Tips for a Successful Detox-uary

A lot of people choose to not drink for a month a year, and a lot of those people choose January to do it.

Worn out by the holiday parties, drinking, and eating to excess, a Dry January seems almost like a relief.

When I was drinking, I also used to try to do this.

(Of course, nearly every year I would find some excuse to start drinking again after a couple weeks.)

As a now somewhat seasoned non-drinker, here is some advice for making it through January.

If you are a heavy drinker, and stop drinking, the first month is the worst. Maybe the worst part of the whole experience.

(If you are a really heavy drinker, be careful. Talk to your Doctor first. It may make more sense to taper off, or just reduce your intake for January, rather than to go cold turkey. Be honest with yourself.)

And the first few days of the first week will be awful, especially if you overdid it on New Years’ Eve.

(I can never decide where the apostrophe goes on New Years Eve. is it after or before the ‘S’?)

Eventually, after the really bad part, you’ll get to a sort of “up” place, after a week or two.

I believe AA calls this the “Rosy Glow” period.

Then afterwards, you will level off, things will start seem back to normal again.

This is when you will really start to crave drinking again.

That is just the way it works.

Some tips:

If you are committed to a successful alcohol “Detoxuary”, don’t be too hard on yourself about sugar/calories.

Your body’s metabolism is going to be seriously missing the empty calories from alcohol and you are going to have all sorts of cravings. A little ice cream (probably) isn’t going to kill you. For the record, I have found it harder to deal with my body’s craving for the empty calories related to drinking, than my craving for alcohol itself. Metabolism is very powerful, once it has been trained.

Find something else to do instead of drinking. Go for hikes. Watch movies. Re-take up an instrument you enjoyed playing as a kid. Join an athletic league. Go to the gym. Exercise. In general, I cannot stress enough how important it is to find something, anything, else to occupy yourself and your mind instead of drinking.

Avoid situations which you previously associated with drinking. Go to the cafe instead of the bar. If you drink at home, change up your routine. Skip your serious drinking friends for a month, they will just rib you and give you a hard time. They’ll still be there at the bar after your “Drynuary”. I guarantee it. Though, they will probably still make fun of you for calling your exercise in abstinence “Drynuary”.

If you can’t avoid situations which you previously associated with drinking, be honest and forthright with people about not drinking. Don’t lie or try to sneak around the subject. It doesn’t work, people who drink are super aware of what other people are drinking. If you waffle about it, or try to lie, in my experience, you’ll just end up drinking one way or the other. If you’re honest, you’ll probably be surprised by how supportive your friends will be.

As I’ve mentioned before, find a substitute drink, which you enjoy enough to imbibe as frequently as you drank beer/wine/spirits/cocktails. I don’t know what works for you, but I currently like an equal parts mix of Lime LaCroix and Cloudy Apple Juice/Cider with a splash of Knudsen Just Cranberry. Have your drink on hand at all times. Bring it with you to parties. Take it to picnics.

If you are in a relationship, if it is at all possible, make not drinking a team effort. Make up charts. Cross of the calendar. Whatever you need to do, but you will have a much better chance at success if your partner isn’t next to you on the couch with a Mai Tai or Martini tempting you with a drink. If you can’t convince them to join you, tell them you would prefer if they didn’t drink around you for a month. But don’t shame them into closet drinking, or distance them from you. Keep the lines of communication open.

Also, just sort of FYI, it’s weird, but after not drinking for a bit, you may find you are hyper sensitive to the smells associated with drinks and drinkers. Things you never noticed while drinking. The breath and smell of people who have been drinking, that sort of thing. That is what I’ve found, anyway. It’s fun, and you too can start playing the “hand sanitizer user or vodka drunk” game on public transit.

Best of luck and don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up a bit. You can always try again next year (or next month)!

Keep it positive!

What’s Up With the Hymns?

Apparently, this whole “Lutheran Hymn” thing puzzles quite a few people, so I thought I might write a little post about it.

First off, I grew up in a small town in South Western Wisconsin which was mostly populated by Norwegian and Lutherans. I grew up singing these hymns every Sunday. When I was old enough, I joined the children’s choir and continued in church choirs through most of high school.

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs and interviews with musicians, and a lot of them talk about their very early inspirations.

Many of those musicians were lucky enough to have grown up going to African American Gospel churches or to belong to some ethnic group with an interesting folk music tradition.

However, as mentioned, I grew up going to a Lutheran church in Wisconsin. That is my tradition, and in a lot of ways, my “folk” music. That, and “Old Tyme Gospel Music”. But perhaps more about that later.

