The most lyrical account of a hangover in all literature appears quite early in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim. I will not spoil readers with the whole paragraph, but the protagonist, who resolves “never to move his eyeballs again”, senses that his “mouth has been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum”.
In 2018, during a morning that hewed faithfully to this description, I determined never to have another hangover. More than a year later, I have honoured the pledge, and with no great exertion of will. Nor has there been much loss of pleasure from alcohol and I believe — not just hope — that I will never again wake up with a mouse’s grave for a tongue.
My advice: quality over quantity. But to the nth degree. The trick is to identify your favourite booze, the more decadent the better, and renounce almost everything else. The expense will prevent all but the best-off among us drinking very much, and the depth of the sensual thrill will make up for its lesser incidence. Utility calculations are impossible in these matters but I seem to experience in two glasses twice a week the same sum of pleasure that was once spread across four every other day. The distribution rather than the aggregate scale of the fun is what changes.
For me, the One True Drink is high-end Burgundy, white or red, but it might for others be daiginjo sake or the kind of single-malt that you have to bribe the footman at Balmoral to access. Burgundy has come to account for upwards of 90 per cent of my alcohol intake, which, as the négociants of eastern France know their price, and I am yet to marry into money, is not a large denominator.
Except on holiday, I am now dry for four or five days out of seven, which is the inverse of my former ratio. The temptation to drink less well but more often is not zero, but it is eminently ignorable. What fortifies my resistance is the prize of the Chambolle-Musigny on the horizon.
The past year has been a personal experiment in human discipline. And the principal finding is not all that encouraging for the species. Any diet or regimen — even monogamy — that counts on willpower alone is, I fear, doomed to a lavish failure rate. There has to be some “nudge” designed in: an economic imperative, say, or a logistical one. Back the person who moves next to a gym to get fit, not the devotee of motivational videos.
This is why the rich, and those whose dream tipple is cheap, are beyond the reach of this advice. The economics will never pinch enough to keep them on the righteous path.
The caveats do not end there. I have unfair advantages. Coming to alcohol late, I bypassed the alcopops-and-Stella phase of English boyhood. There was no taste for mass-market suds to get rid of in the first place. I also live in America, where alcohol is not the social default and where Burgundy is scarcer and dearer, what with distance and the patriotic loyalty to Oregon. Whether I could keep up this moderation in London, where a friend and I went halves on a 1976 Volnay on just a 15 per cent mark-up, well, my liver trembles with scepticism.
The principle of expensive quality should work for most readers, though. It is just a matter of scouring one’s tastes for the extortionate refreshment of choice. You should find that specialisation of this kind has an advantage over and above pricing yourself out of eyeball-immobilising mornings-after. It is the way a subject, and the community devoted to it, open up to you.
There are Burgundy tragics who know the relative hill inclines of Bâtard-Montrachet and Chevalier-Montrachet, but they (fine, we) are tragic together. Jay McInerney might be correct that no other wine region arouses such “passionate geekery” but gin and bourbon have evolved comparable sub-cultures of podcasts, writing, and tasting trails, where the draw is as much the shared interest as the sensory hit of the drink. No one feels this way about “alcohol” in general, I realise, as I wake with a head of pleasing lucidity, all the better to source the next Echezeaux.
Email Janan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow @FTLifeArts on Twitter to find out about our latest stories first. Listen to Culture Call, the FT’s culture podcast, which interviews people shifting culture from London to New York. Subscribe at ft.com/culture-call, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.