Sober Thoughts about Pink Elephants

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

20080305-cocktails.jpgOne of the uncomfortable aspects of talking and writing about spirits and cocktails is the dark side of the topic. While other parts of the culinary world have unfortunate consequences that accompany over-indulgence—obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, to name a few—perhaps none has as an immediate, visible and potentially deadly a flip-side as does the consumption of alcohol.

I've been thinking about this recently, thanks to a post at the excellent Drink Boston blog titled "The Pink Elephant in the Room," which questions why drink writers rarely (if ever) mention the intoxicating aspect of enjoying beer, wine and spirits. With two recent articles in the New York Times exploring the ugly side of alcohol consumption—Sunday brought us "Starving Themselves, Cocktail in Hand," a look at the double-threat of heavy drinking and eating disorders; and on Tuesday, the paper ran "When People Drink Themselves Silly, and Why," an exploration of binge drinking—and with another alcohol-sodden St. Patrick's Day coming up on the calendar, talking breezily about the enjoyment of fine libations without looking at all aspects of the issue becomes even more difficult.

Imbibers of craft beer, fine wine and classic cocktails are accustomed to holding forth on blogs and online forums about the pleasurable aspects of good drink: the flavor, the aroma, the craftsmanship, the history. But as Lauren Clark, author of the Drink Boston post, points out, the buzz that comes from enjoying these drinks is a matter rarely broached in polite company.

This reticence to freely discuss this aspect of their enjoyment is understandable. While it's one thing to profess an inordinate fondness for chocolate or bacon among a group of foodies, and to enthuse about how frequently or abundantly this appetite is indulged, it's quite another thing to say, "I really like liquor, and I like to drink it every day." One is often perceived as a relatively innocent hedonistic pleasure; the other, a sign of risky or even dangerous behavior.

What do you think? Is this disparity fair, or does it come with the territory when talking about something as powerful as alcohol? Let's hear it.