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Off To A Good Start

Since the day is behind us and the cat well out of the bag, we’ll now freely offer up that the below — as well as the referenced comments in the Fourth Degree post — were a bit of April Fool’s fun.   For those who are interested, we’ve added some annotations in bold.

Okay, so we caught some flack for teaching our two-year-old to say “Beer me, barkeep.”  LauraK wrote that we “should be ashamed” while Erin contended that we force “the kid to take an interest in your own hobby.  Which is, surprise, surprise, alcohol.”  Most disconcerting of all was the message from Sue, who offered, “If I heard a 2 year old say that to a waiter I’d really start watching the parents for other unsuitable traits. And then try to get their license plate # to report drunk driving.”  Wow.

We’ve always held that one of the drawbacks of telling people you have a cocktail blog is that they assume that you drink too much.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  In fact, we drink very little – most often taking just a sip of a drink to determine its profile – and, for the record, no one involved with 12BB drives drunk or has gotten a DUI, as Sue implies.  Through the blog, we have had the opportunity to study alcohol and educate ourselves as to its effects in a manner which I think far exceeds the collective bulk of the TGIF bar crowd.  And that education extends to our son.

Part of a successful con is for the con man to gain the empathy of the mark (our readers).  We tried to achieve that by opening with ourselves on the defensive.

In his seminal work, “The Culture Code,” anthropologist Clotaire Rapaille details a system of code words that define various items – love, sex, food, automobiles – which permeate our lives.  The Code, devised by Rapaille, is essentially shorthand to identify how various groups relate to objects or ideas.  For example, the American Code for a Jeep is “Horse,” while in France and Germany, it’s “Liberator.”  Particularly interesting is Rapaille’s exploration of alcohol and American culture.  In his native France, the author tells us that alcohol – a central pillar of the lifestyle, cuisine, and economy – is consumed for taste, whereas in America, the emphasis is predominantly on getting drunk.  French children often taste Champagne at an early age – dipping sugar cubes or cookies into it and, subsequently, learning to appreciate the beverage’s complex flavors.  On the contrary, most Americans don’t experience alcohol until they are teenagers, and then, it is for the sole purpose of getting drunk.  Rapaille argues that the key time for forming impressions of the world around us is before age seven, and therefore, Americans, with their belated introduction to spirits never form the proper relationship of appreciation and respect.

Rapaille and “The Culture Code” are not only real but brilliant.  Everything above is taken from the book.

The divide between Americans and alcohol is quite interesting indeed.  As with sex, it’s hushed up and not to be discussed openly.  A single glass of wine or a beer with lunch is considered risky behavior.  Yet, history has repeatedly shown that early exposure to and socialization with items which we typically view as “for adults only” can lead to a greater ability to coexist with those same items later in life.  In the case of alcohol, we’ve all heard the stories of mothers giving their children a bit of Guinness to help them sleep or rubbing the gums of teething toddlers with whiskey to ease the pain.  Not surprisingly, medical science is finding truth in these old wives’ tales, as the following excerpt from The Archives of Pediatrics: A Monthly Journal Devoted to the Diseases of Infants and Young Children clearly indicates: “The author’s experience has abundantly proved the usefulness of alcohol in the diseases of children, if it is of good quality.”  Similarly, the American Journal of the Medical Science has concluded that “there are other children, however, who are much benefited by a certain amount of alcohol.”  And finally, from the British Medical Journal: “I have already recorded cases of children recovering health under the influence of diluted alcohol alone (sugar included).”

All of the above are real quotes from the actual medical publications mentioned — they all just happen to be from the late 1800s.

Despite our cultural stigma against childhood consumption of alcohol, doctors and scientists around the world are returning to the ideal that alcohol, an antiseptic, provides as healthful benefits within the body as it does without.  This philosophy is being applied more and more in the realm of pediatric medicine, especially if the alcohol is diluted, as the British Medical Journal prescribes above, and cut with sugar.

Before we go any further, let me present you with the following recipe:  2 oz of any spirit, 1 oz of water, 1 tsp of sugar.  Sounds like it might be just what the good doctors at the British Medical Journal had in mind, doesn’t it?  In actuality, it’s a Sling, forefather to the modern cocktail.  See, cocktails were invented for the sole reason of making alcohol palatable – alcohol, which was administered for thousands of years for medicinal purposes, not recreational ones.  Medical science, it seems, is returning to its roots.

Key to the fight against adult alcoholism through youth education and indoctrination is the advocacy group Tots4Tots.  Founded in 2004 by Dr. Irving Clifford of the University of Stockholm, Tots4Tots operates a two-fold alcohol awareness program in 27 countries worldwide (the United States excepted, of course).  Dr. Clifford’s claim is that “early education in the realities of alcohol not only substantially lowers the risk of adult alcoholism but also promotes a greater appreciation for spirits.”  Basically, knowledge is power.

The name Irving Clifford comes from Clifford Irving, author of the famous Howard Hughes biography hoax.