I find the basic harmonies and melodies of these old hymns, especially the more open ones, to be quite moving and powerful.

When I was looking around for some music to learn and play on the clarinet, I thought to myself, “Hey self! It might be funny to track down a Lutheran Hymnal, and learn those old hymns on the clarinet.” Get re-in touch with the memories and feelings of my youth, good and bad.

As a bonus, the hymns are neither particularly challenging nor long, which is, in fact, a big bonus for someone with a full time job who is also trying to (re) learn Jazz and to play the clarinet and sax.

I can transcribe, transpose, and record all 4 parts of the hymn in a few hours, and it is good for me to learn the recording, mixing, and arranging software. Most important, I am re-learning to play harmony parts with other instruments, even though I am playing all the instruments myself.

So, that’s what’s up with the hymns.

I hope you enjoy them a little bit, and that they might remind you of something of your past or present, good or bad.

Is This Thing On?

Tap, Tap.

Check One, Check, Check. Is This Thing On?

Hi, my name is Erik Ellestad, and I write this blog.

Up until a couple years ago I wrote a Cocktail Blog called “Savoy Stomp“, worked as a bartender at restaurants like Heaven’s Dog, The Coachman, South at SF Jazz, &c., and helped host Savoy Cocktail Book nights at Alembic Bar.

However, as I was getting older, for various reasons, I was finding the balance of my ambivalence about cocktails, spirits, and drinking, was tipping towards, “You know what, the cons are now outweighing the pros.” So when The Coachman closed, I also decided to take that opportunity to take some time off drinking.

A sucky first month of not drinking turned into a good second month, and pretty soon it was a year. Now it is almost two years.

Up to this point, my strategy for not drinking has been primarily, to stop buying booze, stop making drinks at home, and to stop going out to bars. Period. Effective, easy; but I have friends and family that drink and I have friends in the bar industry that I miss, so I’ve started to slip back in, and sit at the odd bar stool. I’m talking again to friends I knew while working in the industry and realizing I do miss the social aspect of working and hanging out in bars.

However, the first thing I notice as a new teetotaler, is, outside of Food and Bev, myself and my old friends in the industry often don’t have a lot to talk about. Or we need to find new things to talk about. We worked together, navigated tough Saturday night after Saturday night, but small talk was more often about the drink nerdery, than what the kids are up to or what our hobbies or interests are. I mean, booze WAS my primary hobby there for the 10 years I was writing the Savoy Stomp blog. Partially my fault for being a bit of an obsessive personality.

Another thing I notice as a new teetotaler is that non-alcoholic drinks are often relegated to “Kids’ Menu” status in most bars and restaurants. If you’re lucky, a few lines at the end of a menu, and mostly drinks that are not very interesting to an adult palate. Literally, “Kid Stuff”. Sweet saturated fruit flavors with little challenge or bitterness.

Finally, I am noticing more that there are quite a few people who work in the Food and Bev industry who don’t drink for one reason or another. Or who are at the very least trying to work out a way to cut down on their drinking.

So, while learning to play clarinet at a grade school level is satisfying on some levels, I felt like there was something interesting to do with the experience I had with cocktails, the drink industry, and the fact that I was no longer drinking.

Maybe I could go out to bars and restaurants and look with new eyes at what they offered for non-drinking patrons, and be an advocate for giving more respect to non-drinkers on the menus and in the drinks they serve. Talk to some friends who didn’t drink about their choices while working in an industry that is pretty well pickled. Maybe post some recipes for actually tasty ADULT beverages without alcohol.

And most of all, kill the term “MOCK-TAIL” with fire.

Join me, won’t you?

It’s a Mystery

William Parker:

Last Question. Do you think that they, whoever “they” are, the writers, the people who document stuff, do you think they’ll ever understand this music the way musicians understand it?

