2010 In Review

The Five Biggest Booze-Related Disappointments of 2010

From Boardwalk Empire to the fluorescent-lit aisles of your local liquor store, these are the booziest bummers of the year.

December 10, 2010

Frat-tastic and Logorific Brew Masters falls flat.

5. Boardwalk Empire is not about Prohibition’s effect on drinking culture.

Don’t get me wrong. Boardwalk Empire is good television—and the design and costumes are out of this world. Steve Buscemi is too reined in, and I’d love it if the show would zoom in on the characters a little bit more. The only one we truly glimpse up close is the self-flagellating Agent Nelson Van Alden. But still, great actors doing great acting. You can’t argue with that.

My disappointment with Boardwalk Empire is that we don’t really learn much about drinking culture during prohibition. We see rich people got to keep drinking what they wanted, for the most part, with a hiccup here and there. That’s good to know, but what about everybody else? What were they drinking? How did prohibition alter the tastes of the middle and poor classes? Where did they party? Was there an effort to pretend they had stopped drinking? How did basement distillers source their ingredients? I know that Martin Scorsese is a busy man but I have questions, and Boardwalk Empire isn’t answering them.

4. The Four Loko ban missed the point entirely.

The Four Loko story is the perfect parable for our culture’s dysfunctional relationship with alcohol: Forbid it to the young until they go to college, where it is tacitly accepted that they will spend the next three years binge-drinking horrible concoctions behind closed doors. Then, on their 21st birthdays, let them loose into the bars, their only experience with booze being to drink as much of it as cheaply as possible before throwing up or passing out.

When a crew of Central Washington Univeristy kids binged on Four Loko to disastrous effect, the response of their university and the state government was to ban the product, and the FDA declared caffeinated alcoholic beverages (which would presumably include rum and Cokes as well as—tell your Grandpa—Irish coffee) unsafe.

You don’t have to love the idea of Four Loko, or even believe that it should be legal to understand that this is an ineffective way to deal with the problem of binge drinking.

Bad form.

3. Initiative 1105 was a triumph of cynical politics.

It didn’t pass, of course, but it was a bummer that liquor privatization initiative 1105 (the second of the two initiatives, the purported goal of which was to make retail private while keeping the three-tier system in place) even got on the ballot. Authored by out-of-state distributors, I-1105 was a poorly written, lame little initiative which managed to thoroughly clog up the conversation about liquor laws in Washington State.

2. Brew Masters is not No Reservations for beer lovers.

There was always the possibility that Brew Masters would be a show about how Dogfish Head beers were marketed, but I didn’t really see it coming. Since it was created by the same people who make No Reservations, I expected a brewsky equivalent of the excellent Anthony Bourdain series, with Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione—clearly a talented and genuinely nice guy—traveling the world exploring beer culture.

Alas. Whenever Brewmasters takes a break from directly advertising the beer, it becomes the television equivalent of a really cringey best man’s speech. “Brah, remember the time we put on hip hop costumes and did a rap about brewing beer? That was awesome.”

What do you think? Was that awesome?

1. We still have to buy liquor at state stores.

Okay, whether or not you voted for liquor privatization this November, you must agree that it’s not so much fun to shop in state liquor stores. Smart legislation or Armageddon-inducing disaster law, privatization might have meant quirkily curated liquor boutiques offering a range of products from far and wide. That would have been a good time.

But the moment has passed, right? We need to resign ourselves to the fluorescent lights, jacked-up prices, limited selection, and generally bummer vibe of the state stores.

Ah well, at least we have the bars.

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