Elegantly wasted: Has the lockdown made alcohol dangerously ambitious? | Cocktails


TThe shadow of a palm leaf falls on a young woman in a bikini, holding an emerald-colored cocktail in a manicured hand. A negroni shines from the depths of a dark bar; a tray of glasses laden with fruit sits next to a swimming pool. The #cocktail hashtag on Instagram is a passport to a magical land of drinking, where everything is lined with rose petals and no one ever seems to have a hangover.

Its inhabitants are a mix of passionate amateurs who review their latest discoveries, and professional “ginfluencers” who make their living from creating lavishly photographed cocktail recipes or sponsored posts promoting this rhubarb gin or this new one. tequila. Colorful drinks are popular, says Inka Kukkamäki, a full-time influencer whose @onthesauceagain account has 21,000 Instagram followers. “Something a little interesting and unusual, or just something simple like a negroni – any kind of negroni twist is getting popular. The Italian aperitif culture really caught on in the UK last year.

Originally from Finland, but married to a Scottish man and living near Florence in Italy, the 33-year-old divides her time between visits to distilleries or tastings, developing recipes for her blog and social media accounts, and advice to food and drink brands on social networks. management. A newbie influencer, she explains, might receive free bottles to review and write. But the real money comes from working with alcohol brands on paid campaigns, a slightly disguised form of advertising, even though she insists she only picks the brands she really likes in order to keep the brand. reader confidence. According to her, influencers clearly affected drinking habits during a pandemic. “Nobody can go to the bars, they start having a drink at home, but don’t want to use the same old bottle of wine and maybe you miss the cocktails.” connected to. “

It’s been the year of the Home Cocktail Party, rocked to liven up Zoom Friday Night with friends or to mark the end of an otherwise sprawling homework day. And the habit seems to hold now that the lockdown is over. Waitrose recently reported a 148% increase in sales of the Italian aperitif Aperol in July compared to last year, and a similar jump in searches for its espresso martini recipe online.

David Powlson, a 44-year-old paper production consultant, got the lockdown bug when his West London running club could no longer hold their monthly pub meetings, instead switching to virtual beer, wine and cocktail tastings. “Since then, I’ve continued to make one almost every night,” says Powlson, who prefers mint juleps. “You also feel like you’ve learned something – you start looking for things on YouTube.” Social media has helped demystify the whole process, with booming mixology videos on TikTok and bartenders on leave offering private Zoom Martini-making classes.

Catrin Roberts, who works for Welsh TV channel S4C, was part of a Saturday night cocktail rotation among neighbors on her Cardiff street during the lockdown. It started, she says, as a spin-off from cooking more elaborate meals to entertain her five-year-old triplets. “We made shrimp cocktails for the kids and they kept asking, and one weekend my husband said, ‘Why don’t we make cocktails for ourselves?’ Shortly after, she left one on the doorstep of a neighbor living alone; Soon after, several households were safely trading weekly daiquiris and caipirinhas for the Covid. “We were texting to say, ‘There’s a supply of vitamins on your doorstep,’” says Roberts, who has scoured the internet for new recipes. “We make different ones, that’s a good thing – we’ve discovered new cocktails and learned a lot more about the people on our street. “

Like Powlson, who sometimes halves the alcohol in a recipe, she says they are “relatively measured” about their consumption. But having lost their sense of taste due to Covid, spirits were one of the first things she and her doctor husband could taste again, and cocktails looked like “a party thing” in dark times. Three units of alcohol always makes three units, but drinking it in a pretty glass bordered with salt is more elegant. The jamming and measuring rituals elevate it beyond just getting screwed up – although that’s exactly what an alarming number of us have done.

The Reverend Richard Coles, radio presenter and author, recently lost his partner to alcohol addiction and, speaking to the Radio Times in June, warned of the “glamorization” of alcohol, calling for TV series to bring “realism to a distorted picture” of “how we poison ourselves” with alcohol. More people in the world die from alcohol than from cocaine, he pointed out, reflecting the former’s status as a legal, socially acceptable and frequently fictionalized drug.