Fred Anderson:

No, because I don’t think nobody understands. (laughs) They can only go by what they hear and what they like and what they don’t like. And I think that is the way they write about it, what they think is good. But I think most musicians that I know, anybody that ever said anything, ever did anything, never was satisfied with what they were doin’. They were searchin’. And I don’t think they really knew what they were doin’. They were still searchin’. And I think it’s been a mystery, just like life. Everybody writes a book and tells you how to do it this way, do that. That’s just their opinion and I don’t think nobody knows. I think life is a mystery. The music is a mystery. I think this whole universe is a mystery. (laughs) We’re talkin’ about somethin’, man, that nobody really understands. But, you’re entitled to your opinion and if you can put it out there and somebody can get something out of it, cool. It’s an individual thing. It’s a mystery. You make these decisions and that’s it. Whatever you leave, you leave it. (laughs) You just have to believe in what you’re doing and stick to it and be consistent and try to do it right and do it the best way as you see it. If somebody can benefit, cool. I’ve benefited from a lot of things that I’ve heard, by applying some of these techniques in my mind. Now that don’t mean that I was right or wrong, but if I did anything, I learned from observance, seeing how things was done. Another thing that taught me a lot of stuff–I didn’t realize that my wife was sick. She could’ve been sick a long, long time before I even met her. But it came upon me to deal with it. So you don’t know man. You just have to deal with the problem. Whatever the problem is, you try to deal with it. Sometimes you can deal with it, sometimes you can’t But that’s it, man. That’s how I see it.


From “Conversations”, a collection of interviews William Parker conducted with various performing artists and composers, published by RogueArt.

When I was young, I really liked music that used the recording studio as an instrument.

However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to question the value of those sorts of albums which are stitched together in the studio. Those Frankenstein creations where the musicians might or might not even be in the same room (or building).

I think my perception radically changed when I saw Anthony Braxton’s Quartet (Braxton, Crispell, Dresser, Hemingway) at Yoshi’s a number of years ago. I had been collecting Braxton recordings and attempting to understand them without much success. Seeing that band, though, and feeling what was going on between the players, I understood that the music often called “Jazz” is most about the interaction of the players in the moment.

Jazz recordings, at best, are like insects captured in amber.

To be captured in amber, the insect has to die.

Similarly, the spontaneity of the moment and the energy exchange between players, things that are the essential features of a jazz performance, have to be stripped away, in the interest of fidelity and trapping a piece for eternity.

I’ve come to feel that most recordings of Jazz are really just souvenirs, simply reminders of artists I respect and gestures of support for their ongoing struggle to represent their craft against all odds.

We’ve Got 30 Years, That’s All We’ve Got

Back at the dawn of time, when I was young, the drinking age was 18.

Actually, it had changed to 21, but somehow, I ended up “grandfathered in” to the 18 Year Old Drinking Age.

To celebrate turning 18, I went out and bought myself a six pack of Augsburger Dark, hid it in the garage, and over the next several weeks, attempted to teach myself to like dark beer.

I turned 48 a few years ago.

I’d been cutting down on the drinking, sporadically, for the last few years.

At 48, I just thought, 30 years, that’s plenty. Maybe it is time to take a break.

I tried off and on, and probably did drink quite a bit less, but I still had the odd bout of binge drinking.

In fact, drinking less overall, nearly made the occasional binge drinking almost inevitable. Once you start surrendering your tolerance, (which was never really much of a tolerance to start out with,) then practically any drinking ends up being binge drinking.

Made it to 50 towards the end of 2014, still thinking, “enough drinking is enough drinking”.

But, the holidays are a hard time to stop drinking.

However, my wife and I usually take January off from drinking anyway, or at least try to. I don’t think, especially since I started bartending, that I’ve ever made it more than a couple weeks, without drinking at all.

So I thought, well, I at least need to prove it to myself that I CAN not drink.

I’m a grown up, I should be able to handle it, if I can handle it.

So, starting with January 1, 2015, I’ve been dry.

Be Always Drunken

“Be always drunken.
Nothing else matters:
that is the only question.
If you would not feel
the horrible burden of Time
weighing on your shoulders
and crushing you to the earth,
be drunken continually.

Drunken with what?
With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.
But be drunken.

And if sometimes,
on the stairs of a palace,
or on the green side of a ditch,
or in the dreary solitude of your own room,
you should awaken
and the drunkenness be half or wholly slipped away from you,
ask of the wind,
or of the wave,
or of the star,
or of the bird,
or of the clock,
of whatever flies,
or sighs,
or rocks,
or sings,
or speaks,
ask what hour it is;
and the wind,
wave,
star,
bird,
clock will answer you:
“It is the hour to be drunken!”

Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen, 1864

If Baudelaire’s “Be Always Drunken” is one of your favorite poems, basically, ever, what do you do when you quit drinking?

If you’ve spent the last 10 years as something of a cocktail & spirits expert and a bartender, what do you do, if you don’t drink?

I mean, for more than 5 years, the cocktails of the Savoy Cocktail Book were a fairly single minded obsession for me. Getting (or making) the ingredients, making the drinks, photographing the drinks, writing the SavoyStomp.com Blog, hosting Savoy Nights at Alembic, etc.

