I have been alcohol-free for whole of January on several previous occasions. The first time I did so, I had been talked into the idea by a friend who assured me, in his words, that “it’s amazing how clearly you can think when you don’t drink for a whole month”.
He was absolutely right. As little as ten days into the new year, I was thinking very clearly indeed. And what I was clearly thinking was “Good God, how long has this this torture been going on? It must be February by now, surely?”
It has always struck me that January is the worst possible month to give up the booze, particularly in Scotland. The days are short, the nights are long, the festive lights have been turned off and weather is dreadful.
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It does help if you are raising money for a cause. Some years ago, I took part in the ‘Dryathlon’, a charity fundraising alcohol-free month in support of Cancer Research UK. This year, however, I have been drinking in aid of local small businesses in Edinburgh, such as the pubs and craft breweries that were severely hit by the pandemic. I feel it would be selfish not to give them my support.
Edinburgh has a proud history of brewing. Indeed, one could say that brewing made this city. For centuries, it was home to some of such giants as Drybrough’s, Thomas Usher’s, McEwan’s and William Younger’s.
Aside from the Caledonian Brewery in Fountainbridge, most of those famous names have either disappeared or moved their brewing operations elsewhere. But their legacy is still very much part of the fabric of the capital, in buildings such as The McEwan Hall on Bristo Square, part of Edinburgh University, its building funded by sales of beer.
The Usher Hall too was gifted to the people of Edinburgh by Thomas Usher, although it must be said that the people of Edinburgh had over the years been very generous to the Usher family.
Indeed, when Edinburgh once again became a proper capital city after devolution, it seemed only right and proper that the Scottish Parliament should be built on the site of an old brewery.
So it is very inspiring to see this traditional industry being re-born, through the whole raft of small independent brewers that have sprung up over the last decade and more. Stewart’s were one of the first on the scene, just after the Millennium, but have now been joined by the likes of Knops, Bellfield at Abbeyhill, Barney’s in Summerhall, Pilot and Campervan in Leith. Then there is the Edinburgh Beer Factory, the Ferry Brewery in South Queensferry, Odyssey Brothers and many more I have yet to discover.
It has been a pleasure supporting them all this month. Nevertheless, I am considering doing Dry February. Admittedly the nights are still long, and the winter weather is still dreadful, but there are three less days in which to endure self-imposed sobriety.
On the other hand, I may have changed my mind by Tuesday.