Drinking is Cultural
Published on October 18, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the BBC News, social anthropologist Kate Fox argues that the way people behave when they're drinking is the result of cultural rules and norms, rather than the alcohol itself. She writes:

"Clearly, we Brits do have a bit of a problem with alcohol, but why?

The problem is that we Brits believe that alcohol has magical powers - that it causes us to shed our inhibitions and become aggressive, promiscuous, disorderly and even violent.

But we are wrong.

In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, 'Oi, what you lookin' at?' and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, 'Hey babe, fancy a shag?' and start groping each other.


A Sad Day for Friendly's
Published on October 5, 2011 by Sara Foss

I was unexpectedly saddened by the news that Friendly's has filed for bankruptcy protection and will close 63 restaurants.

I have many fond memories of Friendly's. I actually had my first date in a Friendly's. I even remember what I ordered - the peanut butter cup sundae. (I have no idea what my date ordered, though.) My friends and I used to enjoy going to Friendly's to eat, and blowing straws in each other's faces. It was a great spot for teenagers - a cozy restaurant with cheap, decent food that really felt like a step up from the Denny's, McDonalds and other fast food restaurants located on the same strip. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you grew up in New Hampshire pre-food movement, the local Friendly's might have shaped your notion of what fine dining was all about.

I'm not the only person who feels this way about Friendly's. If you plug the terms Friendly's, sad and bankruptcy into google, you get tons of hits from mournful Friendly's fans. My guess is that many of these people are from small towns in New England. On one site, a commenter named Patriot86 wrote, "... when I went to high school in Ridgefield, Connecticut ... Friendly's was our hangout ... I would take a Jim Dandy now ... Yum." Another commenter wrote, "We enjoyed Friendly's on the Cape and in the Metro West. Always friendly service and prices you cannot beat. We miss them on the left coast."

Meanwhile, NPR wonders if nostalgia is enough to save Friendly's.


The Beer Network
Published on October 5, 2011 by Sara Foss

According to GOOD magazine, there's a new social network for beer lovers called Untappd.

Explains GOOD:

"Untappd also aggregates data on which beers are trending, categorized by microbrews or macrobrews, and organized by location. For example, trending beers near the GOOD office in Hollywood today include several Dogfish Head brews. If you’re curious about a certain beer, you can click on it to get more information, including reviews and ratings posted by other aficionados. Then you can add it to your brew wish list to help you remember which six-pack to pick up on Friday night. And if you need beer in every aspect of your life, you can easily connect Untappd to your Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare as well."

All I can say is: This sounds cool.

Click here to visit the site.

A Wedding at a Brewery
Published on September 6, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over the weekend, I attended a wedding at Brooklyn Brewery, which was awesome. Over at the DG, I write about some of the beers I tried, and the excellent bacon appetizer I ate at 1 in the morning.

Here's an excerpt:

"The Brooklyn Brewery makes many excellent beers, and there were maybe 10 on tap during the cocktail hour that preceded the ceremony and the reception. I sampled about half of the available beers, deliberately staying away from the Brooklyn Blast, a double IPA with an alcohol content of about 9 percent. I did taste the Blast, and it was delicious — hoppy and citrusy, without the syrupy aftertaste you might find in other sweet-tasting beers with high alcohol contents. But I felt that drinking the Blast at a wedding was a recipe for disaster, and occasionally took it upon myself to inform my fellow wedding-goers of its high alcohol content. I invariably got two responses: 'What? Nine percent? Oh my God!' or 'I know. That’s why I’m drinking it.'

Anyway, I tried the Brooklyn Brown, the Brooklyn Lager, Brooklyn Pennant Ale, the Brooklyner Weisse and the Brooklyn Radius. They were all good, but my favorites were the Radius, a Belgian pale ale that is only available at the brewery, so I recommend going there and trying it, and the Pennant, a very tasty pale ale brewed in honor of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. Now that I think about it, I also tried the brewery’s East India Pale Ale, while hanging out at the apartment of my friend Michelle, who served as a groomsmaid at the big event, on the afternoon of the wedding. Around 3:30 the groom arrived at Michelle’s apartment with his suit and a six pack of East India Pale Ale, so we all had a beer while making remarks about the groom’s attire and assisting him in buttoning his shirt cuffs. In any case, the East India Pale Ale was both delicious and refreshing on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon, and after Michelle and the groom cleared out, I walked down the street and bought some Indian food."