Clifford developed his program by studying the childhood obesity epidemic, which began in the United States but is now spreading to the rest of the world.  “Essentially, the problem is one of mass production and ease of consumption,” Dr. Clifford writes of obesity. “Mass production means lower quality ingredients – ingredients which are unnatural to the body and which cannot be processed in the same manner as natural elements.  Because the body cannot process these items, it stores them until it can determine how to successfully dispose of them, which it never does.”  And, as for ease of consumption: “… processed foods have far become the norm in many first world nations, the United States in particular.  If processed foods continue to be easier to obtain and higher on the flavor index than natural foods, they will always continue to dominate.”

After submitting his findings to the 2002 International Conference on Obesity, Dr. Clifford turned his attention to alcohol education as a way to fight alcoholism.  He cites the following study, among others, as key to the foundation of his work:

“In Italy, in contrast to America, drinking is institutionalized as part of family life and dietary and religious custom; alcohol (wine) is introduced early in life, within the context of the family, and as a traditional accompaniment to meals and a healthful way of enhancing the diet. Drinking is not, as it is in America, associated with transformation of status from adolescence to adulthood; alcohol use is not an illicit activity for Italian youth; and heavy, consistent use of alcohol in Italy does not carry with it the same `problem’ connotation that it does in America. Such an approach to the socialization of alcohol use should make it less likely in Italy than in America that drinking will be learned as a way of trying to solve personal problems or of coping with inadequacy and failure.”
– Jessor, R., et al., “Perceived Opportunity, Alienation, and Drinking Behavior Among Italian and American Youth,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Real quote from a real study. The International Conference on Obesity is also real.

Dr. Irving Clifford

This photo is the result of of short Google search for “Swedish scientist”.  We thought he played his part well.  A Tots4Tots logo was Photoshopped into the background, just in case you looked.

It’s with this perspective – education and indoctrination – that Clifford founded Tots4Tots, which takes its name from the slang for “children” as well as from the daily rum ration afforded the men of British Royal Navy.  As mentioned above, the program is two-fold.  First, from a very young age, children are introduced to alcohol as an agricultural product, placing it alongside other items at the dinner table.  By taking this approach, Clifford believes that alcohol becomes no more mysterious than, say, cheese.  Through hands-on laboratory work, children are instructed in the planting and harvesting processes – they grow their own grapes and grain – which are followed by the fermenting and distillation phases.  “It’s amazing to watch the faces of children as young as six as they learn to cut the heads (toxic methyl alcohol) from the heart (the good stuff) of a distillate,” says Clifford.  At the end of the lab, each child is presented with a case of their own private-labeled spirit.

The alcohol education doesn’t end with the distillation process – all participants are thoroughly educated in the major classifications of spirits, the history of mixology, and twenty-five key classic cocktails.  At the end of the two-week retreat, students, aged four to seven, are given a comprehensive exam covering such diverse questions as the major growing regions of Cognac, the basic pillars of a classic punch, and how long drinks must be shaken or stirred.  The lab portion of the final requires participants to successfully mix five classic cocktails chosen at random.  “They love it,” says Clifford.  “Occasionally, one of them will reach for the drink gun – which we expressly forbid – but it’s all in the name of greater education.”

These questions are all part of the BarSmarts exam, which we’d recently taken.

Like anthropologist Rapaille, Clifford believes that all formative impressions are made at an early age.  “We do not accept new students who are older than the age of seven,” he states.  Part of this reasoning, he admits, is the indoctrination aspect of the program.  “For indoctrination to properly succeed, it must begin as early in a child’s life as possible.”  As Clifford defines it, indoctrination is the physical acclimatization of the child’s body to the affects of alcohol. “They cannot be told what drunk is – they cannot know what it is until they experience it for themselves,” he continues.  “When a child of three becomes sick on gin, the odds of him pursuing a drunken state as an adult are greatly reduced.”

By now, the lunacy is on high.

Following Clifford’s program, children are introduced to a variety of spirits – both white and brown – in increasing levels until their tolerance for each is found.  “We recommend starting with daily ration of 30cc per year of age,” the doctor offers.  “After each thirty day period, the amount of spirit must be increased until the child reaches visible inebriation.  This level is then recorded and graphed.  We are seeing astonishing and surprising tolerances, especially among infants and Mezcal.”  Does he worry about the affects large amounts of alcohol may have on young children?  “Absolutely not.  Alcohol abuse among 0-7 year-olds is lower than in any other demographic.  Not to mention that the parents of youngsters participating in the program typically find their children more agreeable.”

The chief goal of Dr. Clifford’s Tots4Tots program is, of course, a reduction in adult alcohol problems by educating and socializing children with spirits at a young age.  When we asked why his program doesn’t include wine or beer, Clifford confided that French and German teams are already well ahead in those areas.  “The real research lies in distilled spirits,” he tells us, although he declined to comment when pressed on the fact that his major funding comes from two of the world’s major spirits conglomerates, offering only that “people are always trying to sully good research.”

In the end, while we’re sorry that we may have offended anyone with our desire to make our son more precocious and cute, we do want to assure everyone that 12BB remains committed to alcohol education, moderation, and the continued good work of men like Dr. Irving Clifford.  Our Tots4Tots at-home indoctrination kit is already on its way.