Some holidays are made for drinking, some even designed for the purpose of excess. After having survived our youth, did it make us wiser? Can we still celebrate, but with more refined beverages, savoring them instead of gulping them down?
There are drinking holidays, some notorious--St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo come to mind--and there are holidays from drinking, like the entire month of January for some. This article focuses on the former, not the latter.
When we gaze at the calendar, a few dates stand out as perfunctory drinking days. One of the notorious ones I mentioned--St. Patrick's Day--occurs this month. The other--Cinco de Mayo--is coming a month and a half later.
Both days provide convenient excuses for young adults to do what they so often do anyway, drink until blind. One celebration flows with Irish Whiskey and Guinness, the other with shots of Cuervo and Corona chasers.
There are more civilized ways to enjoy our spirits to mark those dates--perhaps sipping higher quality spirits and savoring them, rather than shooting cheap rotgut to get a quick high. Not that I'm being judgmental. I've been through many such rituals, and suffered plenty of times for it. Except for the energy and endurance of my youth, I'm happy I've become wiser in that area.
Let's assume, for argument's sake, that we are not going to Main Street in Seal Beach for day long benders, but we like the idea of marking certain holidays with beverages associated with them. Let's start with St. Patrick's Day.
I don't drink Irish whiskey very often, but when I do, I want to enjoy a good, aged one, savoring its complex flavors and letting its warmth comfort me. If I just want to get high, I can hold my breath until I get dizzy and it won't rot my liver.
Ritual drinking has been with us since man first noticed that grape juice naturally turns itself into wine. Before Louis Pasteur discovered the actual science of fermentation--yeast cells and all--it was believed that there was something spiritual about the phenomenon.
Wine drinking became part of Jewish celebrations because grapes were grown where Jews lived. The Last Supper, inspiration for Christian communions since then, was actually a Passover seder. Wine is deeply imbedded into the religious cultures of wine-growing Mediterranean and Caucassus countries. Even after we know the scientific explanation for the gentle sense of well being we get when we drink a glass, wine still remains central to religious feasts and rituals in the Western World.
Do you remember sweet Sunday School stories from the Old Testament? Especially the story of Noah who planted a vineyard, drank the wine, got naked and got pissed off when his grandson caught a glimpse of him as he covered the old man up.
You see, the Good Book also warns of excess. Lest we do something we'll regret later.
There is no greater teacher than rough experience. No words can adequately describe the feeling you get the morning after a booze bender, holiday or no holiday.
Nobody celebrates Seis de Mayo or March 18th, St. Upchuck's Day, also known as Bayer Day, and I'm-too-hungover-to-go-to-class Day.
We just passed February's Valentine's Day, which ought to be a Champagne day. The spring brings Easter and Passover, both wine holidays. (White for ham, red with lamb.) And there are more drinking days.
Mother's Day is in May and so is Memorial Day. A toast for the fallen is an appropriate remembrance. But Mother's Day is more complicated. Memories of all-you-can-eat Sunday brunches with oceans of cheap, sweet domestic "champagne," have actually turned people off all sparkling wine. However, if you introduce Mom to great grower Champagne like we sell at The Wine Country, she may drink nothing else for the rest of her life, putting a big dent in your Visa card.
June weddings are wine days. It is useful to remember that Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding. Wedding receptions are another thing. I haven't seen anything approaching Noah's lack of attire after toasting the bride, but I have witnessed brides and grooms and their attendants hitting the dance floor after too many celebratory sips and shots.
We think of July as a beer month, and most vacation spots in America are dotted with numerous ice chests full of cold beer. Fourth of July is a picnic day, and since it's always hot, loads of cold beer should be nearby. The Wine Country has also figured out it's a great day for rosé wine, so we host an annual rosé celebration each year on that day.
July is also the month of France's Bastille Day, a day worthy of poulet rôtie and carafes of Beaujolais and Côte de Provence rosé.
There are no national holidays in August. Light beer seems to be the drink of choice during the hotter months, and I've been known to throw an ice cube or two into a glass of wine when it gets too warm to enjoy on its own. Just remember to hydrate, hydrate. You'll thank me later.
Labor day occurs on the first Monday of September. It is the last barbecue day of the summer, the last day to relax before school starts and the leisure of the season turns to gathering nuts for the winter. Depending on how hot it is, you'll be drinking ice cold beer, an IPA, a chilled rosé, or a good barbecue red.
October brings the turning of the leaves, a chill in the air and Halloween. Hot apple cider with a nip of rum and a stick of cinnamon is a very festive drink while you're passing out Hershey bars to the neighborhood kids. It's also the month we tend to bring out bigger reds from our cellars. Unless there is are Santa Ana winds coming from the desert. Then it's back to beer.
Another great drinking holiday is Thanksgiving, each year on the fourth Thursday of November. Wine will be at the table. Beer will be for the annual Watching-of-the-Football-Game ritual. Food comas follow, then it's time for pie.
December is loaded with opportunities to drink well. Office parties, boat parades, neighborhood gatherings and Christmas dinners all call for one kind of beverage or another. Champagne is always fun, but so are hot buttered rums, egg nogs with bourbon, rum or brandy. Mulled wine will recall the days of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. Scandinavians have their versions of spiced red wine, too, but real Swedes drink Aquavit on Christmas Eve.
New Year's Eve marks Champagne at midnight, although a lot of people my age don't make it that late anymore. So we toast Eastern Standard Time at 9 p.m.
That brings us back to January. The Monday holiday, of course, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I don't know what the appropriate beverage is to mark the remembrance of the struggle for Civil Rights. (No, it's not the tall boy. Who said that, anyway?)
Maybe because the holiday is so new, we really haven't developed any national rituals to eat and drink that day.
I've known quite a few people who dry out each year during the entire month of January to attone for the excesses of the previous month.
Sometimes drinking nothing is just about good enough.
But hopefully not for long.