I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day.
- Frank Sinatra
Note: I'm just getting around to posting this from our time in Belgium in November.
It's important to have structure.
Even when you're not working, you need to structure your day in a way that allows you to stay in control of the many demands that threaten to pull you apart in every direction.
In my days managing the kids during our year of travel, I have established one simple rule around which my whole day is structured, and it is this:
I don't start drinking until three o'clock.
Such rigor may sound draconian to some, but without structure we are merely bundles of atoms bounding about aimlessly in a universe devoid of meaning. I find nihilism distasteful, so every day I commit myself to sobriety.
Until three o'clock.
It's not easy to maintain this regimen. Often I'll query Erin earlier in the day, "Screw it. Should I just have a beer now?"
"Finish your breakfast," she'll say.
But when at long last the bells toll three, my abstention ends and my ritual begins.
It starts with the beer. I select a bottle from my carefully curated collection in the refrigerator, remove the cap, and pour half of it into a glass. Just half. God forbid my kids leave me alone long enough to down a full beer before it goes flat.
While the head settles, I munch on a handful of nuts and cut a few slices of whatever fancy European cheese we have on hand. I pair this with that morning's bread from the local bakery. On the best days, I'll scare up some chorizo or other salted cured meat to complete the assemblage.
Then I take a sip, and my whole day falls into place. It's just me and my beer. And the cheese. And bread. And nuts. And salted cured meat.
And far off in the distance somewhere, the shrieks and cries of small children who somehow know my name.
My resolve was put to the ultimate test in Brussels, as we spent entire days stuck inside with a refrigerator full of Belgian beer.
I've been struggling to find a home in the modern beer world. Everything nowadays is some kind of IPA in a race to the hop (that's a little wordplay with the phrase "race to the top"). I went through my hoppy beer phase about eight years ago, when 60 Minute Dogfish Head was forbidden fruit. I'm off it now.
I have now found that home. It's Belgium.
When locals can justifiably scoff at the delectable 9% alcohol Chimay Blue as being "too commercial," you know the bar has been raised.
By no means am I a connoisseur of this caliber. I just know what I like, and it's not a very exclusive list. I'm not going to embarrass myself by trying to describe the floral bouquets and earthy aftertastes. My beer vocabulary ends at "a taste, a smoothness, and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price." That's on the Budweiser label.
But I'll give it a shot. My best summary description of Belgian beer would be rich, balanced, and complex. That's on the Sam Adams label, but it seems to fit.
Belgian beers are often strong, but don't taste alcoholic. Some are a little dry, some are a little fruity, some are a little hoppy, but they don't hit you over the head with the sweetness or bitterness. Even the darkest beers don't taste too heavy, and the lighter beers can be very crisp and refreshing despite the high alcohol content. The carbonation tends to be lighter, with the consistency of champagne rather than soda pop.
Worthy of special note are Trappist beers, brewed by Trappist monasteries. Eleven breweries in Europe and America bear the authentic Trappist seal, six of which are in Belgium. This requires adherence to a strict set of standards, including that the beer be brewed within a monastery whose primary function is monastering. Any profits beyond those needed to support the monastery are used for charitable work, so drinking as much Trappist beer as possible is my way of giving back to society.
Here's to feeling good all the time.