Hi, I’m Joby Bednar. You might remember me from such other fine cocktail culture blogs as TikiGeeki and SpiritedGeek.
I was a professional imbibing enthusiast for the last 20 years. I started my passion for finely crafted cocktails in the world of Tiki and expanded into the craft cocktail scene through the love of geeking out over deconstructing and reconstructing finely crafted beverages. I attended cocktail industry events, got into an online argument with a CEO (of a certain rum brand that sued a New York bar for copyright infringement over their name) who responded to my blog post with a dedicated page on the brand’s website (seriously, for a time “rum brand”.com/joby.htm existed… I’m still in awe of that one), had a quick cameo in “Hey, Bartender!” a craft cocktail documentary, had bartenders, bar managers, bars and even spirit brands following me on Twitter, and made many wonderful friends along the way!
Then my retinas started to detach…
A huge factor of retina detachment is high blood pressure. That was a large part of my right eye detaching twice and needing surgery and one to two weeks of face-down positioning, morning and night, each time. Another factor included sleep apnea. After the first detachment, I started using a CPAP to better control my snoring… which my bartender once told me was really loud, after sleeping on his couch one night, when we had gone out drinking after his shift had ended. I tried to get my blood pressure in line after that first detachment. The second detachment in my right eye occurred before I could do so adequately. My retina doc had suggested I stop drinking… blood pressure and drinking were my two risk factors remaining. Yes, sir. I continued to focus on that blood pressure.
Then, about two years later, my left retina detached. This was a bit of a problem… a bit more of a problem, I should say… my right eye was still filled with oil, had a clasp and the lens had been removed from the previous surgery. I couldn’t really see out of my right eye (and still can’t) so a detachment in my left eye was not ideal. Not ideal at all.
Instead of surgery, he tried to keep my vision by applying a Clockwork Orange style eye clamp, and extracting fluid from my eyeball and replace it with a gas bubble that would flatten the retina back. Then lasers would be blasted into my eye for the next week, to scar and effectively weld my retina back in place. Not very enjoyable, shall we say, but after a month of combined facedown, medieval, positioning torture… it had its benefits. I had to sleep sitting up for a couple weeks, but I could see over the oddly blackish-purple bubble in the lower part of my vision. I got my blood pressure finally dialed in. “You really need to quit drinking,” he kept saying during every checkup. Alright, I’ll tone it down.
Then there was a pandemic…
The last day of being in society was on my birthday in March of 2020, at our favorite dive bar, singing karaoke. The following day, work sent an email to all employees. We gathered our gear from the office and I made a makeshift home office in our living room. We survived quite well. I worked remotely, we had groceries delivered from Whole Foods… and wine and spirits delivered by Drizly. We were well prepared to weather this out for the month or so they were saying it would last. No problem!
Year and a half later we had a three foot tall stack of broken down cardboard boxes in our loft, from Amazon and Misfit Market, and I was drinking half a bottle of gin a day, sometimes three quarters, if I stayed up too late and thought about the unrelenting deterioration of the fabric of society and the weight of an uncaring universe.
Despite everything, I knew a change was needed. I stopped drinking hard spirits and moved exclusively to wine. We started going back to work and things started to feel normal again. I was proud. I went through my own Hero’s Journey, through my own Inferno and traversed the rings of hell, and back out! I didn’t (mostly) drink hard spirits and just drank the more heart healthy vino. Our wine came in a box, but still. Better than before. Boy, things had gotten dark there for a bit… happy to have conquered that!
Then there was reality…
It was the second detachment in my left eye that caused me to rethink my routine. Perhaps, I was still in an unhealthy state, despite my obvious efforts. As the needle once again penetrated and eyeball fluid extracted, I thought, “Well this is really unfair! My blood pressure is great and I only drink wine. I mean… sometimes the equivalent of two to three bottles worth a day… but, still… just wine! Well, shit. I really should ween myself down and just have a glass or two a day…”
Eleven days ago, as I am writing this now, it was the third detachment in my left eye (fifth in total) where the obvious finally sank in. As the needle penetrated once more, “Yeah, this is bullshit. I’m going to quit drinking.”
I know me. This won’t work… unless I geek out about it…
Rewiring your brain from a 20 year addiction, that disguised itself as your hobby and social life, is not trivial. The thing that started it all was learning about Tiki and the lost art of the exotic escapist’s potion, the Tiki cocktail. I really geeked out. TikiGeeki was born and the rest was history. So, if I was going to quit drinking, I needed to geek out in that same way. I really needed to give myself a reason to not drink, beyond my personal health… because obviously that hadn’t been enough in the first place. I just needed to find something, like making cocktails and drinking, that I would geek out over… and it needed to be ABOUT not drinking. How the hell could I geek out about not drinking, when I was the “drinking” guy?!
