While it’s still summer, let’s take a trip in the way back machine. Just for a moment.
It’s Dec. 21, Winter Solstice. It’s cold enough that a warm glass of something alcoholic is in order. It doesn’t matter whether the glass I get served is half full or half empty. Beer, stat.
I’m standing in a cramped, smoky drinking establishment in downtown Fairbanks. I’m with a contingent of red-clad revelers, folks dressed as Santa who are – by this point in the evening – three sheets to the wind. They’re drinking PBR or Bud or Coors. Something cheap and plentiful.
They are royally sloshed. I’m on my first beer.
That’s what happens when you show up late.
It’s almost midnight and I’ve become insta-friends with three different guys at this bar. They’re so far gone that our friendship has jumped from total stranger to like, dude, we are literally best friends now.
If drinking does one thing, it makes you social as hell. For friendship, just add alcohol.
This group I’m with; we’re not just here to drink, we’re here to drink in Santa costumes. There’s a huge difference. We’re at SantaCon, a holiday-themed pub crawl across Fairbanks. The rules of which are simple: come dressed as jolly old St. Nick (or his lovely wife) and drink to your hearts content.
As the night wears on, most people’s cheeks are as red as their stocking caps. Where between the bottle-top hitting the counter and the draught being drained, the glass never leaves the clenched hand.
Such a night contrasts well with this: Right now, as I write, I’m drinking white wine. On a deck. In the sun. Things could only be better if I was on a boat. Just as well, I lack the necessary nautical-themed pashmina afghan.
My wife is next to me. We’re sharing a 2011 El Pensador verdejo, a crisp, white wine from the province of Castile and León in northern Spain. It’s the kind of wine that, when you hold it up to your eye, puts the world in a different hue.
A slight breeze blows and the sun’s bright. A handful of white clouds tumble across the sky as a pair of old cars from the nearby Antique Auto Museum rumble past, the only noise on this almost noise-less of weekends. The early afternoon is a great time to relax; there’s a reason this time of the day is set aside for a siesta in hotter climes.
As I sip and write, my wife sips and reads. She’s re-starting Brian Sommer’s The Geography of Wine. Naturally. There’s no laughter or stocking-cap revelry, just the drink and the company. This is the most calm of afternoons.
Well-mannered frivolity aside, if we’re being honest, not much happens when you go out drinking. Not most of the time. Often it’s less the Pardoner’s Tale and more Black Books; friends sharing a few drinks at their favorite restaurant or bar.
What usually happens is conversation and laughter. We drink, we laugh. If we’ve imbibed a lot, we drink then laugh then everything turns into a bit of a blur. The soft-focused and pleasant kind.
When I drink heavily the blur turns into snippets. Vignettes. It’s less the end of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End and more the beginning; a bunch of wasted and totally knackered dudes falling asleep as the sun rises. The good kind of night out.
That’s really what drinking is all about: the company. Whether we’re whooping it up at a noisy bar or taking quiet drinks at home, we’re all just looking for a good drink and a little companionship.
As Shakespeare wrote in The Merry Wives of Windsor, “Come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness.”
In the end, both drinking experiences are the same. The only difference is how you hold the glass.