The Grape And The Grain

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

― Andy Warhol

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something.”

― Neil Gaiman

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald

On New Year’s Day 1982, inspired by the seminal book “The New Music,” I resolved to write the definitive history of the Southern California punk scene.

Planting myself firmly at my mom’s kitchen table, I loaded a clean crisp white sheet of medium weight Eagle-A typing paper into my Cerulean blue Smith-Corona electric typewriter and knocked out the opening line…

Punk rock is very cool!

Proud of my work, I sat back and stared at the page, waiting for a burst of inspiration to arrive.

I’m still waiting.

That’s a fairly accurate example of how all my New Year’s Resolutions have gone since I first starting making them back in the 70s’.

After taking a couple of decades off, this year I’m back with a new list of resolutions, mostly related to daily practice.

  • Exercise every day

  • Read every day

  • Write every day

  • Meditate every day

  • Re-learn Spanish (I was nearly fluent in my twenties)

  • Cut back on caffeine, sugar, and junk food

  • Practice the drums every day

  • Interact with people more

  • Keep in touch with friends and family

  • Regularly finish the Lund Loop before 1:00 am on Saturday morning

These are just the low-hanging fruit.

I’ve got a few others that are in the “possible but not likely” category like start a podcast and launch a second non-market related newsletter.

But for the first time in a long time, I think I have a decent shot at accomplishing most of them because I have spent a lot of years learning how to build structure in my life - the type of structure resolutions need to survive and thrive.

I think I’ve also figured out that if I don’t put one key resolution in place, the others are more likely to fail.

That resolution is to cut out - or at least back heavily - on alcohol.

I hate this resolution because I love beer so much.

I love the smell of it. The taste of it. The look of it.

I love searching out new and undiscovered breweries and sampling their fine craft offerings.

I love talking about Saisons, IPAs, Tripels, Ales, Lagers, and Stouts.

I like discussing the hops and grains used and the finer points of the brewing process.

And I oh so much love drinking them.

And I’m good at it. Really good at it.

But I didn’t use to be.

From the moment I drank my first beer in 8th grade - at a sleepover at Eric Philips house - I hated the taste.

All through my teens and early 20s I pretended to like beer but was the guy who poured his drink out when nobody was looking.

Because of that I always considered myself a “lightweight” when it came to booze.

Somewhere along the line that changed, though it didn’t register with me until recently.

The beers I drank when I was a kid were on average about 4.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) and came in 12-ounce cans.

Malt liquor like Mickey’s Big Mouth and Colt 45 came in higher - around 5.6% - but were considered low-quality, “cheap” booze only for drunks and winos.

These days though, the average IPA - by far the most popular style of craft beer - comes in around 7% ABV, and Imperial or Double IPAs start at 8% and go as high as 10%.

And they are delicious, craftsmen having refined the brewing process to the point where none of the harshnesses of the alcohol and all the goodness of the ingredients comes through, making them so easy to drink.

They also come standard in a 16oz pint glass from the tap or can from the cooler.

And I can easily drink 3-4 pints over a couple of hours.

Uh oh.

This thought crossed my mind a few months back when I read an article discussing the average recommended amount of alcoholic beverages per day, which for men is two standard drinks.

“Well, three, or occasionally four drinks in a day isn’t that much more,” I thought.

But then I read that a 12oz 5% ABV beer was considered a standard drink.

Double uh oh.

So I found an online calculator that lets you plug in your drink size and ABV and converts it into standard drinks.

My 3 to 4 IPAs - depending on the ABV % - convert into between 6 and 10 standard drinks.

Is there a triple uh oh?

“How can that be?” I thought. “I’m a lightweight.”

Apparently not.

But there was a problem. There was no problem.

I haven’t wrecked my car or gotten a DUI.

I haven’t destroyed a career, ruined a marriage, or become estranged from my family and friends.

I don’t pass out at night or have hangovers in the morning.

I don’t have any health issues, I’m not overweight, and I sleep pretty well at night.

So why should I cut back, maybe even quit, when objectively speaking my love of beer hasn’t produced any downside and has mostly been a net positive in my life?

It’s a tough question, as the less obvious and dramatic adverse effects of alcohol are subtle and nuanced, only revealing themselves with repetition.

With me, it’s a drop in energy, focus, and a general malaise that distinctly comes over me, but is not obviously connected to my drinking.

But it is.

It’s also a huge time killer.

I know that from the moment I put a beer to my lips, nothing will get done the rest of the day or night.

And of course, common sense says that for a 53-year old man, the ROI on drinking that much isn’t favorable, because it’s not a problem until it’s a problem.

One of my heroes, Christopher Hitchens spent a lifetime imbibing copious amounts of the grape and the grain daily with no ill effects - until there were, and he was dead from esophageal cancer within two years, aged 62.

So with all this in mind, when it came to the list of things I want to accomplish and resolutions I want to keep in 2021, it seemed like a no-brainer to get alcohol out of the mix - or at least dial it down significantly.

I hedge because it’s hard for me to see myself cutting out beer for the rest of my life.

I’m starting with a three-month trial period - Sober Q1 - to see how I feel and will re-evaluate my go-forward strategy at the end of 90-days.

I’m bummed out about it on one level, but on a number of others, I’m really excited to see what I can accomplish when completely dry.

Who knows, maybe I will launch that podcast?