When I first read this Jack Kerouac quote in On the Road, I had no clue what it meant. It seemed vaguely important, however, so I tucked it away as one of those many nuggets of potential relevance that I hoped would someday sprout illumination. Then, I went to Bermuda with my wife three weeks ago.
I still don't know exactly what Kerouac meant by this quote. But now I know what it means to me. And that's (perhaps, sadly) the whole point of Jack fucking Kerouac.
Tonight I've been drinking Merlot. Ever since Paul Giamatti railed in Sideways against this mainstream swill, I knew it must have merit. Nothing quite tips you off about a generally solid product quite like an elitist's outrage.
I have one word for you: Nitrates.
During the adolescence of my alcohol experience I always called bullshit when people said, "When I drink ___________, I get a different type of drunk than when I drink ________". Not that I thought they were lying, per se. But I figured there were simply atmospheric nuances that could explain their state of mind: i.e. I always drink beer at Ben Harper concerts, but I always drink tequila at family funerals. I always drink champagne at New Years eve, but I always drink straight vermouth before a mammogram. Then, beer gives me fun drunk. Vermouth gives me a nervous drunk. Champagne gives me an excited drunk. Tequila gives me a horny drunk (etc, etc).
So when a friend said that red wine gives him a more cerebral, "high" drunk, I thought, "Sure buddy, whatever you say." I had heard about the tremendous headache people get from red wine the next morning, but I was pretty sure there was no differentiating module of intoxication to be offered by grape-skin fermentation as opposed to any other fermentable sugars.
Cut to three weeks ago, and I'm on an "all inclusive" trip to Bermuda with my wife. All inclusive means you pay more in advanced, but while you're on the trip, food and drink are "all you can consume". It's a sick and twisted affair. Americans love it. And I love America. So we did it. And guess what type of beverage I'd been meaning to explore, but would never spend cash on at a bar because it tastes like waxy, sour plastic. That's right. Red wine.
I had read that it was good for the heart, similar to garlic--another vasodiolator (aka widener of arteries). I drank red wine just about every night.
Not only was I feeling more cogent, articulate, and significantly less stupid after 4 wines than after 6 beers. But I was feeling a different type of intoxication than I was used to (much like the "high" i was told to expect). I had a 45 minute discussion with a nearby traveler from England on the nature of 24 hour media and socialism in the modern era. I proceeded to destroy my wife in Settlers of Catan for the first time all week (yes, we spent our honeymoon in Bermuda playing Settlers). I traded in my usual pointless yelling for pertinent discussion and strategy. What gives?
So, it turns out that when your drink is capable of both alcohol intoxication AND vasodialation, it brings not only more alcohol to the deeper recesses of the brain... But more oxygen as well. Same reason you have that splitting headache in the morning after red wine. Because all the impurities from metabolized ethanol are now residing deeper in your neural cavities than they would via non-vasodiolating booze.
Additionally, after coming back to the states--where, to drink wine, I'd have to pay money to do so--I stopped drinking it cold turkey. My usual post-binge heart palpitations and numb arms/legs were significantly worse than usual due to my blood vessels restricting back to normal after cessation of grape tannin intake.
So why does red wine make for a worse alcoholic than whiskey? Maybe it's more intoxicating, maybe its abuse garners more hypertension, maybe the vasodiolation causes worse withdraw symptoms than the barley, agave, or grain-neutral based spirits. But the next time someone tells you all alcohol is all the same, remind them that not every spirit has the same secondary chemical characteristics.
And not every spirit has a taste to complement Bermuda, or a funeral home.