The last time alcohol passed my lips, 48 days ago, I was sipping a glass of pinot noir with a mate who had popped around out of the blue to visit. I hadn't had a drink for a few weeks and halfway through the glass I thought to myself, 'I'm not actually enjoying this.' I made the rare move, for me, of tipping the rest down the sink after my friend had left. It left me pondering whether I actually enjoyed the taste of alcohol anymore. On reflection, I wonder now if it's something I had just acquired a taste for over the years.
When I first drank at 13 I thought it was pretty horrid actually, but I persevered till it was bearable. For most of my 20s I drank lager or, after the craft beer revolution, pilsner. In my 30s I gravitated more towards chardonnay and pinot noir (some time I'll tell you about the time I ordered a chardonnay during a stag do and how I nearly lost my man card on the spot). In recent years cider has been my tipple of choice.
I like the buttery, vanilla - almost syrupy - chardonnays. I like a full-bodied, peppery pinot - not too fruity or sweet. But don't be fooled folks. While I know what I like, I'm no connoisseur. I'd be lucky if I frequent a vineyard tasting room twice a year. And I'm not one of those Mike Hosking types who pokes his nose in for a sniff (well I do sometimes, but I don't linger for too long), before gargling the stuff like mouth wash and spitting it out (not that there's anything wrong with that). If you drink every wine in the line-up you can actually get a bit of a glow on. That's what it's all about for me, even though I'll often talk up how I can taste the passionfruit in this one or the slight hint of pomegranate in that one (And I can only pull those things out if I've read on the bottle what I'm supposed to be tasting). For the other 363 days of the year I'm drinking the cheapest, yet still drinkable, plonk possible.
I had never liked whiskey till I took a distillery tour on a visit to the sleepy, fishing village of Oban, Scotland. I was told about the Whiskey Map, shown the best way to drink it, and discovered I could tolerate the smoky, peaty, middle-of-the-road varieties. But getting messed up on a large bottle of the stuff with my brother-in-law when I got back to Christchurch, when we had just intended on having a few quiet drams, had little to do with whiskey appreciation.
Looking back at my former drinking self from my new sober outlook, if I'm totally honest, it's always just been about getting the buzz really. It's not purely about how I love the taste of a good wine. I tried alcohol free wine once and it was absolute, almost undrinkable, shit. It's the same with decaffeinated coffee. Something is missing, and we all know what it is.
My old self would consider a triumphant, awesome night out was one where I seemed to be able to drink whatever I wanted, in whatever quantity I wanted and I didn't puke or seem to get too drunk to function. The next day I would actually think about how I'd been in top drinking form, like it had something to do with my innate skill rather than dumb luck. The fact I had a few lucky nights out shouldn't have masked the ugly reality that I was usually in terrible form. If Richie McCaw had played like I drunk he wouldn't have made it out of the Kurow under-10s!
I think back to the nights out which started quietly and ended in benders, the nights where the sole aim from the get-go was to get thoroughly pissed, and the countless nights where I'd just slip into the drowsy, familiar, word-slurring, shallow breathing comfort of half (or a full bottle) of wine on the couch - the edge truly knocked off, a stressful day in the rear-vision mirror, a muddled heavy head in the morning.
My new truth is, I don't miss any of that nonsense, and not being able to have the odd buttery chardonnay is a small sacrifice.
Today's musical offering to the gods of sobriety is the magnificent Mr Williams:
Everyone's Got Something to Say ~ Marlon Willams