The room is quite gloomy. Gloomy in a cool and urban way, not a just-switched-on-an-energy-saving-lightbulb way. I feel a little out of place, mainly because I am not cool or urban. Or gloomy.
This is the BrewDog bar in Shepherds Bush in London, a “West London powerhouse” (their words, not mine) with over 40 taps of beer to choose from. Getting back from the bar, I sit down and hand over Mrs RB’s drink. It doesn’t matter that there are 39 other choices, it’s always going to be a Punk IPA for Mrs RB. I lift my glass of Zeitgeist to my lips and take a drink.
The clock starts ticking.
I am drinking a pint of black lager, a schwarzbier-style German lager; dark and bitter but not heavy, dying away into a dry finish. I have read on the internet that this doesn’t come close to the German versions of this beer, and that may well be true, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying it. It’s 4.9% ABV and this works out as just about 2.8 units of alcohol. 2.8 tasty units of alcohol.
Unfortunately for me, and what I didn’t realise at the time, was that it was the first step on the road to a night of binge drinking.
My descent towards “Binge Britain” was all down to those units. One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol, which is roughly “the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in an hour” (NHS). Those 2.8 units meant that my pint of Zeitgeist was going to be with me for the next 2 hours, 50 minutes.
Tick tock, tick tock.
Almost as soon as the alcohol hits my stomach it begins to be absorbed into my bloodstream. Somewhere around an hour to an hour and a half later the amount of alcohol being absorbed reaches its peak. If I was a short, hungry woman drinking a fizzy, strong drink then this process would be a lot quicker. My body responds with barely contained contempt (it is seemingly not a connoisseur of fine beer) and does its best to offload it as quickly as possible. This is because my body cannot store alcohol and, in higher quantities, finds it poisonous.
A hint of alcohol escapes in my breath and a little in the fine BrewDog bathrooms. But most is worked on by my liver, which starts to break it down into other substances. All the better for getting rid of it. This is my body’s bottleneck; my liver is the limiter. When the quote above talks of the amount I can process in an hour, it is my liver that it is speaking of. It is going to be working on that pint of Zeitgeist for a few hours yet.
Tick tock, tick tock.
But I wasn’t just sitting idly by while my body began the process of breaking down the alcohol. There were other beers to try; back to the bar for drink number two. I ordered another Punk for Mrs RB and got myself a half of Dogma. Sweet and malty and dark, this scotch ale was a good counterpoint to the Zeitgeist. Not a beer I could drink too many of, but a half hit the spot. It was 7.4% ABV and half a pint of 7.4% beer equals 2.1 units, so my pint and a half had clocked up 4.9 units (or 39g) of pure alcohol.
Not only was the clock still ticking, it was going to be ticking for almost 5 hours. And the night was still young.
We met some friends and continued on for another couple of pints. I was not misbehaved, I did not divest myself of my clothing at any point and I didn’t end up throwing up in a gutter. Thankfully for everyone involved, there was no raucous singing. There was not even any tuneful singing. I didn’t shout at anyone, I didn’t get into a fight and I didn’t steal anything. I am not the newspaper-friendly face of Binge Britain.
But by the time we waved goodbye to our friends I was definitely the wrong side of 10 units. And that makes me a binge drinker.
The clock keeps ticking…