Daniel Hyatt was prescient, saying a long time ago, “If you ever finish this thing, you are going to have some serious post-partum depression.”

Seriously, even leaving aside the drinking part, that’s a lot of effort & time I was spending over Savoy Cocktails, that is now free.

Well, the obvious thing, is to find something else to do, other than drink & write about drinking.

I guess that is the whole plan of AA. You have to go to at least a meeting every day. You meet with your sponsor. You drink lots of coffee. You smoke. You hang out with your new AA buddies. You’ve got badges and buttons to earn. Pretty clearly, you’re replacing the time you spent drinking and hanging out with your drinking buddies and those rewards, with the time spent fulfilling your responsibilities to the AA organization.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe in a higher power, nor do I have any desire to hang out in church basements drinking coffee.

So, to set myself up for success, in this whole “not drinking” experiment, I’m going to have to find something to occupy my time.

Prior to my obsession with cocktails, my enthusiastic hobbies have included, in no particular order, Reading, Botany, Gardening, Computer Games, Music, Playing Music…

Oh, huh, I still have that clarinet I bought when I was just out of college.

Well, learning to play the clarinet is certainly something that can take up a lot of time and attention.

Performing music was really my first addiction and enthusiasm.

I started performing music in the children’s choir at church and continued to sing and perform in pretty much every possible way through high school: Band, Jazz Band, Choir, Musicals, and yes, even, horror of horrors, Madrigal.

Stopped performing when I went off to college and started drinking.

Is it possible that every other addiction, or enthusiasm, in my adult life has just been a substitute for the buzz of performing music?

Now that is something to think about.

…and I doubt Mr Baudelaire would disagree that it is possible to be drunken with song…

Psychic Anaesthetic

“What’s with the Water?”

“Booze tends to take the edge off. I want to stay angry.”

Best quote I’ve heard from “True Detective, Season 2”

“Psychic Anaesthetic” or “Emotional Prophylactic”.

Whichever you prefer, booze often gets a rap as emotional novacaine.

Somehow, drinking seems to make the emotional stress of dealing with others less.

I don’t really buy this one, at least in the long term.

I think it just puts off dealing with processing your feelings.

And if you just keep drinking, you can just keep putting it off.

Fine Pot of Potpourri

SHAN LIN XI WINTER SPROUT, Taiwanese Oolong, caramelized ginger, kettle corn, cotton candy — 6
GOLD PEONY RED, Fujian Red/Black, sandalwood, rose, fruit — 4
BUCKWHEAT, San Franciscan Herbal, cocoa nibs, licorice — 4

“Would you like anything else to drink?”

“I was interested in your teas, but I just wanted to check that the listed ingredients are flavor descriptors, not actual ingredients in the tea.”

“Right.”

“So, there’s no actual Sandalwood, Rose, or fruit, in the Gold Peony Tea?”

“Oh yes, sorry, there is dried fruit in the tea.”

“Thanks, I’ll have a bottle of sparkling water.”

Demon Rum

Demon Rum, Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974

“The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who knew one when he saw one, defined an alcoholic as ‘a man you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.’ And Mrs. Fred Tooze, president of the 250,000-member National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, a still flourishing outfit, tells us that ‘in every crisis Americans have turned to drink.’

“With these two pregnant reflections, I think we may have profitably get through the morning.

“It is generally accepted that Dylan Thomas died as a result of drink. He was a terrible drinker, would follow beer with creme de menthe, and that with rye. He drank with the clear purpose of getting drunk as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. His last terrible days were spent in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village, New York, no more than a stone’s throw from some of his favorite bars.

“My own definition of an alcoholic is a man who allows the drink to notably affect the quality of his work. Some of my friends take a sterner view of the situation. They say an alcoholic is a person who lets the booze interfere badly with the conduct of his life, and specifically with the treatment of others.

“But there is a terribly hard question involved in accepting this broader definition. It is easy to enough to see the bad effects of whiskey and beer on the people we love. The insensitiveness, the childishness, the plain damned brutality. It is much easier to be a rotter when you have a bellyful. This is the part about alcohol that everyone, including Mrs. Tooze, knows about and talks about.

“A subject much less explored is how much genuine love for other people is liberated by the Demon Rum. Alkies are bound up people, usually little talented in the delicate matter of showing their feelings, especially the tender ones. They are suspicious of life because they feel, usually rightly, that it has not treated them well. They cannot give with ease.

