Experience begets understanding.
Understanding begets appreciation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65 percent of Americans over eighteen say they had at least one drink in the previous year. But few people, even the drinkers, really know what alcohol is, where it comes from, why it tastes the way it does, or what it actually does to them.
Since alcohol isn’t going anywhere soon, I’ve accepted the challenge to drink the recommended moderate drinking amount set by the FDA, every day. Meanwhile, I’ll be monitoring my health and getting help from alcohol experts to better understand this powerful liquid. Perhaps by next month, I’ll be an alcoholic. Or maybe find a new career as a bartender. Either way, I intend to approach and understand alcohol as a craft to be appreciated, rather than simply a thing to be used (and often unintentionally abused).
30 Day of Alcohol? Challenge Accepted!
Mastering the Craft
Alcohol Podcast 1 of 4
To kick off this month’s booze challenge, my buddy Jameson and I met up with Sommelier and Mixologist Kelly Woods, owner of Gillespie’s Fine Spirits in Squamish, BC where Kelly and her partner John McLellan have been honing their passion of distilling local, awesome, booze. Kelly walks us through her distillery and offers us a taste of her life’s work while educating us on the ins and outs of the craft. This really was the beginning of a beautiful journey towards establishing a healthy relationship with alcohol. Enjoy.
A Recipe for Developing a Healthy Relationship with Alcohol
Alcohol is dangerous. Millions abuse it and struggle with an addiction. Taking preemptive steps towards developing a healthier relationship with alcohol can help mitigate abuse and elevate enjoyment.
Though I’ve never struggled with alcoholism, here are the two main tips that Kelly and John gave us about viewing alcohol and developing healthy, happy relationship with this powerful substance:
1. Know when to tap out.
Safe to say, alcohol is both a tonic and a poison. The difference lies mostly in the dose, but also in the process and the quality of ingredients.
A ‘healthy relationship’ with booze is one that is controlled. Depending on your tolerance, learn to recognize when you’ve crossed the threshold of drinking to just drink. Losing track of how much alcohol you’ve consumed in a single session might be a good time to stop. Keep in mind the easiest time to keep drinking is when it’s about time to call it; around two or three drinks deep. Willpower, you got this. The hangover is never worth it anyway.
2. Appreciate the craft.
Understanding what goes into the process of producing alcohol in its various forms will cultivate a greater appreciation (or lack of) for the energy and passion involved to create each drink. From the yeast to fermentation, to distillation, to aging, there are endless unique techniques that go into a creating an alcoholic beverage. Each sip is an opportunity to better understand the unique character of an alcohol as well as how the blended ingredients can complement its distinct flavor.
Pause, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor.
The 101 on the Craft of Alcohol
Structured, mellow, bold, subtle, spicy, smooth … every alcohol has a personality. The process, materials, and sweat during each of these steps (and several in-between) are what gives a drink it’s character.
Understanding this process exposes the true craft of alcohol and how it can be better appreciated and experienced with each sip. With the help of Kelly Woods of Gillespie’s Fine Spirits and Adam Rogers, author of The Science of Booze, here’s a very brief overview to the basic understand of how alcohol is made.
Yeast & Fermentation
Before you can distil any type of alcohol, you have to have something fermented to start with—enter, yeast. Essentially, yeast is a single-celled fungus that eats sugar and pees carbon dioxide and poops out alcohol. This fermentation process happens naturally. Give yeast some sugar and off they go!
There are various species of yeast, many forms of sugars, and different environments to let the two do their magic. Let alone various trade secret techniques in-between that to bring out unique characteristics in alcohol.
Modifying and perfecting the fermentation process is a craft in itself and there’s no one perfect way to do it.
After our magical little yeast creature converts glucose (sugar) into ethanol (100% alcohol), this odorless, colorless byproduct is then taken through a distillation process.
Like fermentation, distillation is also a natural process that throughout human history we’ve learned how to harness, built equipment for, and adapt for our tasting pleasure. It’s alchemy at it’s finest!
Distillation consists of boiling the ethanol and reliably collecting the resulting vapors. Sounds easy, but distillation requires a keen intelligence and mastery of the craft. It requires the fine adjustment of heating, cooling, air pressure, metal work, and most importantly, it requires the desire and will to change your environment instead of just live with what you have.
There’s a beautiful metaphor in the distillation process which tells us that having less of something can make it more potent. With concentration, with focus, a brilliant transformation occurs in pursuit of the fundamental spirit of life.
Patience … you’d think it’s that simple. It’s not.
Materials, elevation, climate, length of time, how it’s bottled, amount of natural light, the list goes on for factors to consider and understand intimately to consistently produce a quality end product. Here’s one of many examples for perspective: wood barrels made with slow-grown timber has higher levels of extractives available to the spirit. Who would’ve known!?
Hopefully, this short slice of what goes into an alcoholic beverage with both stimulate your curiosity and give you a foundation to explore and appreciate your next sip of alcohol.
The best advice I received regarding alcohol came when Kelly Woods signed my bottle of Gillespie’s Gastown Vodka, “Drink well.” Which, after an eye-opening conversation with her, I would translate to, “drink the good stuff and drink it responsibly”.
In fact is was this idea of drinking responsibly that inspired me to explore my relationship with alcohol in the first place. The challenge being to drink the recommended ‘moderate amount’ of alcohol every day for 30 days based on the FDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol. Which is, “Up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.”
“One alcoholic drink-equivalent is described as containing 14 g (0.6 fl oz) of pure alcohol. The following are reference beverages that are one alcoholic drink-equivalent: 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5% alcohol), 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol), or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits (40% alcohol).”
Here’s a good animation that helps breaks down the recommended moderate drinking quantity:
Cheers to Good Health
I know, ‘alcohol’ and ‘good health’ sounds like an oxymoron. But if you value your health and ever intend to enjoy another alcoholic beverage (yes, you) it’s worth exploring how alcohol should be consumed to maximize it’s enjoyment while minimizing any damaging reciprocations. So although I don’t recommend drinking every day for 30 days, I appreciate you taking interest with me to better understand this relationship. If you have any thoughts on the topic, I’d love to hear from you. Cheers!