From the Archives: Ethanol Contented

Ethanol Contented


Donny Clutterbuck   |   November 4, 2016



A guy walks into a bar, so does another, and the third guy ducks. Get it? My dad used to do that to me all the time. I roll my eyes at that joke whenever I think of it. I’m really not rolling my eyes at the joke, but more at my father. This has nothing to do with anything.


So, a guy walks into a bar after having dinner on a first date. He’s had a couple of glasses of wine, but it would’ve been a couple more if the date wasn’t such a bore. “Another unenjoyable meal that cost double the price it could’ve,” he thinks to himself. After having half the bottle of malbec and suffering through what felt like a two-hour job interview, he wants a glass of scotch. A glass of Islay. Two ounces of something sharp. Something peaty. He gets it and it makes him forget entirely the previous endeavor, as he sits alone at the bar in a suit meant for a passenger. The first drink worked so well that he contemplates grabbing another. “Well, I’m walking home and I’d already planned to be out all night, so one more won’t hurt.” The second, as we know, rarely has the same effect as the first, but I believe that’s his point.


A woman plants herself on the barstool beside, and the two become entrenched in conversation. Isn’t it always the way? These things can only happen well if by accident. He finishes his scotch, and she finishes her sparkling, as they tell stories about the horrid dates they’d experienced that eve. They haven’t spent enough time to know one another so well that they can escape to a setting less public, so they stick around for another drink. The impromptus date isn’t over, so he orders a beer. “I’ll have a beer—the IPA please. I need to slow down.” She orders 2oz of rye whiskey neat, although not in an effort to look tough.


The plan, for both parties, is not to get more drunk, but to continue the eve. To maintain, if you will. They need a reason to stay on this date, so they spend nearly another hour at this bar together and the lights begin to brighten inside. Despite the illumination, they’re still into one another, and they make their way out of the bar. I’m not going to get into what happens next, so you’re just going to have to fill in the blanks.


The next morning, each of them arises in a bright, post-dawn bedroom, fondly remembering the events of the night prior. Together or separate, you may wonder? Calm down. It’s not essential to the story. She arises with the glass of water half gone next to the bed, feeling like she was out a bit late, but generally ready for the day. No painkillers necessary this time. He wakes up with a splitting headache, and feels like his head is anchored sturdily to the ground beneath him by barbed wire. No sudden movements for most of today. No sports, and no exuberant conversation.


Why the big difference in attitudes the following morning? “Slow down.” What does that mean? I’m sure there are a million chemical reasons that our bodies feel less-than-zippy after a long night of fun, but I find two main reasons for hangovers, and neither of them are drinking too much alcohol. My body has a shutoff valve and eventually I no longer want alcohol. High volume and abundance of sugar are my next-day-derailers. Let’s start with alcohol content, which translates directly into dehydration.


How much dehydration? Lord only knows. I haven’t bumped into any scholarly articles about this as of late, so let’s not get into that side. Each 6oz glass of 12.5% ABV wine contains .75oz of pure ethanol. Each 2oz pour of 45.6% ABV scotch contains .912oz of pure ethanol. Each 12oz IPA with an ABV of 7.6% contains .912oz of pure ethanol. It’s a trap! Don’t do it! I’m here to posit today that the concept of “slowing down” is a bit of a myth.

Here’s my rationale.

Using the ethanol content figures above (V/ABV), the 12oz IPA has the same amount of ethanol as the 2oz scotch. We trick ourselves into thinking that we’re slowing down somehow because the beer is of larger volume and lower ABV. It’s going to go down just as quickly, I can guarantee. So there’s no difference between the scotch and the beer in terms of dehydration from ethanol intake. But then there’s the sugar part. Beer is higher volume and higher sugar. Way higher. Sugar dehydrates, and the volume of the beer makes us feel full and hydrated, so we drink less water. Double Whammy. The saving grace would be that the beer is lower in alcohol, but in this particular instance (and probably many, many others) that just plain isn’t the case.


Beer is delightful. So is cider, and so is wine. Whiskey may be my preference, but it is certainly not without its demons. Those demons are fortunately just ethanol-related. For example, if you drank an equal volume of whiskey as you did beer or wine, you may actually perish. In which case, you’d skip the hangover part!


The point here is most certainly not to dissuade you from drinking diverse alcoholic beverages. Rather, it is to dispel the rumors that switching to something with lower ABV later in the night will somehow make your life easier in the morning. There are many factors at play, and ABV is only one tiny cog in the great machine that is the hangover.


My final advice, and the conclusion of this writing, is to drink whatever the heck you want. You know how to handle what you normally drink, right? So don’t switch over to anything. Stop drinking if you’re too drunk, or keep drinking the same thing more slowly by chugging a full glass of water before that last drink that you’re not so sure you should have. I figuratively guarantee that your results will be far more pleasant if you switch to that ideology. If you already do that, then I’m sorry you suffered through to the end of my ramblings. But now that you’ve made it here, I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I love you. I do. I really do.


With that—goodnight, and more importantly, good morning.


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