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Bring Back the Breakfast Drink

July 16, 2005

Everyone knows the rule: drink no liquor before noon. How insufferable such advice is! It has caused morning drinkers to hide their habits, deny them when confronted, and otherwise feel like they are doing something wrong or immoral or socially intolerable, a combination which leads to other forms of pathology.

It is time for them to stand up and proclaim themselves and their habit as the noble act that it is. All over the world, there exists a grand tradition of including a bit of spirits with one's breakfast, or at least a bit of beer or wine product. How tragic that those who struggle mightily to uphold this practice are reduced to doing so alone, enjoying their pleasure only in the privacy of their own kitchen for fear of inviting the public humiliation.

I was reminded of this tradition recently when a friend — a brilliant and productive young composer and musicologist who has to remain nameless — partook in his favorite breakfast, which he does every day insofar as it is possible. The food part is simple: a chocolate cake donut, with or without icing. The drink part: a pint of Guinness Stout. The method: dip the donut in the stout and chomp it down. It is the adult version of the child's milk and cookies trick.

Splendid!

It turns out that in the sweep of history, when water was not always safe and orange juice rarely accessible, this practice of morning drinking was the norm for all classes in society, and remained so for the upper classes far into the modern age. We forget that coffee and tea are relatively modern by comparison. In the middle ages, the typical British breakfast always included a mug of ale or wine.

In the South today, the tradition seems to bypass the middle class completely and last only among the truly well-formed working class blacks and upper class white aristocrats. A maintenance man I knew would never touch the "government's liquor" but he would never start a day without a nice swig of his favorite moonshine.

I tried it once and it took two days for my lips to feel normal again! But he managed it quite well, worked hard, and had a great life.

Also, I know a delightfully old-world Southern gentlemen who lives in an antebellum house and studies Holy Scripture every morning, the original Greek and Hebrew, and does this before he ever picks up the newspaper. His theory is that mornings are not for rushing around but rather contemplation of higher things.

One day I came during these early hours just for quick visit, and he invited me in.

"Would you like a cup of coffee, Jeffrey?" he asked.

"Yes sir, I would, thank you," I said.

Then he paused and said, with an impossibly charming flash in his eyes:

"Would you like some bourbon in that coffee?"

Well, of course I would! And so it was done.

Today most breakfast drinking takes place on airplanes. Why? Because we are surrounded by people we are not likely to see again, and so we feel a sense of freedom from artificial social impositions. If you think about it, once the silly taboo against breakfast drinking is crushed, many possibilities present themselves.

If you ask people their favorite breakfast drinks, and press the issue, you eventually find that in addition to the ones above, these are the best beloved.

The Bloody Mary: It is made from a jigger and a half of Vodka, a few drops of Tabasco sauce, 3 jiggers of tomato juice, pepper, some lemon juice, salt, and a bit of Worcestershire sauce.

The Mimosa: champagne and orange juice to taste. But actually you can add champagne to any fruit juice and create an amazingly festive break of day. It's unclear precisely what makes the difference, but I have a theory that it is just the popping of the champagne cork first thing in the morning. You can try this at home. Wake up late, shower, and then pull out and open a chilled bottle. The action alone creates a bigger rush than you can get from any evening martini.

Both of these drinks today are called "Doghair Drinks" as in the old saying that one should eat a bit of the hair of the tail of dog that bit you. Strange saying but it refers to the idea that one should have a bit more of the same drink of which you drank too much the night before, all toward the goal of curing the hangover.

Do you see what is happening here? The breakfast drink is being snuck in under the label of medicine as a way of evading the social taboo against liquor before noon. That's just silly. You don't need an excuse, particularly not a medicinal one. You can have a bloody mary or a mimosa anytime!

Along the same lines there is rum and 7-up, rum and apple cider, and this interesting one just called "The Breakfast Drink": jigger Vodka, jigger Peach Schnapps, cup of Orange Juice, 2 jiggers raspberry Liqueur, ½ cup of Collins mix. Fascinating!

For all the wonders and complications of that latter suggestion, I still can't get past the simplicity and clarity of my favorite of all time: a small glass of port wine.

Maybe it is an age thing. I like the idea of the Guinness, the courage it takes to drink moonshine, the fussiness that comes with a mimosa, the bold stroke of the Bloody Mary, and the sheer decadence associated with "the Breakfast Drink" but somehow the clarity and stability of the glass of port — which recalls the glory of Colonial America — seems just right and just what is needed to join the movement to smash this ridiculous taboo against morning drinking.

A final note on a frequent objection: morning drinking diminishes one's productivity during the day. This is true, of course, but particularly for adults who process liquor more slowly. This underscores a point that cannot be emphasized enough: like smoking, morning drinking is particularly suited for the young, meaning under the age of 25. Their systems are robust and can handle it better. Don't waste your youth: it is up to you to bring back the breakfast drink!


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