binge drinking.  In his upcoming book Intoxication and Society, Cambridge historian Philip Withington argues it “was the educated elite who taught Britons how to drink to excess.”

However, these elites were forced to booze responsibly: “Men were to consume large quantities of alcohol in keeping with conventions of excess. Yet they were also supposed to remain in control of their faculties, bantering and displaying wit. Students and would-be lawyers formed drinking societies, where they learned the social—and drinking—skills required of gentlemen.”  Thus, copius drinking was permitted so long as one could still think sharply and cleverly.”

And perhaps things haven’t changed so much from the past.  “Although intoxication was a classless pursuit in the 17th century, it was the privileged who turned it into a cultural phenomenon. The affluent are still boozy… The wit is still there, too—although it is likely to seem funnier after the listener has had a few drinks as well.”

Read The Economist article, England’s booze culture: Always with us

From Belgium and Britain, we head now to Argentina, home of fernet, “the liquor for all occasions. Grandparents swear by the herbal libation; the young heading out into the night mix fernet with cola and then order it en masse at bars and clubs; and no one would dare organize a barbecue, which are called asados in Argentina and are very regular affairs with friends or families, without fernet.”

What is this mysterious liqueur, you might ask?  I’ll let Karina Martinez-Carter explain: “For the first-time fernet drinker, the popularity of booze that tastes like black licorice devoid of sugar might be confounding. The botanical, 80-proof fernet is no innocuous vodka. It is made from bitters and herbs, and though it goes down relatively smooth, the aftertaste kicks and lingers. It is, as almost everyone describes it, an acquired taste.”

After picking up a bottle of Italian Fernet Branca last week, I’m still attempting to acquire a taste myself.  Good luck acquiring your own.

Read Martinez-Carter’s Atlantic article, Fernet: The Best Liquor You’re (Still) Not Yet Drinking

And finally, we return once again to Britain, where scientists at the British Liver Trust give us another reason to just keep on drinking after the holidays.  “Giving up alcohol or going on a detox for one month is pointless, especially after the excesses of the festive season… Experts agree that a short period of complete abstinence will not improve liver health,” reports the BBC.

Instead, Andrew Langford, the British Liver Trust’s chief executive recommends “making a resolution to take a few days off alcohol a week throughout the entire year than remaining abstinent for January only.”  A few days a week rather than an entire month off – that’s  certainly much more reasonable.

Read the BBC article, Detoxing in January is futile, says liver charity

Published in: on January 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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20 Years After the End

The face of new Russia. A man who could drink, and drink, and drink.

Today, December 26, 2011, marks the 20 year anniversary of the end of the Soviet Union.  To be specific, that nation ended at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Day, December 25th, but many mark today, the 26th, as the day the Cold War ended. 

This fact, of course, has little to do with drinking.  But for me, an American who grew up during the Cold War’s waning years, who later studied in Saint Petersburg and obtained a degree in Russian politics, today marks an important date in my nation’s foreign relations history: the four decade-long standoff between the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. was over.

My favorite photography site – In Focus with Alan Taylor, hosted by The Atlantic – marked this occasion by displaying a collection of 43 photos depicting the final months of the Soviet Union, which witnessed the failed August 1991 putsch against Premier Gorbachev, the reactions of various Soviet republics to the signs of weakness in Moscow, and the final days before the formal collapse and transition of power from Gorbachev to Boris Yeltsin.

To me, this day is special not simply because it marked my country’s peaceful victory over a longtime foe, but for the freedom to travel and study there, the opportunity to learn from its people, and the pleasure of toasting many rounds with fellow students. 

So raise a glass of cold vodka and mark this evening: the standoff between superpowers ended not with nuclear annihilation, but with nary a peep.    I cannot think of anything more worthy of a celebratory drink.

Published in: on December 26, 2011 at 11:06 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Four Pillars

Worried that your love of drink is going to shave a few years off your life?  Perhaps you’ve imbibed a little too much over the years; you’re thinking, sooner or later, it’s going to catch up with me.  You enjoy yourself, sure, and you’re pretty easy going about things overall.  You tell your doctor – I’m a moderate drinker.

As it turns out, moderate drinking is a key element to living a long life.  Michel Fenster, an interventional cardiologist and professional chef, recently wrote a short essay at The Atlantic describing The Four Pillars as related to a recent CDC study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

“The four pillars of a healthy lifestyle include never smoking, healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption, and physical activity. Each positive lifestyle choice was associated with a mortality reduction and the most powerful effect was the synergistic action of all four together. Those who engaged in all four activities were 63 percent less likely to die.”

