This month, the session is hosted by Douglas Smiley (awesome name) of Baltimore Bistros and Bars. He asks the simple question of why we drink and while the question is simple, the answer is a little more complicated. I suppose that we should first delve in to the question of why any human being drinks?
Well the answer to that goes back to the dawn of civilisation itself where beer is very likely to have been the reason we packed up our tents and stopped chasing after animals while throwing pointy sticks at them. Instead we took up a more sedentary life of farming and community. Civilisation itself sprung from the simple fact that you can't brew beer when you are chasing after your food. Why though? Why bother with beer at all? It's a long and labour intensive process to make beer so why did our ancestors do it?
The answer I'm sure lies in how it made them feel, it was like communing with nature or God or whatever they believed in back then. It altered their mind and state of consciousness. Is that the only reason? No it's not and I actually believe the real answer lies not in what beer or any alcohol for that matter does do your state of mind. I believe it's more to do with a simple fact. Humans, like all apes are social creatures. We crave it. There is nothing more devastating to the human psyche than to be utterly alone. It would make a far more effective means of torture to just throw someone in a dark windowless cell for a few weeks. As soon as they lay eyes on another person the will be willing to tell them anything. Saves the messy business of cutting off fingers. Sorry, I'm digressing somewhat. The point is, humans need to be around other humans. Beer has always been a communal drink.
Beer was very different back in the day. It was more like a fermented porridge and communally drunk via a straw. This still happens today among several tribes in parts of Africa, I suppose it's a little bit like the native American peace pipe in that regards. Beer brings whole communities together as almost equals. After all, you could be like the picture above which shows a Sumerian noble sharing beer with people of lower social standing. He may be sitting on an elevated throne but he is sharing the same beer as the commoners.
These days, little has changed. Most people still congregate in a pub and share beer with each other. It lifts the spirit and usually brings out a sense of community. You can strike up a random conversation in a pub with someone you might never talk to on the street or in another situation because beer breaks down social barriers.
It's not all good news, we all hear stories about lager louts and people who drink too much. At best, they pass out and make a mess. At worst, they become violent. It's worth remembering that it's not the alcohol that directly makes them violent. Alcohol diminishes reasoning power. It reduces or removes your ability to control your actions so a naturally aggressive person loses their control and they can become more aggressive. This is where the human need for social interaction becomes a problem because you can get a group of people with a similar disposition act with a pack mentality and go on the rampage. It's rare but it does happen.
There are many people in the world who would love nothing more than to have alcohol banned outright and for it not to exist. These people are short sighted and just see alcohol as evil. They tend to be religious. Ironically, if it wasn't for alcohol, their religion might never have come in to being in the first place. Mind altering substances, and alcohol especially have always gone hand in hand with most religions. Even Jesus turned water in to wine and St Brigid apparently made beer for the common folk.
Beer and alcohol is not evil, nor is it good. They simply exist and it's not only humans that consume it. Many other animals eat/drink fermented fruits with a passion. They even seek them out. Humans just have the luxury in that we know how to make it for ourselves. We are a lucky bunch.
So why do I drink beer? See above but also because I simply love the flavour and a certain amount of the mind altering abilities of alcohol. I don't drink to get drunk and I think that sets me apart from many Irish people, for whom the goal is to get drunk enough that they don't remember how good of a night it was. It seems a pointless goal to me. I drink to be surprised by something new and that's why I try and drink every beer I can get my hands on. I drink simply to enjoy the beer and my time drinking it and I like to drink with like minded people because drinking with friends is the best way to enjoy the experience.