Take My Breath Away

We've all been there, especially this time of year.  You're at a gathering and there's good beer around.  You came by yourself, it's time to go home, and you ask a simple question: am I safe to drive?  If you answer this question incorrectly, your life may be over.  Why are you guessing?

The Life You Save May Be Your Own

It kills me (pun intended) that some people - even experienced beer people - are so cavalier with their BAC level.  This is a situation that, if you estimate incorrectly (and in my experience the higher it is the worse you are at predicting it) the best-case scenario is you hit a curb or your wine-drinking neighbor's mailbox, and it gets profoundly and massively worse from there.  And here's the thing: the worst case scenario isn't that you kill yourself.  It's that YOU live after killing someone's daughter, son, spouse, parent, friend.  Maybe even your own.  And you get to live with that for the rest of what I'm sure will be your miserable, soul-shredding, piss-poor,  appallingly guilty life.  

Think about it - it sucks, I know, but think about it - one second you're the fun-loving craft beer geek who loves going to festivals, events, and tastings.  People know you.  People might even like you.  And then in one blinding instant you're the despicable bastard that killed another person.  Or someone's dog.  Or scarred someone's face two weeks before their wedding day.  Want to know what it feels like to be genuinely despised?  I'm pretty sure any of these - and a lot more - would do the trick.

Don't F***ing GUESS

I apologize for the harsh language, but this is important.  In the center console of my car I keep a breathalyzer (mine, not one mandated by the state, FYI!)

If you're going out without a DD (I love that my wife almost never drinks and loves almost all of our beer friends), and/or you're not willing to pay for a cab or Uber, then YOU NEED A BREATHALYZER.  And a good one - not that little keychain job that you get from Amazon for $20 (it's better than nothing, but they're reportedly unreliable).  For a start, go with something that uses a fuel cell sensor - I've read that they're much more accurate and reliable for longer.  You can get one for about $100.

 Second, when you're getting ready to leave, don't eat or drink anything for 20 minutes - I'm told that it improves the accuracy of the reading, and it also gives your body some time to register that last beer that you had.  Remember, just because you've stopped drinking, it doesn't mean that your BAC is headed downward.  It can take more than an hour from your last drink for your BAC reading to peak and start to head downward.  Give yourself the time.

Third, DO IT EVERY TIME.  Get into the habit.  It's not a hard thing to do - takes about 30 seconds.  And remember the consequences if you don't.  Want to look in the mirror and think "careless murderer" for the rest of your life?

Don't Trust It Too Much

Don't jump behind the wheel and peel out just because your shiny new breathalyzer says you're under 0.08.  For one thing, no matter how well-made, well-reviewed, and supposedly accurate they are, I don't know of any jurisdiction where a "I tested myself on my own BAC meter" defense is valid.  

Also, just because you're under the "legal" limit you may still be charged with DUI if your driving warrants it.  So even an accurate reading (and as I said, take it with a grain of salt) doesn't automatically give you a license to drive (how horrible was that move, btw?).

The short version?  Know thyself.  You know when you're feeling a little buzzy, tipsy, numb.  If you are, no matter what your breathalyzer says, wait it out.  Don't drive.  NO ONE will ever condemn you for that.  But they sure as hell will if you roll the dice and drive anyway.

Your "Beer Tally" is Meaningless

"...But I've only had two beers!"  Right.  A Belgian Tripel and a Russian Imperial Stout.  And 20-ounce pours of each.  

Measuring by "beers" is insane.  And insanely difficult: with the range of ABVs and serving sizes, out there, there's no such thing as a consistent understanding of the phrase "two beers."  Or four.  Because the other thing is that the more you've had, the more likely it is you've forgotten one.  Or two.  Or that you took tasters of three or four other beers.  I've seen that kind of stupidity play out at beer festivals all the time: 2-ounce pour limits, so everyone thinks they're drinking "light."  But do the math on that:  2 ounces at four minute intervals for three hours equals 90 ounces of beer (or nearly two pints per hour).  You're not just over the limit, you blew it away a WHILE ago.  So don't trust that tally in your head - it's probably meaningless, and it's also probably inaccurate.

