What’s Your Poison?


I was reading one of my cocktail books a few weeks ago, where the author was talking about how alcohol is “literally a poison,” his exact words. This took me aback as I’d never heard alcohol was poisonous. I’d heard of alcohol poisoning, of course, but not that drinking in moderation might slowly kill you. It seems odd that something humans have been doing since literally the dawn of civilization (the first known recipe for beer dates from 7000 BCE—bonus, you can buy beer made from the recipe!) is actually poisonous. Sure, the Romans drank from led cups, BUT THEN THEY STOPPED THAT. We’re not still drinking from led cups.

Despite my doubts, however, I found myself concerned that I was actually poisoning myself. So I decided to do some research. It turns out that The Science is not in agreement with this idea that alcohol is poison, and calls the statement “misleading at best.” Technically anything can be poisonous in the right amounts, but that does not make it a classified poison. And hundreds of studies have shown that moderate drinkers actually live longer than teetotalers. Even heavy drinkers live longer than teetotalers, actually, by a margin of 3%.

The idea that alcohol was a poison began during Prohibition, started by the Anti-Saloon League. Then the government decided to use it to keep people from drinking, but not just as a propaganda campaign—they LITERALLY poisoned industrial alcohol, killing about 10,000 people before the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933.

Governments and other anti-alcohol organizations continue to promote the idea that alcohol is a poison. For example, Scotland recently released the Drinking Mirror app, designed to show how drinking will age women (it’s killing you AND your skin cells!) in an effort to “appeal to their vanity” and get them to stop drinking. Hey, doesn’t the sun and mortgages and driving to work every day and having kids and basically being alive also age you? We should get PSAs for that as well. The creators of the app also claim that they’re targeting only heavy drinkers, but the app itself only has options for low- to moderate-drinking as defined by the medical community, and is thus targeting average drinkers (to be fair, heavy drinkers probably wouldn’t stop drinking just because an app told them to).

From what I’ve gathered through these articles, alcohol is only a poison if you overindulge in it or lived during Prohibition. The more you know!

Further Reading:

What Defines a Cocktail?

For some reason (probably because I’m a dork), a few months ago I started worrying about what defined a cocktail: the proportions or the ingredients? If you read DIY Cocktails (which is a great book, by the way), they define cocktails by the proportions: two parts strong to one part aromatic (makes manhattans), three parts strong to two parts sweet and one part sour (makes margaritas), and so on.

But a lot of cocktails have different proportions according to different people, yet are still defined as those cocktails. For example, one of my favorite cocktails is the sidecar. I make it with two parts strong, one part sour, and one part sweet; but I’ve come across recipes where it’s proportioned more like a margarita, recipes where the sweet and the strong are equal and there’s very little lemon juice, and everything in between. A sidecar is defined by its ingredients: brandy, triple-sec, and lemon juice. How you mix them is up to you, but you’re still mixing a sidecar. The same is true with nearly any other cocktail you can think of: a cosmo has to have cranberry juice and vodka; a martini can gin or vodka and vermouth.

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that the ingredients “make” the cocktail—or at least define it—not the proportions. Because of this, I think coming up with original cocktails is actually *really* difficult, maybe more so than coming up with original food recipes. If you want to invent a new cocktail, you have to basically use a new ingredient (this is why so many “modern” cocktails use obscure ingredients, which drives me crazy fyi) or combine classic ingredients in a way no one’s tried before (good luck with that).

What do you think defines a cocktail, the ingredients or the proportions?

Drinking Hours

It’s well-known that writers generally like to have a drink or two or five, as the premise of this blog testifies. But what happens when one spends more time drinking than writing?

Brendan Behan once said, “I’m a drinker with writing problems,” and when you’re your own boss and make your own hours, keeping business and pleasure separate can certainly be a problem. In his book, The Blogger Abides, Christopher Higgins talks about when he first started freelance writing. Every day he’d go to the pub to write children’s novels and have a pint. Then he’d have another pint and write some more. And then another pint. Point is, he wrote a whole series of children’s novels drunk (and hopefully edited sober) before he realized the need for “drinking hours,” which he recommends to every freelance writer.

I usually never drink before dinner, and we usually have dinner around 8 pm. I just can’t face drinking on an empty stomach; and besides that, I have things to do. I’m uncoordinated enough without adding alcohol to the mix.

Out of curiosity, do you keep “drinking hours”?

A Well-Stocked Bar

Whenever you pick up a cocktail recipe book, they usually have a list of things you should have stocked in your bar. If you’re anything like me, you probably skip this section, because they list every single alcohol known to human kind, and who’s really going to have that much stuff on hand? Not me. However, I do have what I consider a well stocked bar.

This is based on what I like to drink on a regular basis. My favorite cocktails, in order, are:

  • sidecars
  • Manhattans
  • martinis (gin)
  • hot toddies
  • margaritas

I have a martini on Saturdays and a Manhattan on Sundays. I don’t know why, it’s just a thing. Anyway, in order to be able to have my favorite drinks when I want them, I need these ingredients on hand:

  • Vermouth (sweet and dry)
  • Triple-sec
  • Whiskey
  • Gin
  • Brandy
  • Tequila
  • Lemons and limes
  • Honey

There’s my well-stocked bar! Any other items, as far as I’m concerned, are just a bonus and for experimenting with different cocktails.

What does your well-stocked bar look like?

Whiskey Songs

I don’t know about you, but whenever I make a drink with whiskey, one of these two songs start running through my head:

Whiskey Do My Talkin’ by Brooks & Dunn

If there’s anyone who knows about getting drunk, it’s these two. One time I was at concert where they were playing and—well, anyway. Good song.

Canadian Whiskey by Tom Russell

Arguably one of the greatest drinking songs of all time, in my opinion. For some reason I only start singing it when I’m drinking Pendleton, maybe because it’s so smooth it can be drunk like wine.

What are some of your favorite whiskey songs?