The Mocktail Quest
In the last couple years, while I was betting my chips in the Lush Life lounge, others were dropping their coins into the mocktail machines. I, of course, knew of mocktails as a thing and a trend, but I never really paid attention to what that industry was doing… until now. I was shocked to find out there are 0% ABV “spirits” on the market… and a lot of them… and one just won an award at Tales of the Cocktail, of all places! Having been into Tiki, and mixology, I’ve dabbled in making my own flavored syrups and created cocktails (some actually placing first and second in cocktail competitions… the latter among bartenders), but there is a whole world of bitters and extracts that I’ve been fascinated with that I had wanted to explore. A cocktail YouTuber I watched mentioned a mocktail recipe book that was compiled from a large variety of craft cocktail mixologists from around the country. I ordered a copy. Scanning through YouTube, half the mocktail recipes are basic juice blends, but half are really solid crafting of a fine beverage, balancing sweet, sour and bitter.
Joby and mocktails? Hmm… I think this might just work! I originally called this effort The Mocktail Quest.
Through the looking glass…
I’m doing this for my health. I’m doing this to fight an addiction that opened many doors early on, but I’m finding myself standing in dark and empty rooms now… the wrong rooms through the wrong doors. I’m on a quest to explore this fascinating aspect of beverage crafting. I’m on a quest to close those doors, to find the original doors and to open new doors I never thought of opening.
Becoming sober is no easy feat. You need to question and mindfully analyze those things you mindlessly followed as you developed an addictive routine. As you do reflect upon them, you start to see subtle hints you never noticed. Things that gently nudged you in one direction without even knowing… but that are obvious to you now.
As I continued to explore “mocktails” I became aware there was a subtle negativity. Terms like “virgin” for describing a drink without alcohol… as if it was childish and immature. Cocktail is a category of drinks containing spirit, sugar, water and bitters, so you can see where “mocktail” was derived, a “fake” cocktail, or “mocking” a cocktail? Either way, the bar culture has belittled the notion of alcohol-free drinking and for someone who becomes sober, those subtle jabs become far more obvious… more sinister. You are challenged to not be a wuss and drink like an adult… *eh hem* responsibly, for legal reasons.
Living a sober life, or simply choosing to drink alcohol-free for any number of reasons, should carry a feeling of pride for the drinker. Many bars are, instead of listing a “mocktail” section in their menu, adopting “AF Cocktail” as the moniker.
I really like this term. It presents the drink exactly as it is… a style of cocktail. This style just happens to be alcohol-free. Then there is the tongue-in-cheek “AF.” Love it!
I changed my endeavor to The AF Cocktail Quest. It’s doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nice, and makes for an odd URL, but those are superficial details. I want to celebrate and elevate drinking, and make you feel proud when drinking yourself.
Fundamentally, we need to drink. As living beings, we die if we do not. Unfortunately, for a long time water could make you sick. Then as a species, we found a way to make water safer if we added alcohol. The things in water, that made us sick, died in alcohol. Both scientists and artists, along the way, have created some interesting ways to drink. So much so, even the word “drink” is now ubiquitous with alcohol.
Do you drink?
No one asks that question to a child. We all do drink… but only adults can drink. Those of us that drank too much, got drunk… many quit drinking. So now we drink to not feel drunk, and we know we did well because what we had drunk no longer makes us need to drink more. When you stop drinking… what is it that one is doing when they are drinking?
Words are interesting. You live your life defined by them. There’s an entire business of mental manipulation that tries to make some words more important to you than other words. It’s called “advertising.” It’s so sinister, most people don’t even know why they believe one word is more important than another. But, there might be a point in one’s life where you look and wonder, “Why did I define myself by that word?”
I am a drinker. I stopped drinking. I am a drinker that stopped drinking.
I stopped drinking drinks that have alcohol within the drink I like drinking. I want to drink more drinks that I like drinking, I just don’t want to drink.
Through the looking glass I stepped. Though, more like stumbled over the cocktail glass and shards tore into my eyes… five times… but, whatever.
I am now in a wonderland of alcohol-free cocktails, lacking in spirit, but not lacking soul. I am on a quest to explore this wonderland of oddity and curiosity, of semantic battles fought over words, meanings and philosophical musings. I will be logging my journey along the way.
No matter where you are in your life’s journey, which words you hold dear… whether “drink” is one of them or not… I hope you join me.
The heavy drinker that doesn’t drink drinks