The Hierarchy of Ass Covering

I'm not trying to be a killjoy here.  But this is a devastatingly real thing that needs to be talked about more in beer circles.  Be responsible.  Cover your ass.  Here's how:

1. Drink at home.  Either yours, or one that approximates yours and where you're welcome and is within walking/ambling/shuffling distance of yours.  It's also cheaper.  And make sure that you're the kind of host that lets everyone crash on your couch and in your guest bedroom or in your bathtub!  If you can't do that...
2. Always bring a DD with you.  Preferably a pregnant woman because that way there's no chance that your DD will decide to get in on the fun "just a little."  If you can't do that...
3. Hire a driver.  Just like Chevy Chase in "Funny Farm," if you can't make a friend - buy one.  Uber and taxis are all a couple of phone taps away.  Use them.  If you can't do that...
4. Conduct an honest and thorough self-assessment of your condition, wait 20 minutes, and then take your BAC level with your breathalyzer.  If it's WELL under the limit AND you feel good....wait a little longer.  Find the host's master bathroom and break that thing in.  Say goodbye to people one more time.  Have one last glass of water before you go.  Play one more round of Cards Against Humanity.  Kill time, because you don't want to kill something else.  And if you can't do that...
5. DON'T DRIVE.  Spend the night.  Sit in the corner quietly for a couple of hours, trying not to seem too creepy (don't stare at people).  Walk home [FYI - don't assume a bike is legal.  In some places DUI extends to your two-wheeled conveyance as well!].  Hitch a ride with a sober friend (though test him/her too...).  

The bottom line here is that there is nothing - NOTHING - that is worth taking the risk.  A chewing out from your boss or boyfriend, being late for an appointment or meeting, getting home late and missing the season finale of Game of Thrones: they'll all keep.  Just remember the potential alternative, and ask yourself how you'd feel one second, one day, one year, one decade after something that terrible.  And then make the right call.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

[Author's Note: without making any kind of endorsement or claim of accuracy or quality, this is the breathalyzer that's sitting in my car right now.  You can get it in YOUR car TOMORROW from Amazon.  Happy New Year!]


Love in the Time of Corona: Macro Beer, Nostalgia, and Light Lager Shaming

I have a confession to make: on my "top five" list of best beers ever consumed, at or near the top is a Coors Golden.  I'm not ashamed to say it, but there's no doubt that there are those in the craft beer world who will read this and recoil from the screen.  But why? 

One of the central disputes I have with some of our aforementioned Aleholes is their immediate dismissal of (and revulsion towards) a particular kind of beer: the macro-produced light lager.  I've already covered some of this ground in discussing Aleholes as a species, but I wanted to explore this particular facet of it just a little bit more, because we almost all have that one beer that, despite its macro origins and questionable recipe and soulless mass production, we still enjoy as a guilty pleasure.  When we are then subjected to ridicule for it, it goes beyond basic Alehole behavior: it becomes hypocrisy.  Because on some level, in some circumstances, and in some small and maybe neglected part of his/her beer brain (or soul?), the Alehole still harbors a love for a beer just like the one you're drinking.

The Power of Nostalgia

As Sonny James sang:

Young love, first love,
Filled with true devotion.
Young love, our love,
We share with deep emotion.

We all have beers that we associate with good times, and often they are not what we might call "good" beers.  Very often these are beers that we drank when we were young, and the nostalgic power of those memories can profoundly impact our perceptions of that beer for the rest of our lives.  

Someone close to me loves Corona Light.  As a bit of a beer elitist/Alehole myself, I'd have a slightly easier time writing, "someone close to me has syphilis."  This is also someone who appreciates craft beer.  So, since we're talking about a beer that (to my palate) reeks of formaldehyde and skunk, becomes palatable only when one rams a lime into the bottleneck, and was once rumored to contain "unacceptable" levels of urine (question: there are acceptable levels of urine in beer?), I felt the need to ask: WHY????  The answer, unsurprisingly, was that this person had a strong association with drinking Corona while at the beach while young, and as a result still associated the flavor - grotesque though it might be - with "good."  

If that's the case, then I think we're wrong to judge this someone too harshly, or at all.  Not everything is based purely on its merit.  Parents hang children's artwork up for days, months, or years despite said artwork looking like it was drawn by an epileptic meth addict wearing someone else's glasses.  I once had a friend who was a die-hard vegetarian, but get her drunk and she started demanding we go to Whataburger (for those who haven't had the pleasure, Whataburger is a southern fast-food joint that makes McDonalds look like Morimoto - their lettuce bears a strong resemblance, in color and texture, to hay).  And even beer geeks and craft beer lovers and homebrewers sometimes just enjoy the memories brought out by a simple and maybe not "good" beer.

