I bought a small bottle of sake last week, about ten ounces (less than a can of pop), just to try the brand. I had sake when I was in Chicago in the middle of February, for the first time in a long time, probably since Marilyn died. It was Gekkeikan, warmed, and it was very good. However, I did not get the chance to savor it properly, or even finish it. Good sake, it seems, is wasted on your average college male. And some Germans.
I had ended up by chance out on the town with a group from Erhard’s studio, including Erhard himself. Most of the table ordered carafes of sake. For me that’s enough to last through appetizers, entre, desert, and several hours of good conversation. However, as the restaurant was rather expensive, the boys decided just to have a drink in the bar before moving on. (Apparently interest in the restaurant had been generated more by the unique, three-story glass façade, than the food or drink.) Having not had any dinner yet, I also ordered the chocolate hazelnut torte from the desert menu, which I shared around to table to much appreciation and wonder.
Many of the young men had never had sake before. Some appreciated it more than others. However, I fear they failed to learn there is a great deal of difference between sake and mere liquor, just like there is a great deal of difference between cake and torte. (Or perhaps I’m just a snob, but nevertheless.) In a half hour they were ready to go, their carafes empty. I quickly realized this wasn’t going to work out and as they headed north in search of a mythical burger joint on the river (over a mile away yet), I headed back towards the hotel, stopping to pick up a turkey sandwich on the way. (Apparently they later got drunk enough to vomit in front of their professor. Lucky them.)
When I returned to Lincoln, I determined to find a good source of sake. The only places I had it prior were at a few of the nicer Japanese restaurants in Omaha. With Marilyn. February 2, 2007, was the day she died.
So I went to Jake’s Cigars, which also carries a fine stock of bottles. That’s where I buy my whiskey. They didn’t have Gekkeikan, but I found a small bottle of Nigori Genshu the clerk recommended. It’s a little sweet to my taste, but a descent enough start. I’ve been drinking a little each night, as I know sake, like wine, doesn’t keep. Tonight I cautiously tasted the cloudy liquid, after swirling it thoughtfully in its bottle. It doesn’t go bad precisely, it just oxidizes and loses its flavor, becoming harsh and astringent. I poured it out, the remaining half of the bottle. A shame, yes, but it hadn’t cost too much. I might even be persuaded to buy their more expensive variety for the next get together I hold.
Instead tonight I returned to my staple, Bush Black, Irish whiskey from Bushmills. I drink it neat, and never too much, generally less than once a week (and usually in conjunction with a hot bath). I find the idea of ice or water in whiskey mildly offensive. (Though sometimes it is good in coffee on a particularly cold night.) If it doesn’t trigger one’s cough reflex on the swallow, it doesn’t qualify as whiskey. Even with that reflex, there’s something about whiskey I find unaccountably appealing. Marilyn preferred scotch, but as much as I could share her appreciation of sake, she was never able to impart her enjoyment of scotch or beer to me.
I think I had a very unorthodox education in alcohol. At the age of nineteen I found myself surrounded by a group of thirty and forty something people, all of whom had their own well developed predilections. (“A drinking club with a fencing problem.”) While I was never chided over my featherweight status and preferences for moderation, I was also never excluded due to my age or legal status. I was introduced to the finer intricacies of various beers, which I never developed a taste for having tried almost every kind, good Merlot, which I actively dislike, mead, which I actively enjoy, sake, scotch, Chianti, port, martinis and their various vodka bases, margaritas and frozen drinks, numerous sours and other mixed drinks, and any number of other red and white wines, as well as champagne. That long list being what it is, I spread my tasting strategy out over several years, so that by the time I came to UNL, alcohol had long since lost any excitement it might have held and instead earned the respect and appreciation it deserves (if it’s good).
I believe the current drinking age of twenty-one precludes the kind of educated introduction I had. Most nineteen-year-olds don’t have so many older, well educated friends. In fact, most of my classmates started drinking in high school on cheap beer, vodka, and Everclear. For them, alcohol was merely a quick means to a bad end – getting shit-faced drunk. They didn’t have the moderating influence of wiser, more experienced minds. Most teenagers are actually reasonable individuals. It’s when they travel in packs, as they tend to do both by inclination and design (i.e. high school), things get dicey. I was always surrounded by a number of people, many of whom did not drink, and I always had a safe ride home or spare bed to roll into should I need it.
It would be far wiser, and more mature for the nation as a whole, to return the drinking age to at least eighteen, if not sixteen. Make it legal. Bring teenagers out of the dark and into places where they can be kept safe. Allow them to drink in the company of their parents and older relatives and friends. Bad behavior naturally surrounds anything that is taboo, be it alcohol, raves, prostitution, or any number of illicit activities. The wiser minds needed to moderate such atmospheres would not be found in them in the first place because of their illegality.
Perhaps I am an idealist, but I recognize I had a good introduction to alcohol, so I don’t see why others can’t. Because of that I now associate drinking not with getting drunk, but with good times with good friends. So I don’t drink to get drunk and I don’t use alcohol recklessly because I have not built that habitual pattern. I was actively encouraged not to build that pattern, even as my friends did offer me alcohol. The two are not mutually exclusive by any means.
So tonight I’ll raise my little glass of whiskey in thanks to Marilyn, Ian, Sue, Don, Jake, Noreen, Melissa, John, Dale, Andy, and all the others who ensured I would live long enough to learn to appreciate it.