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.
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[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!]