Good Macro Lager

Let's also not forget that (believe it or not, Alehole) macro breweries often create perfectly palatable products.  Obviously, I don't think Corona Light falls into that category, but I sincerely believe that Coors Golden does.  Remember earlier, when I said that my best beer top-five includes a Coors Golden?  I was at the Coors brewery on a road trip, shortly before I became the paragon of good craft beer drinking that you see before you today, and during the tour we were offered a sample, straight out of the bright tank, of some Coors Golden that was just about to go to packaging.  It was remarkable.  It was fantastic.  It was - even to this day - one of the best and purest lagers I've ever had, and since this experience came just before I jumped into craft beer and homebrewing with both feet, it stuck with me.

Obviously, I think it's pretty good.  I feel the same about Tecate.  I feel quite the opposite about Budweiser.  My point is that we all have some of these beers that, if given them in a blind taste test, we would rate quite highly.  But for many, we see that label, and something like the opposite of the nostalgia-driven evaluations noted above takes place: we assign a negative evaluation not on the merits of the beer, but on its reputation, corporate ownership, and/or a prior bad experience with it.

I would argue that this is wrong.  If we're committed to good beer, then we shouldn't let outside considerations overwhelm our objective evaluations.  I'm not talking about refusing to buy an ABI product because you disagree with their business practices or because you have a philosophical commitment to buying local - that's your right as a consumer in a marketplace.  I'm just talking about how we talk about beer.  Just like I have a local brewery (for those who know me or where I live, PLEASE don't guess!) that produces beer I consider horrifyingly bad, and as a result I describe it as such, there is inevitably going to be beer produced by a purely profit-driven brewery that is worthy of being described as excellent beer (even if only accidentally).

The Anti-Light-Lager Crowd

I have also often been the target of light lager shaming.  We're at a beer bar with two dozen taps that include big barleywines, intense IPAs, biscuity Belgians, and earthy ESBs - and I order a German Pils. [Cue the "needle scratch" sound effect]

There are far too many in our beer world that equate "light" and "lager" with "bad" or "weak."  On some level I'm sure that this is a guilt-by-association thing, since many of the detested macro producers produce an overwhelming amount of light lager.  But I don't think that's the whole story.

There's an "extreme" strain in the Alehole gene.  When they see me going against type and ordering something they consider boring or prosaic, it seems to them like I'm wasting the opportunity to enjoy something unique or special or just, you know, more.  Well, sometimes I don't much want "more."  Sometimes I want a beer that highlights light grain flavors or the austere and simple bittering of that German Pils I ordered.  

No need to look down your foam-covered-because-you-shoved-your-face-right-into-your-glass nose at me: I'm fine.  And you might even consider that sometimes you yourself would benefit from getting back to basics in terms of your beer selection.  In the meantime, you can keep your superior looks and snide asides to yourself and let me enjoy my beer.

Love and Beer

We do ourselves a great disservice when we focus too much on any single aspect of our beer brewing, drinking, and evaluating experience.  As the characters in the novel referenced in my ever-so-pretentious title demonstrate and experience, the emotional and the physical are inextricable.  Heartbreak is very nearly a real disease, just like cholera.  Nostalgia can very nearly change the flavor of beer, just like hops can.  And sometimes you really can go home to that beer you loved when you were young, even if it seems crazy to the rest of the beer-drinking world.

The challenge is that, as beer lovers, we're too often encouraged to choose beer based on considerations (recipe, IBUs, ABV, scarcity, GABF medals) that ignore other facets of the psycho-gustatory experience.  I rarely drink IPAs, but every Christmas I buy a case of Sierra Nevada Celebration and enjoy it immensely.  Why?  Because of that picture of the snow-covered cabin on the label and the fact that I drink it at my homebrew club's annual Winter Social, which is a great time.  Visual cue, plus environmental cue, plus positive memories equals me buying the only case of IPA I buy all year.  Is it really so crazy to think that the same math wouldn't lead people to buy and enjoy Coors?  Or Tecate?  Or (gag) Corona Light?

And if it does, then we're simply wrong to judge.  

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).