I met Derek Brown as many have, when he held court behind the bar – specifically, the old iteration of the Columbia Room, when it was just a room, a temple of mixology hidden inside the rowdiest Passenger bar in Washington. That night, he took our little entourage through a varied cocktail list, filling us in on the drinks, including one of his signature cocktails, the Getaway, a daiquiri enhanced with bitter Cynar liqueur.
As I became more interested in cocktails, I enjoyed Brown’s pieces for the Atlantic, which were smart and unpretentious, providing education on spirits and cocktails as well as the occasional counter-shot. current, such as “Confessions of a Binge Drinker” in 2012. in which he gently mocked criticism from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the dangers of consuming more than five alcoholic beverages in “a short period of time “. He noted that he had done it several times over the past month and that the end result was not dangerous, promiscuous, suicidal or violent behavior: “I just had a good time and then fell asleep. “
Over the years, I’d seen Brown out there — pouring drinks, drinking drinks, educating people about drinks, always in the center of the action. Between his job running his bars and writing and hosting a series of National Archives lectures on the history of the American cocktail, I don’t know when he slept. I might have envied him a little, like someone who had found a career that mixed his rowdy side with his ambition and his intelligence, who had really found his element.
Maybe it wasn’t a completely wrong impression. But, as I discovered by reading Brown’s new book, Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails, and telling him about the work he’s done over the past few years on the book and on itself, it was incomplete.
“I drank too much,” he says bluntly. Although he does not consider himself an alcoholic, a few years ago he discovered that he had come to a point where the outer reality of his life did not match the inner reality. “Outwardly everyone was like, ‘Hey man, you’re fine! Congratulations on this or that,’ and internally I’m falling apart,” he says. “I was standing in a mess of my own making. So many Aspects of my life were out of my control or weren’t the way I wanted them to be. . . . I had to deal with it.”
I caught Brown as he struggled with one of the stresses of so many parents right now, trying to send proof of his son’s negative coronavirus test to his school. His new book is dedicated to his son, and he writes movingly about the influence of this responsibility and his growing sense that all was not well: “I’m not averse to alcohol, I’m into it . This immersion brought me joy and recognition for my job, but it also brought me a lot of pain and suffering. Especially when I had to wake up and take care of both my son and my hangover. I would heat up a bottle and take the Pedialyte (the Pedialyte was for me, the bottle for him), pray for my son to take a nap. . . . But baby duty wasn’t the only thing contributing to my pain and suffering. The lifestyle of a young bartender and bar owner, awash in all the trappings of rock stars except world fame, had led from late nights to early mornings and – too many drinks – having drinks. decisions that I would end up regretting.
Brown got to a better place through an outpatient program and therapy. He stopped drinking completely for a while and now drinks very rarely. But once he got to a better place, he says, he had to figure out what that change would mean. “I was very scared – how am I going to tell people, especially those who rely on me, that I can’t do this anymore?”
Fortunately, he discovered that his fears were largely unfounded: the people in his life, his friends, family and associates, were overwhelmingly supportive of his new direction.
Brown sees her change and her new book — which is full of balanced, bright drinks that bear little resemblance to the overly sweet concoctions that have tainted the reputation of “mocktails” — as part of a continuum. (He and many others eschew the “m” word; where others have tried to find a substitute term, Brown says he doesn’t seek one. “I want to normalize the consumption of fancy drinks for adults alcohol-free and that means avoiding silly or confusing names. So, to me, it’s cocktails,” he wrote in the book.)
His central message in his drinking education efforts, he points out, has always been to drink better. “At one point, that meant having a better cocktail, but there’s nothing alcohol-exclusive about that process. I can make good mocktails and I can still encourage people to enjoy their lives and have good drinks and be together and it really has nothing to do with alcohol,” he says. “I realized I didn’t have to let anyone down — in fact, I get to speak on behalf of a whole group of people who weren’t being served. Literally.”
When I asked Brown about his old essay, he readily admits that the article is just the tip of the ice cream maker when it comes to things he would approach differently now. “You watch something like ‘Confessions of a Binge Drinker’, I think I was a bit in denial. I think it’s pretty easy to see in retrospect,” he says.
But it stays true to its general premise, which is that someone can drink more than five drinks over several hours and feel good overall about the impact of alcohol on their life. It depends on the individual and why they do it, how often they do it, what kind of role alcohol plays for them, what drives them to drink.
“The problem,” he says, “is not the one I defended. The problem was me.
While drinking alcohol is never truly healthy and shouldn’t be portrayed as such, I do believe it is possible to drink responsibly – or “mindfully”, as Brown puts it, a term I love. for his removal of the slight air of “responsible” reprimand may carry. As someone who often goes weeks without drinking, but who on a few social occasions a year has more than the CDC would recommend in a single sitting, I find Brown’s argument rings true. Others will choose a different approach – more or less – that works for them. Still others (believe me, I know this from my hate mail) view all alcohol consumption as physically harmful and anyone who drinks it as just an addict who hasn’t seen the light yet.
And arguments are usually futile. After all, anyone who says “I’m not an alcoholic” often makes their case just as effectively as those who tell everyone not to think of an elephant.
Either way, this honest, non-judgmental, non-absolutist approach to considering the role alcohol plays in your life is one of the many elements I like about “Mindful Mixology,” which is published in dry January, but includes non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beverages — an intentional choice, Brown says, but one that may make the book a poor choice for someone recovering. Its versions of the Aperol Spritz, Americano and St-Germain Cocktail, for example, not only include the traditional low-alcohol versions, but also delicious non-alcoholic lookalikes. And, of course, there are plenty of new non-alcoholic drinks, including a version of its own highly rated Getaway.
The book should be a must read for anyone who wants to stop drinking alcohol for a while, drink less, or simply be equipped to accommodate and serve sophisticated, delicious beverages to others who do – for whatever reason. that is. And there are so many, Brown points out. For him, it was sanity; for others, it might be substance abuse issues, pregnancy, or “that they’re running a marathon the next morning.” The important thing is that they have a choice. »