Among the many beers in my fridge and those littered around my flat are two of special significance. They are the two beers I’m going to drink tonight—my first in three weeks. This is not a lengthy period of time by any means, but to give this some sense of perspective this is the longest period I have gone without an alcoholic drink in 15 years.
(For those interested, the beers are a mixed-fermentation wine barrel matured beer called Battle of the Trees from Beavertown’s Tempus Project and Rhythm Force, a Double IPA from NYC’s Grimm. Both were gifts from good friends which I am incredibly thankful for.)
I feel that it’s important to highlight that as far as I am aware there is nothing wrong with me and that I don’t think I have a dependency towards alcohol. But it does bring me immense joy—and hey, I guess that’s why I chose to write about it for a living.
The reason I stopped drinking for a short time was mainly because the pinch of my favourite jeans and the bulge of my silhouette were making me miserable and I wanted to do something about it. As I explained in a blog post made last month, cutting out beer—and its many calories—was the easiest way to do this. Combined with an increase in my regular exercise schedule, which involves running, now with a bit of swimming thrown in, I’ve lost 7lbs (3.2kg.) I can now sit on a plane for eight hours tomorrow safe in the knowledge that there won’t be an imprint of my belt buckle on my belly when I disembark.
This isn’t an immense amount of weight by any standard, but I can see and feel a difference. Enough to put a smile on my face. And hopefully, through continued exercise, I can continue to drink great beer, wine, cider and more while keeping it off and looking after my heart in the process.
What’s most interesting to me after this short abstinence however, is the fresh perspective it granted. Not drinking has revitalised my point of view on not drinking. It’s not that I simply really like drinking, but how enjoying great beer, wine and cider is very much part of the makeup of my day-to-day existence.
Surprisingly—to me at least—what I missed the most wasn’t the drink itself, but the culture that surrounds it. As I walked down Shoreditch High Street on my way to an event from the British Guild of Beer Writers showcasing alcohol free beers I passed some of my favourite bars and restaurants. I found myself pining to sit within them, simply to soak up the atmosphere. In that moment I felt that merely the sound of conversation and conviviality would sate my urge to drink more than any can or bottle of low alcohol vegetable water that has the indecency to call itself beer.
A couple of days later I joined a friend in one of my favourite pubs, The Pembury Tavern in Hackney, and felt tangible delight just sitting and bathing in the the great atmosphere a good pub provides. Sure, it might have been better with a pint in hand. But being able to enjoy such a space without one gave me a fresh slant on the importance of pubs as social spaces, and why we should use them, regularly.
(As an aside, I now have to confess I thought most of the alcohol free beers at the tasting were awful and tasted either sickly sweet due to additions of lactose for body, or of stewed cabbage. However, in true journalistic style I was too polite to say so at the event. Two exceptions included a lager called Lucky Saint, which tasted like a decent Bavarian-style lager and Adnam’s alcohol-free version of its flagship pale ale, Ghost Ship. The Citra notes in the latter caused me to experience a tangible-yet-brief rush of endorphins upon tasting, although sadly this only served to intensify my craving for a real beer.)
One other weird thing I experienced was the development of an intense craving for dark, bitter, salted chocolate after the first week or so. We don’t really talk about the fact that, despite fermentation, beer still contains a decent amount of sugar. My body obviously missed this, and a square or two of chocolate in the evenings helped satisfy my urge to drink far more than any bottle of kombucha, or non-alcoholic beer.
Perhaps the most interesting note on satisfying this particular urge was that a square or two was all I needed for it to go away. What I think this means—combined with my realisation that part of the reason I drink is to be among a culture, and not simply to drink something nice—is that I’ll probably drink less at home from now on. Too many times I have opened a beer for the sake of it, and now, perhaps, I have the tools at my disposal to stop this from happening.
Speaking of which, I’m going to go open a beer. Cheers everyone.
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