The popular truth, "Use it or lose it," takes on even more poignancy with the human aging process. Various pieces parts of the human anatomy take on their own existence as time marches on, developing characteristics completely out of sync with other connected parts. While that is going on, some parts in other places choose to fade away, causing no trouble, but silently slipping into irrelevancy.
The challenge is to keep the whole operation, namely yourself, as sharp, limber and pain-free as it all was back in younger, not necessarily better, moments. That challenge is met with exercise, done regularly and to some degree of stress. And we mostly think of exercise as moving one thing or the other repetitively.
Yet, no body part is as key to our quality of life, or benefits as much from exercise, as the mind. Wouldn't it be ideal, on a New Orleans scale, if we could keep on thinking and keep on drinking? Oh boy, you are going to love me today.
Let me share with you what I really love about fermented beverages and distilled spirits, aside from the taste and the obvious resulting effects, which does not ever include being inebriated. To be sure, I have been, but I truly hate it.
What I absolutely enjoy about these beverages is a variety of factors, outside of their taste and aromas, which have to do with their history, their structure and their sense of place. Doing a bit of research, or traveling to the locations where wines or spirits are born, is so rewarding. And it is so broad. When you learn the basic facts and the stories connected to the liquid, you are covering a lot of ground, not to mention enjoying the satisfying effects brought on by the chemical reactions with our body.
You are really connected to the liquid when you know about it in an organic way. It’s fun and adds to your pleasures. Plus you are continuing to exercise your mind by learning new things from different places about a happy product. At least that’s my story and I will be sticking to it.
Some of the bodies of knowledge which come into play:
Agriculture – every adult beverage began as a crop. Grapes, grain, rice, sugar cane, herb, plants, and more all have to come into play or we don’t have what we like. And what do you know about those growing items? Where are they best suited to grow? What was the weather like during their development? What are the places like and why do those particular natural plants do so well in those locations? What are the soils like? Drainage? Irrigation?
It’s often tough for us city-folks to get our mind into those circumstances but when we learn about the agriculture we add to our humanity.
Chemistry – so what happens when a farm product is allowed to sit in a closed environment with its own yeast that naturally occurs on its skin? Or what happens when a grain is sent through a heating process to arrive at its essence? Those processes, fermentation and distillation, are the heart of the chemistry that changes them into a wine or a spirit.
And those processes have been a part of human experience for over 6,000 years. Early man discovered the benefits of converting naturally grown fruits and grains into a liquid with alcohol. It may have happened by accident, such as leaving a residue of fruit juice out in the sun for a few days and enjoying a partial result of fermentation.
Modern fermentation is a managed activity, controlling the process so as to assure the quality result. It has been said that fermentation is nothing more than having good fruit go bad, well.
Geography – Appreciating the computer axiom GIGO (garbage in, garbage out), which perfectly describes the fermentation and distillation process. Start with good raw product, allow nature to do her thing, minimally manage the process and the outcome, and you have a decent, if not excellent, result. In order to achieve, however, from the very beginning those results which make everyone pause and enjoy, you have to harvest the initial fruit and/or grain at the right time from the right patch of land with all the factors in the fruit/grain’s favor.
Through the millennia, we have been able to winnow down the right places, inhabited by the right people, to assure the right result.
History – Here is where it gets really fun to learn about the background of a product. What happened in this place to previous generations? Did they build a great castle? Were they involved in wars? What great events occurred in the neighborhood? Who were the key players and what were they like?
Just studying the French wine country as two great World Wars washed over the vineyards and the Chateaux is fodder for lengthy college courses. But we don’t need to know it all in that detail. Just the high spots of history. Like America during the Revolutionary period, or the Napoleonic era in France, or the Renaissance in Florence. Wines and spirits are all involved, sometimes playing key roles.
Society – What are the people like who make these beverages? What makes them tick? Why did they create and/or perfect a process? Were they close to their neighbors or very spread out? What did they learn in school? What sports did they enjoy? Such knowledge can tell you a lot about a people.
Culinary – Finally, and maybe most importantly, what did they have to eat and what did they enjoy eating? Historically, you are likely not to find an area that creates adult beverages have a dish that does not pair well with that beverage. It is really only recently in our history thanks to modern transportation and refrigerated storage that we could enjoy food not from our neighborhood.
That fact is most certainly reflected in food and beverage choices developed by our ancestors. There are reasons why syrah goes so well with duck, or pasta pairs wonderfully with sangiovese wines. It’s all fascinating stuff to learn.
And that’s what I enjoy so much about adult beverages. What can be learned, discovered, and appreciated is endless. The mind is exercised as the soul is satisfied. Oh, happy day!