Contrary to popular belief, alcohol consumption fell in England during the first lockdown and held steady in Scotland, according to a study by the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group. But headlines hide more complex individual stories. Andrew Misell of the Alcohol Change UK charity, which advocates for better treatment for drug addicts – and for Britons to drink by thoughtful choice, not by default – says about a third of people drank more than normal during the period. lockdown, with a similar number drinking less and the rest seeing no change. But one in four adults in England and Scotland was already drinking beyond the low-risk chief physician guidelines of no more than 14 units before Covid, and Misell says it was heavy drinkers who were more likely to increase their consumption in the privacy of confinement.

“There has always been one thing in this country to boast about drinking,” he says. “It covers the whole spectrum, from blatant bragging about how you were broken last night, to more polite understatements and mock regret the next day.” Birthday cards revolve around beer, gin, and prosecco jokes, while Main Street is full of alcohol-themed mugs, coasters, and pillows. Over the past decade, says Misell, a popular culture that normalizes excess has merged with an online culture of concealing negatives, which teaches us to share elegant images of clinking champagne flutes rather than ugly images of the next day. morning. “You’ve got the Perfect Storm, which is the tendency of social media to make us want to present a much better version of ourselves than what’s actually true, as well as our national tendency to make alcohol jokes,” explains Misell.

And it’s all happening in a commercial gray area where Facebook moms posting on #wineoclock rub shoulders with bars advertising happy hour, conventional brand ads, and influencers plugging in #sponsored content. Accounts like @onthesauceagain contain warnings indicating that they are for over 18s only and use the hashtag #responsibledrinking; Since her posts emphasize quality over quantity, Kukkamäki says she doesn’t worry about her readers overdoing it. “When I drink cocktails I can’t drink a lot – you might have two and that’s it.” But not everyone is equally responsible.

The Advertising Standards Authority’s code of alcohol marketing – which prohibits the link between alcohol and sex, violence, irresponsible behavior, or better moods – applies to online alcohol marketing, and its reach extends beyond conventional advertising. In 2018, he berated the Scottish Gin Society (representing gin producers) for sharing memes on Facebook, including: “Shut up liver, you’re fine! Gin? “And:” I only drink gin on two occasions: when I’m thirsty and when I’m not thirsty “, prompting the organization to complain about a” faceless state judgment, no fun, nanny ”.

But in the same way, the alcohol-soaked content produced and shared by millions of ordinary users is virtually unregulated, and that too can have an impact.

“We do half the work of the alcohol marketing companies for them, because we’re the ones sharing the pictures – the Aperol spritzes on vacation or whatever,” says writer and sobriety activist Catherine Gray, whose 2017 bestseller The Unexpected Joys of Being Sober argued for the positive choice not to drink. She hasn’t touched alcohol for almost eight years, but even says she struggled at first with summery footage of Pimm’s and strawberries, or iced ciders at a beer garden.

When she first quit, she recalls, the most common response was pity. “It was, ‘Poor you, that must be terrible, what happened?’ It was always this very binary black and white thing of two types of drinkers: normal drinkers going on, woo hoo; and alcoholics who have to quit and live a terrible life. There was no other story. Her new book, Sunshine Warm Sober, however, is a hymn to the long-term pleasures of staying alcohol-free in a world she says is changing, where not drinking is also starting to seem ambitious.

“In this country, we treat alcohol like it’s another food group, an essential part of life – every teenager assumes they will become drinkers as they grow older,” says Gray. “But a lot of them are not now. Alcohol consumption rates are even lower among Gen Z than among Millennials. And the lockdown may, she argues, have given more of the so-called “sober curious” – people who flirt with abandonment – a chance to stop without having to explain themselves to friends. Even the original ’90s party girl Kate Moss is now stubborn, she points out, and the beverage industry is increasingly investing in alcohol-free brands to accommodate changing tastes. In a few decades, Gray argues, drinking alcohol might look more like tobacco; not the rash standard, but something that a minority chooses to do.

But if that idea is too hard to swallow, maybe Brits are at least starting to recognize that there is more than one path to #goodtimes, leading to more honest conversations about how and why we drink. Who wouldn’t raise their glass to that?

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