“Yet somewhere within they usually want to give, and that is where the booze comes in. With all its acknowledged bad effects, a little ethanol tends to let you give and receive love.

“This is true of both the sacred and the profane kind. You may indeed want to have every chick in the place after the third martini; but you are also quite likely to say just the right things to just the right girl, which may result in something quite pleasant indeed for a period.

“So don’t rap anything too hard which provides a release from the prison of self. It has been estimated that the population of Ireland would be damned near the ideal proposed by the Zero Population Growth people, were it not for the emotionally liberating qualities of Guinness and Paddy’s and such. How many of my friends and relations would be around to tell the tale if the old man hyad not been fired up by Dutch courage provided by Irish booze.

“So, in balance, it is really quite hard to make a sound guess on the effects of booze on the feelings. These effects are indisputably good and indisputably bad, and it would require a sapient lad indeed, or some kind of damn4ed psychiatrist, to assign percentages and priorities to the good and the bad. There’s a little bit of each in it, as in everything.

“Whatever the point the good Mrs. Tooze was making in her WCTU statement escapes me now, and that surely is a bad thing, it is, it is.”

A Good Saloon

A Good Saloon Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974

“A nice elderly lady who has never been inside one in her life asks me, ‘What is a good saloon like?’ She presumed from my writings that I had a certain expertise in the matter, and she is right.

“First, you should have certain warning signes. If there is any trace of neon outside the joint, shun it like a social disease. Especially, beware of those places which have a tipped cocktail glass about 15 feet up, done in glorious white neon.

“Not all of these places are terrible. The ones which have broken neon signs, like Gino and Carlo’s on Green Street, can be very good indeed. Despite the exceptions, though, the rule holds.

“Beware too, of artsy-cutesy names–like the Pink Panther, the Anxious Asp, the Dreamy Lagoon, etc., etc. This kind of name is for pop groups or Los Angeles. If the place has simply the name of the owner, and no neon, you’re on the way.

“Remember that a saloon is to pour drinks, in return for pay. Anytime a drinking place forgets that, it forfeits the right to be a saloon. The late John Lardner put it well:

“‘A drinking place in the purest possible sense of the phrase is one in which the boozing aspects dominates the eating aspect. This eliminates lunchrooms and all joints with floor shows or dance floors. In a true bar or saloon the focus of life is the bar itself, and the people on either side of it.’

“Like all good rules, this too has its exceptions. One of the best bars in San Francisco is at the New Pisa on Grant Avenue. This bar is just an adjunct to a crowded and thriving paisano-type restaurant. The small bar near the entrace is devoted wholly to the drinking business.

“Dante Benedetti, the owner, pours more whiskey for the money than any place I know in San Francisco, or, for that matter, anywhere. I once asked him why he poured so much booze. His answer was characteristic.

“‘Thirty years ago my old man told me to put out a good drink. So I do it.’

“Glenn Dorenbush, who has clocked more bar hours than anyone I know, has an added theory. In a good saloon, he says, everything will come to you if you sit on one bar stool long enough. He gets his friends that way, and his girls. He transacts his public relations business–for saloons, naturally–from the same stool right next to the brass service bar at Perry’s on Union Street.

“The owner of Perry’s, Mr. Perry Butler, is so awed by Dorenbush that he has placed a brass plaque on the bar, over the Dorenbush stool with the simple but impressive legend: Glenn Dorenbush.

“A good saloon is a great place to escape from cocktail parties, a curious form of social intercourse which gives a bad name to booze. Cocktail parties are a cross between a fashion show and a Persian Bazaar. Most cocktail parties are given by people who wish to make money out of them in one way or another. In a good saloon, you don’t talk about money.

“A good saloon should not have a clock. You go into one to get away from the tyranny of time, among other reasons. The most saloon-ish of all ‘Frisco saloons, the House of Shields on New Montgomery, does not have a clock. “Clock-watchers aren’t really people.” says barman Pete Ragen.

“The California attitude towards bars is well shown by the fact that, until the advent of this decade, you could not legally even call a drinking place a saloon. The liquor laws of this state seem to have been written by nuns, and administered by the FBI. Their underlying assumption is that there is a violent drunk inside every insurance salesman, and that all saloon keepers are felons at heart.

“A good saloon is, among many other things, a great place to exchange lies, to plan your future, get away from loved ones, make confession without fear of penance, learn what’s wrong with the ’49ers, work out the details of your estate, and eff off in general. It is also, as Mr. Dorenbush points out, a superb recovery room.”