Working from this assumption – that moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial to one’s health – Fenster asks an important question: why the “sin tax” on alcohol?  “The taxes levied on alcohol are generally categorized as a “sin” tax. In the United States, the generally recognized sin taxes are applied to tobacco, gambling, and alcohol. The purposes of sin taxes are generally twofold: to raise revenues and to decrease the utilization of a particular product or activity.”

Yet, if moderate drinking is considered a healthy activity alongside the other three pillars, why would it be discouraged by a sin tax?  Ending this tax on alcohol, which in moderation actually benefits one’s health, “could be viewed as an economic stimulus, much like the Bush-era tax cuts and payroll tax breaks currently in effect to stimulate more spending.”

Maybe moderate drinking shouldn’t be thought of as sinful after all.  Perhaps a glass or two of wine – a libation Fenster regards as “an indispensible culinary companion” – is just what the doctor ordered.  Or as the doctor himself suggests, “Perhaps the elixir for what ails us is a cocktail of tax reduction/elimination and, well, a cocktail.”

Published in: on November 21, 2011 at 10:40 pm  Comments (6)  
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Booze News, 4th Edition

It’s time for another edition of Booze News.  This time around, I’ve collected a number of news items from across the drinking spectrum – beer, wine, and liquor.  And for good measure, I’ve included a fifth item discussing a new book on fine dining.  Plenty of info to keep you distracted from the decreasing amount of daylight.

Although Americans drink far more beer than wine, there aren’t many beer guides for introductory drinkers.  According to Clay Risen, great books to help new beer drinkers are “few and far between — and, to put it as kindly as possible, not exactly aimed at the mainstream, non-beer-obsessed public.”

However, that’s about to change with the publication of the Oxford Companion to Beer by Garrett Oliver.  Although Risen spends most of his piece discussing the text’s omissions, he ultimately concludes that Oliver’s book, along with The Great American Ale Trail, by Christian DeBenedetti, are “similarly incomplete…yet still impressive in their overall depth and scope.”

Read Risen’s Atlantic article, The Problem With Guides to Beer Drinking: There Just Aren’t Enough

Whisky – especially from Scotland – is usually considered a high-end selection.  Considering that fact, would you drink whisky from a can?

WTOP, Washington DC’s local news-radio station, asks just this question.  Scottish Spirits will begin selling their canned whisky in the U.S. in December, and the can is “designed to maintain the liquor’s taste.”  The single grain scotch whisky “is a blend of malt and grain, with honey, vanilla, apples, butterscotch and pears.”  A 12-ounce can will cost five dollars.

Read the WTOP article, Canned Whisky?  Would You Drink It?

And speaking of whisky, Buffalo Trace Distillery recently announced they will be releasing several Pappy Van Winkle expressions later this year.  The ordinarily difficult-to-find bourbon is aged between 10 and 23 years and enjoys something of a cult following.  And rightfully so: Pappy’s “23-year-old bourbon was the 2010 ‘Spirit of the Year’ from Wine and Spirits Magazine.”

Good luck finding your own bottle!

Read the Louisville Bizjournal article, Buffalo Trace to re-release Van Winkle bourbons

Many people – myself included – feel intimidated, confused, or overwhelmed when buying wine.  What type is best?  How much should I spend?  Do the words affordable and everyday mean undrinkable?  Can you get a nice bottle of wine for under five or six dollars?

Brian Palmer argues that less means more – less money means more taste, that is.  “In 1995, 59 percent of the wine purchased in the United States sold for less than $3 per bottle…Europeans seem perfectly comfortable cracking open a 1-euro tetra-pak of wine for guests.  Germans, for example, pay just $1.79 on average for a bottle of wine.”

Speaking plainly, Palmer asserts: “Wine is not art. There’s no reason to believe that aligning your tastes with those of a self-appointed elite will enrich your life, or make you more insightful or sensitive.”  Modern technology and falling market share has resulted in a simple fact: higher prices do not reliably reflect quality.”

Read Palmer’s Slate article, Drink Cheap Wine

Finally, Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker, has written a new book focusing on food, culinary traditions, and familial bonds; a celebration of “the full, old-school arc of an archetypal French dinner, from that first sip of Champagne to the final jolt of caffeine.”

Titled The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, “Mr. Gopnik’s new book is largely about that myth and how it has influenced our conceptions of fine dining for roughly two centuries.”

Read the New York Times article, Adam Gopnik on the Days of Great French Dining

Read The Economist book review, The Meaning of food: Eat this book

Read a 2005 New Yorker interview with the author, Q. & A.: The Table Comes First

Published in: on November 8, 2011 at 12:32 am  Comments Off on Booze News, 4th Edition  
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