In my job, I’m constantly surrounded by alcohol, though I don’t consume as much as you might think. I spit when I review spirits, as do my wine-focused colleagues. At product launches and other events, I often leave drinks unfinished. Perhaps because I have so much access, I’m actually pretty moderate in my drinking habits.
But following Tales of the Cocktail, the annual mammoth mixology conference in New Orleans, it was time to take a break.
Lots of people “go dry” here and there for a month or so. Most often, it’s a reaction to holiday season overindulgence, which leads to what some call “Drynuary” (perhaps the worst word mashup ever), or New Year’s resolutions to switch to mocktails for a while.
Others opt for “Sober October” or, as I heard one bartender say, “No-Saloon June.” It’s an opportunity to reset, step back and give your liver a break.
I support taking a break from alcohol. I do from time to time, but I’ve never attempted to remain teetotal for an extended period. But how do you take a break when liquor is your livelihood?
I didn’t make a conscious decision to “go dry” throughout August, so the first week was relatively easy. I just declined a drink here and there.
“A gin & tonic? Thanks, just tonic for me.”
“Do I want to go check out that new bar? Thanks, but I think I’m going to stay in tonight.”
After a few days, I resolved to extend the experiment to a month. Most people can handle deprivation of pretty much anything if they focus on the end goal, I reasoned, like a month without meat or sugar. A month without alcohol? No problem, right?
I started the week by slipping up. It had been a particularly frustrating workday: words stubbornly refused to flow, planned interviews fell apart and deadline pressure loomed. Finally, I slammed down my laptop and headed for a quiet bar to regroup.
As I sipped an “emergency” martini, a flurry of texts buzzed on my phone, including those from a friend across the world. She made me laugh, which released some of the butterflies in my stomach.
“Another round?” asked the bartender. I declined. The panic attack had subsided, though I wasn’t sure which had a greater effect, the icy martini or my friend’s warming words.
At this point, I realized that “almost dry” was the only way to make August work for me. The deadline for a review column on single-malt Scotches beckoned, and those bottles weren’t going to evaluate themselves.
My compromise: no further alcohol beyond those tastings. Luckily, I had found my coping mechanism: Italian sodas. Specifically, chinotto, a cola-like soft drink made from bitter orange, which reminded me of Cynar; and Sanbitter, a bright-red fizz that feels a bit like drinking a Campari and soda.
I began to realize that I missed the ritual more than the alcohol. I started pouring my chinotto into a fancy cocktail glass and garnishing it with a curl of lemon peel.
My big challenge at the final stretch was a September 1 cocktail-book deadline that loomed and included several drinks to test. So I called in a friend, choosing to divide and conquer. With two palates, it was easier to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
As August approached its end, I felt better, lighter. My palate even felt cleaner. But I also knew that September promised an endless carousel of boozy product launches and drinks with friends.
However, for now, after my “almost-dry August,” I was ready to get back on the merry-go-round. Possibly even with a cocktail in hand.
Published: October 16, 2017