Have a Cocktail
Published on September 1, 2011 by Sara Foss

The Boston chapter of Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails has helpfully posted a recipe for Pimm's Cup, a cocktail that was "born in England and reinterpreted in New Orleans." I first drank a Pimm's Cup at a Mississippi River-themed wedding, and it was quite good. To learn more about it, click here.

Why Do College Students Drink?
Published on August 29, 2011 by Sara Foss

Before I started drinking, I always assumed there was some sort of complicated explanation for why people drank. Like, maybe they lived in a small town, and there was nothing else to do. Then I started drinking, and realized that people drink because it's fun. In fact, I've always sort of regretted not drinking in high school - I feel like alcohol would have made the whole experience more bearable.

Administrators and public health officials hardly ever acknowledge how much fun drinking is when delivering their grim reports and stern lectures on underage drinking. For instance, they might talk about the need for more alcohol-free on-campus activities, but never mention that some students are going to drink regardless of how many alcohol-free on-campus activities there are. Why is this? Because drinking is fun! And some nights you might think, "I'd really rather hang out and get drunk with my friends than go to the on-campus screening of 'Farwell, My Concubine.'" Of course, college being college, you can go to the movie sober, and then stay up until 4 a.m. drinking with your friends. Which is fun!

Over at Salon, Thomas Rogers interviews Thomas Vander Ven, an associate professor in the department of sociology at Ohio University, whose new book, "Getting Wasted," looks at what attracts college students to alcohol in the first place. Here's an excerpt:

"The history of alcohol research is the history of pathology. There's a lot of focus on addiction, and the ways in which alcohol destroys lives and destroys families, and in [the] college drinking world in particular, there are these long lists and inventories of all its harms. That's important because some bad things do happen, but what past researchers have missed is why it's fun. I asked that question of my informants, and I could tell it was the first time that anybody asked them that -- 'Did you have fun?' 'Yeah, of course I had fun.' OK, so, what was fun about it? What are the payoffs? And I think it's important to know because if people are serious about understanding this issue, and what's behind it and what to do about it, they need to understand what college kids are getting out of drinking."

Sounds about right. Sure, alcohol can be harmful, but its reputation as a social lubricant is well deserved. Some of my most memorable college experiences involve long nights of drinking. And, no, I have no regrets.

I'll Drink Whatever I Want
Published on August 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

Last week The Awl posted a list titled "Drinks That You Should Be Ashamed to Order in Public," and although I caution against taking this list too seriously (it's obviously meant to be funny), I would say that I disagree with a lot of it. As Matthew Yglesias wrote, "Nobody should be ashamed to order drinks they enjoy in public. Many people could perhaps benefit from trying some new things, but the idea that people should be feeling shame over their tastes strikes me as wrongheaded." Yes, exactly. Although I'm not sure people need to order body shots and Jagerbombs in public.

I am mostly a beer drinker, but Yglesias rightly notes "a prejudice against 'girlie' (i.e. sweet) cocktails. One of the greatest tricks the devil ever pulled was to persuade the world that there’s something inherently superior about the bitter flavors that men (on average) tend to prefer. This is some real science according to real scientist Marcia Pelchat. Preferences along the sweet/bitter spectrum are a biological construct, one where women tend to be positioned more in favor of sweetness and men more in favor of bitterness. Which is all fine. But a lot of people then go around and socially privilege the bitter flavor, which is not fine."

