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Tonight, drinking to you

A friend and I looked across our neighbor’s yard, knowing inside the light gray shed with white trim was the perfect table for beer pong. We lived in a lakeside apartment in college, next to often-empty summer homes. I voiced doubt, envisioning us mid-heist when an aging day trader would emerge, Scrooge-like, from the third-story window, announcing the police were already on their way. Our party was in an hour.

“You know,” my roommate said, peering past our reflections in the kitchen window, “I’ve found people notice me a lot less than I think they do.” 

More recently, another dear friend put it this way: We are the protagonist of our own story and merely a supporting character in everyone else’s. What a release. Realize no one cares about your life as much as you do, you start prioritizing yourself in choices instead of others’ opinions. You live for yourself. You locate other people living for themselves, and you start having drinks with them, and suddenly you’re awash in a euphoric joie de vivre. For me, it’s time to pursue more of that. As such, this is my last article for (585) magazine, with new and exciting storytelling on the horizon. I’m grateful to the publication for letting me write about what excites me in the world of drink. And while you also have your own stories to draft, I’m grateful to you for reading this piece and for the time you’ve given my words during my tenure. Thank you. Now, back to the party.

Why are the most heartfelt times in our lives often buoyed on a sea of drink? We drink to toast the best times. To muffle the worst times. We welcome old friends with drinks. We make new ones over drinks. We meet for a cocktail, a beer, coffee, tea, a nice local kombucha. Drinks, alcoholic or otherwise, are the solution into which we drip concentrations of our fears, hopes, admissions, admonishments, and tear-welling triumphs. Whether it’s sailing plastic balls through the air in college or meeting an old friend for a cocktail to compare photos of grandchildren, the image of two people, slipping sips amid conversation is witnessed in every bar, patio, plaza, coffee shop, tea lounge, restaurant, and kitchen table across the world. 

So, I ask again. Why do we drink together? Maybe it’s because we always have.

We all learned in school that agriculture marked the first step toward civilization:  hunter-gatherers planted wheat to make bread, and here we are. The thing is, the grain those first trailblazers planted, called einkorn, would have made awful bread. But it makes great beer. Artifacts of beer and winemaking have been discovered in Iran, Egypt, Sudan, India, China, and ancient Babylon, ranging from 7,000 to 1,500 BCE. On our own continent, Native Americans made booze across the land, implementing everything from agave in the Southwest to maple sap in the Northeast. And what’s more, they weren’t drinking alone.

An ancient Sumerian etching shows two people drinking from a giant shared beer vessel with long straws. It’s from the third millennium BCE, for crying out loud. For these cultures, sharing a drink symbolized trust and equality. Unlike with food, no one got a better or bigger portion than anyone else. And, more vitally, in days of trying to get a leg up on neighboring tribes by any means necessary, people drinking out of the same vessel during a meeting was insurance that no one was poisoning their counterpart. 

Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about drinking buddies murdering us for our herds as much as our forebears did. But is it written into our primordial essence to drink together with people as an unconscious yet strong bond of friendship? Maybe. On the other hand, it’s possible drinking together is simply good for us. 

In 2018, the Guardian cited an analysis of 148 heart attack patients monitored for a year after their cardiac episodes. Strong relationships with friends made more of a difference than other factors like smoking, obesity, and exercise. And friends who drink together sync together. An article published by the website JSTOR discusses a 2012 psychological study that divided 720 subjects into three groups: Those who knew they were drinking vodka cranberries, those who thought they were but actually weren’t, and those who knew they were just drinking cranberry juice. 

The study tracked facial expressions and conversation patterns, looking for “golden moments” in which people smiled with their full face, understood by experts to convey true happiness. Those drinking alcohol together had the most golden moments and also chatted more and had fewer overall negative facial emotions than the other two groups. 

All of this to say, drinking together makes us happy. And being happy is good for us. Maybe that’s why we do it. It softens the edges between people and allows us to blend. And, at a time when those edges seem so rigidly, even militantly defined, that’s a beautiful thing.

I’m writing this in May. The day I started researching this article, I stopped for the evening to go out with several (also vaccinated) friends at one of my favorite restaurants. Sunlight streamed through the windows and illuminated our glasses. For the first time in more than a year, I looked around a long table, at the entirety of my friends’ faces. We laughed, unmasked. We toasted. They say toasting is a holdover from an ancient tradition—supplicants held cups of blood or wine aloft and called out to the gods for something they hoped would come to pass.

Grant me this indulgence. Next issue, someone else will be writing this column, and they’ll do a great job. But since I have your eyes right now, and I’m the protagonist of my story as you are of yours, I’d like to raise this glass of excellent rye to you, reader, here at my desk. And I’d like to offer you this toast—an offering to the gods of good drink in hope of things to come.

I hope you have love in your life, especially for yourself.

I hope sunshine crosses your threshold often, and when it doesn’t, I hope you have a candle to bridge the gap.

I hope your life’s roots grow deep, and its boughs are heavy with blossoms. 

I hope that soon, you smile with your full face, and laugh so hard you feel it in the morning.

I hope when you lay your trophies out in front of you, more came from peace than from war.

Finally, and no matter what, I hope you find your way home.

From my glass to yours, cheers, and thanks again.  

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