Serious Eats: Drinks
Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer
One of my least stupid friends has spent the past week celebrating his first marijuana purchase in a decade. He actually does have glaucoma, but we don't live in one of those states where you get free weed for your eyes, and that's not his motivation anyway; the medicinal angle's just an interesting twist to his common stoner's story. He smoked a ton of pot when he was a young man, then forgot how much he liked it as he evolved into a dirty old drunk, and now he's a dirty old drunk who smokes pot again.
I don't smoke myself, but I don't mind if other people do. I think it's silly when the hippies claim pot cures everything and mother nature and higher consciousness and all that crap, but I concede that very few of the world's ills are direct results of recreational marijuana use. If pot use or abuse fits into your lifestyle and doesn't impede your progress, fine by me. My friend with the brand-new bag of weed is a dive bartender who spends most of his free time eating convenience foods in his bathrobe; he already eats soup with the flat edge of a butter knife (lost his spoon) and uses his bathrobe sash as a napkin—what more harm can be done?
The only reason I'm not totally on board with my little buddy's return to the weed is that I don't think he's adding a compensatory good habit to at least maintain his shoddy equilibrium. Near as I can tell, he still drinks like a fish; the only difference there is that the fish now has red eyes and a persistent giggle-cough. Like I said, I'm not going to advocate on behalf of my drug (the blessed booze) or demonize anyone else's; nothing more boring than watching a couple of losers engage in an addiction measuring contest. But I do think it's unwise to just keep tacking on new vices without balancing them out with new virtues. That's why when I'm in charge, pot's going to be legal but the dispensaries are also going to have to sell jump ropes and encyclopedias.
So the main reason I never started smoking pot is that I didn't want to cut into my brain cells' precious drinking budget, but even if I were to give up alcohol there'd be another significant hurdle: My research indicates that adult men who smoke pot are obligated to play video games for a minimum of an hour a day, and I just couldn't handle that. Video games are a lot like pot: unproductive hobbies that aren't awful for you but aren't fun for me. I played Nintendo in high school, and then I went to college and video games got more complicated (and by all accounts much better: I totally get why one would play them) and I found other ways to blow time.
But even though I think video games are harmless, or at least no worse than any of my personal hour-killers, I can't shake the feeling that there's something childish about them. I know this is unfair and that I just associate them with childhood because that's when I happened to discover them. I'm certain it was just a generational matter—I happened to come of age the same time video games did—and that all my friends who play in their 30s will also play in their 80s. But as previously mentioned here, I wasn't comfortable being a child and I now resist anything that brings me back to those awful days before I could cook my own dinner and buy my own beer.
This is why I keep telling myself I don't like soda. I drank it by the bucket when I was a kid—Ramblin' Root Beer and Welch's Strawberry in particular—but I rarely touch the stuff now. Even if I still liked the taste of traditional oversweetened soda pop, it wouldn't have any place in my diet, because I already drink enough calories. I like real beer way too much to replace it with root beer.
I have recently stumbled upon an excellent compromise, however: Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer. At 4.8% ABV, this boozed-up British pop provides the buzz I demand out of my calorie-dense liquids while also slaking any latent thirst for fizzy sugar drinks. It's very highly carbonated and smells and tastes overwhelmingly of ginger. The label recommends serving it with a slice of lemon or lime, but ginger's one of my favorite foods so I prefer to take my Crabbie's straight.
It's sweet but not overly so, and the alcohol is dangerously well integrated. I don't know that I could pick this out as the adult beverage if it were slipped into a tasting of nonalcoholic ginger beers: It doesn't taste like ginger beer with alcohol added; it tastes like a better version of ginger beer. Drink it straight from the bottle or mix it with dark rum.