From time to time, I've been known to enjoy a good 'girlie' drink. On a trip to New Orleans in college, my friends and I made sure to enjoy a tasty sweet cocktail every afternoon, and during the summer I've often marveled at the thirst-quenching powers of Mike's Hard Lemonade. I'll also defend the screwdriver, which has its time and place. It was one of the first cocktails I ever really drank, and I'll always have fond memories of that night during my freshman year when my friends Ed, Melissa and I obtained a bottle of vodka and mixed it with orange juice from the vending machine in our dorm. But I've been known to drink screwdrivers when I have a cold, because they contain orange juice and go down pretty smoothly. I wouldn't say they're good for you, but they're better than a lot of things. Also, there's nothing wrong with pinot grigio, white russians or hard cider. Especially hard cider.

As Erik Loomis writes on Lawyers, Guns & Money, "What is so wrong with hard cider? Now, most of the hard cider I’ve had is not particularly enjoyable to me. But this is an American heritage drink. This was the low-alcohol drink of choice in early America (as opposed to rum for the hard stuff). Americans grew hundreds of kinds of apples. And they weren’t going in mom’s pie. Most of them were being processed into cider.

I would guess that we will see a renaissance in cider distillers over the next decade. It seems like the next frontier in craft alcohol, both because it is underrepresented in the market and because of its historical importance in America. I know there is a little bit of this already happening.

And even if you order a Woodchuck, who cares? I didn’t know that was a drink to make fun of."

Read "The Botany of Desire" by Michael Pollan for more information on how Johnny Appleseed sold apple seeds to settlers as they moved west, which allowed them to make some of the country's first homegrown alcohol.

Overall, the list of drinks you should never order in public is a fairly mild example of an annoying subgenre I'll call What People Should and Shouldn't Do. I tend not to believe in hard and fast rules about what people should and shouldn't do, and so I tend to get irritated when someone tells me that I shouldn't drink a hot toddy in public. I mean, what if it's December and it's cold and a bar has some kind of winter special on hot toddies? And maybe, as a rule of thumb, you shouldn't get into the habit of drinking vodka redbull. But someday there could be a perfectly good occasion for doing just that.

If you're interested, I've been drinking a lot of Sam Adams Summer Ale lately. Not a very bold or adventurous choice, but who cares?

Most Decadent Dessert Ever?
Published on August 7, 2011 by Sara Foss

I am a sucker for decadent desserts, but I tend to find them disappointing.

They are usually too big, and thus make you feel sick; when it comes to dessert, sometimes smaller is better. Decadent desserts often sound enticing, but somehow miss the mark; many restaurants, in an effort to be innovative and hip, create amazing-sounding desserts that don't quite work as well as they should. For instance, a few weeks ago I ordered a chocolate-coconut cupcake with a lime sauce, and it was good, but not great. Too big, and not enough of the lime sauce (which was so good I could have eaten it by the spoonful). And the cupcake was a little too thick and doughy.

Anyway, the other night I visited Toll Gate Ice Cream in Delmar, N.Y., a delightfully old-fashioned restaurant and ice cream parlor. For dinner I got a grilled cheese hamburger - basically, a grilled cheese sandwich, but with a hamburger in the middle. And it was delicious - exactly what I wanted. For dessert, I decided to splurge. (Not that I hadn't splurged at dinner.)

The last time I visited the Tollgate, about a year ago, I regretted not ordering the most decadent sounding item on the menu, and I decided that I simply couldn't make the same mistake a second time. The item I coveted: a warmed doughnut, with ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry. It sounded excessive. And I've been eating a lot of ice cream lately - probably too much. But I felt like I had to have it. I selected mint chocolate chip ice cream, and waited eagerly for my decadent dish. Would it be as good as I wanted it to be?

For once, a decadent dessert lived up to - even surpassed - my expectations. My doughnut sundae was absolutely amazing. The warmed doughnut blended perfectly with the mint chocolate chip ice cream (who knew this was such a winning combination?) and the chocolate sauce and whipped cream just added to the fun. It was also the right size - I didn't feel sick after eating it, but the restaurant didn't skimp on the crucial ingredients, either.

In any case, that doughnut sundae is the best decadent dessert I've had in a while. And, yes, I will definately have it again.

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