Drinking is thinking: applying the liberal arts to beer

After the several instances of positive feedback I received for my opinion piece last week entitled, “Colby has a drinking problem,” I’ve decided to write a follow up column on why I believe the drinking culture at Colby persists to such inherently negative extremes.

Last week, I suggested that the administration could curb destructive and dangerous behavior by making certain alcoholic beverages more readily available at College-sponsored weekend events. While I place much of the blame for Colby’s reticence when it comes to dealing with alcohol on the previous administration (thanks Brobama), there is another party that is culpable for our dismal drinking habits. While it would be logical to place the blame on ourselves—the students—for our reckless binging as well as our systematic disregard for Colby’s hard alcohol policy, I wouldn’t dare breach our shared illusion of entitlement. Instead, I’d like to take a step back and critique an element that dictates, at least in small part, the behaviors of Colby (and perhaps all colleges) students: our culture.

It is undeniable that Colby has a drinking culture. That said I’d be shocked to see any college student that experiences winter for six months out of the year to drink a hot chocolate that doesn’t contain some kind of schnapps or brandy. But even more than that, I believe Colby students subscribe to a culture that has been instilled in us through the lens of Hollywood. When I was growing up, the mention of college elicited images reminiscent of Animal House, Old School or Van Wilder.  While Colby’s weekend scene is (thankfully) not that of Faber College, I believe these movies nonetheless influence our college experience. Ultimate frisbee, red Solo cups, and keg stands were immortalized in films made before we were born and continue to direct us on what our college experience should be. This effect does not just affect Americans; as the world’s largest popular culture exporter, America almost surely pitted these images into the minds of the many international students who study here as well.

While this piece might sound like I’m disparaging this cultural vacuum that we subscribe to, I believe it’s actually a valuable experience. At what other point in our lives can we spend the morning translating Thucydides, go rock climbing after lunch, and then drink a few beers before starting a paper after dinner? That said, beyond the clubs and sports, Colby students are here specifically for the fundamental purpose of higher education: to learn. And I believe when it comes to drinking, it should follow this direction.

Now, you might be wondering how drinking and learning can interact in a scenario other than when you get slightly buzzed while working on a midterm paper. However, consuming alcohol has a history that stretches back to our first ancestors. Alcohol has been used as a means of purifying drinking water, celebrating achievement, and symbolizing national heritage (e.g. Turkish raki, Brazilian cachaça, or Scottish whisky). But we don’t need to look much farther than our own backyard to see how alcohol can be utilized in sophisticated ways.

Since I turned 21, I have explored much of this state through an activity that ten years ago would have probably seemed ridiculous: craft beer tasting. While this may still sound like a bizarre hobby, Maine is one of the capitals of the craft brewing movement. As of 2013, Maine has 47 breweries (ranking 5th per capita), which bring in $327.7 million annually (4th per capita). Currently, I have been to thirteen of Maine’s craft breweries, where I have sampled everything from Austin Street Brewing Company’s outrageously hoppy double IPA “Catherine” to Foundation Brewing Company’s “Eddy,” its delicate and floral flagship saison. Before I learned about these beers, the only sort of critiques I could form were ones about how Rolling Rock was slightly less shitty then Pabst Blue Ribbon.

But I digress. What I have been trying to say is that part of our college experience should be getting an education on our alcohol. Unlike children in Europe who begin learning to appreciate Bordeaux before they hit puberty, the majority of us have spent our lives under the puritanical laws that post-Prohibition America has prescribed for us. Couple that with Hollywood’s depiction of college as waking up on a campus green sans shirt surrounded by empty Budweiser cans, and its easy to see why so many of us can’t tell the difference between cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, despite attending a school with a hard alcohol ban. We were born into ignorance regarding the culture that surrounds alcohol, becoming enthralled with it only for its intoxicating effects.

Now I understand that not everyone is interested in the differences in flavor profiles that underlie Simcoe and Mosaic hops, but I do believe that, since we’re all living in the middle of a craft beer Mecca, Colby should be doing a little more to educate its students on one of Maine’s few flourishing industries.

My first suggestion would be to bring more local craft beers to the Marchese Pub.  As it stands, the Pub’s draft system offers but one local craft beer, Belfast Bay Lobster Ale. While I have never ordered a bottle from the pub, between 16oz cans of PBR and bottles of Bud Lite, the fair isn’t much better. Meanwhile, we have four craft breweries within a twenty-mile radius. While I’m not advocating we ditch the Guinness tap for some boutique stout, it wouldn’t hurt to support our local business while giving Colby students a taste of the versatility that underlines craft beer.

I would also suggest that in a college where we have extracurricular organizations that range from film societies to napping clubs, someone should establish a club that celebrates the tasting of beer and/or wine. By creating a venue for students to savor the vast intricacies of alcoholic beverages, we can begin to change the perception that alcohol is only fit for use in large doses on the weekends.

Going off that previous proposition, one other method of increasing access to these local wineries and breweries would be if the school began chartered bus rides to 21+ students on the weekends. While this is the most unrealistic suggestion that I’m putting forward (and not just because Waterville has a rough history with drunk buses), I believe that providing transportation for curious students would be met with great fanfare.

Finally, because I couldn’t take all the blame off of us, I’d like to ask you to help change Colby’s drinking culture. Next time you (or your upperclassmen friend—because this is the real world) are buying drinks, trade in that rack of PBR for a case of locally produced brews. If you’re afraid to spend your hard earned cash on something you’ve never had before, here’s a quick guide.

• If you like Blue Moon or wheat beers, try an Allagash White or Saison.

• If you like lagers like Budweiser or Miller (God knows why), try a Peak Organic Fresh Cut Pilsner.

• If you like hoppy beers like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, try a Maine Beer Company “Mo” Pale Ale.

• If you enjoy stouts or dark beers like Guinness, try a Bar Harbor Brewing Company Cadillac Mountain Stout.

While I doubt the pervasive elements of college life will give way to students sipping craft beer and Napa Valley Chardonnay, some of my fondest memories over the past year have come from sharing a good IPA with friends or taking a day trip down to a craft brewery.

Though the consumption of alcohol by the student body is almost always seen in a negative light, I’m writing this piece to show that it has the potential to  provide positive outlets as well. That even if we can’t change the culture, at least we can subscribe to the liberal arts maxim and use it as a venue to learn. Because honestly, who wouldn’t want to learn through drinking?

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