The Middle-Aged Guide to Growing Up: Demon Alcohol

I’m a Boomer, born at the height of the baby boom, and about the same age as a B-52. I don’t drink now. I used to, like most of my friends. Most of my friends don’t drink now. We all filled up our dance cards by the time we were in our 40s, and decided it was tea time. The ones who still drink never drank much and still don’t.

When we drank, though, it wasn’t single malt scotch with unpronounceable names and a smell like cat’s piss, it wasn’t artisanal bourbon with a hint of maple or whatever, it was beer. And cheap wine (at least until we grew up). In my 20s and 30s, I drank Molson Ex in quart bottles and a cheap Hungarian red called Egri Bikaver (Bull’s Blood). There was no reason not to. Not much else was available and drinking wasn’t what you did for the taste, it was to kill thirst.

In my 30s and 40s that became Asahi Super Dry beer and Valpolicella. Vats of it. I collected vintage Bordeaux (which I still have, never to drink), but drank Italian export red. Australia wasn’t sending us lakes of interesting cheap Shiraz yet, and no one had thought of craft beer.

Problem was, we are the generation that can’t get enough. Of anything. Music, sex, cheap highs, and booze. It was OK when we were young, poor and busy, no one could afford to drink too much. In my case, along with more money and more leisure, came more fun. And that was no fun at all.

I quit drinking at 45. My two oldest friends had quit a couple of years before me. I don’t miss it, except for a cold beer on a sunny day, and the Europeans make some great non-alcoholic beers, so that’s OK. I remember my dreams now. I don’t hate waking up. I don’t mainline coffee and, most of all, I have to take responsibility for everything I do, because I can’t blame it on what I had to drink.

When you don’t drink, it becomes clear how much of our commercial conversation is centred around drinking. Count the beer ads on TV, the liquor billboards downtown. Drinking is the universal social lubricant: “Can I get you a drink?”. “What are you drinking?”. Let’s get a drink”. And nobody’s talking about water. There isn’t much to drink in good restaurants when you don’t drink wine. 15% of the population never drinks alcohol, yet very few bars have learned to stock good non-alcoholic beers, of which there are quite a few (that don’t include O’Doul’s). It can be tough being a non-drinker. You appreciate cranberry juice, you have to get over your embarrassment at ordering a Virgin Caesar or a Shirley Temple (what IS a Shirley Temple?)

Parties are boring when you don’t drink. They start out fun, but about an hour or two in, the volume gets louder and people start repeating themselves. They’re competing, not conversing. Non-drinkers leave parties around 9:30. There’s wonderful social advantages, of course. I’m always available to drive, no matter when. I can go out and see a band and not break the bank (if they don’t triple-charge the tonic water). And I’m up at 7 AM every morning, infuriatingly cheerful and awake.

I’m not trying to generalize to the population here. I know this is not every Boomer’s experience, not even for many. Most people can drink and have fun, not too much fun, like me. But I’m continually surprised by the number of people my age I meet who don’t drink, either because they never really did or because they recently stopped. It seems to be going out of fashion with our set, and we aren’t wedded to the Single-Malt Small-Batch Artisanal Craft Cocktail of booze which social drinking has become among people younger than us. Boomers, if they get passionate about anything alcoholic, will likely reserve their enthusiasm for a bold Syrah, a meaty Chateauneuf du Pape or a famous Burgundy.

As I said, I used to collect vintage Bordeaux, a cellar of which I still have. From 2005, one of the first and still one of the best years of the new century. Pichon-Lalande. Lynch-Bages. Grand Puy Lacoste. It gathers value sitting there, but I can’t sell it, the LCBO won’t let me. And I don’t want to. I think I’ll take up drinking again when I’m 80, as a treat, and get into those Bordeaux. They’ll be 30 years old by then, just old enough to go on a date with an old man.