The Power of Low Alcohol
to a better,
2000 years ago, the famous Greek philosopher Plato was on his way to a Greek symposium.
These symposia were popular among the intellectuals of the day. The lively banquets featured decadent feasts, recitals of song and dance, philosophical conversations, and, of course, the elixir of the gods: wine.
This particular evening, members of the banquet were ill, still feeling the effects of the alcohol from the night before. In his work, Symposium, Plato documents a wonderful moment: Pausanias, a member of the symposium, stands up after dinner and asks the crowd: “Well gentlemen, how can we arrange to drink less tonight?”
Pausanias still wanted to enjoy wine, but in smaller amounts. As it turns out, the Greeks found a way.
The secret was how they served the wine. Wine consumption was such a regular part of their lifestyle, the Greeks rarely drank it straight. Historians confirm Greeks mixed their wine with water in special bowls called kraters. The wine and water mixtures were said to be roughly equal parts water to wine.
With this wine krater, the Greeks discovered something important about the alcohol experience: smaller doses lead to a more pleasurable buzz over time. Philosophers enjoyed “micro-doses” of alcohol because it kept them energized and refreshed. They engaged in deep social conversation without feeling drowsy or sleepy.
With naturally fermented lower alcohol wines, let’s follow the Greeks’ example.
Alcohol levels in commercial wines have been increasing since the 90s
First, let’s start with the problem: alcohol is toxic and a dangerous neurotoxin.
In the wrong dose, it can impact your sleep, affect your judgement, and disrupt your gut. This is especially true when you consume large doses of alcohol like in cocktails and hard liquor.
Even though most Americans know this, it hasn’t stopped us from imbibing. A study in the American Journal of Public Health found alcohol consumption to be up 17% since 2005.
Reasons for this abound, the most compelling of which is stress. Alcohol is a depressant, working to slow the central nervous system. Most of the Western world uses alcohol to calm nerves and combat anxiety.
(Instead of a way to check out of stress, we think of wine as a way to tap in; to enjoy a higher level of creativity, energy, love.)
Modern wine companies noticed the trend and responded. Since the 1990s,wine alcohol levels have steadily increased. In 1992, the average was 12.7%. In 2009, it jumped to 13.8%. Today, it averages nearly 15% and climbing.
The modern commercial wine industry loves high alcohol. It’s addictive, it causes you to drink more, and higher alcohol produces the big bold wines preferred by the typical American drinker. High alcohol is good business.
(By the way, don’t trust wine labels for accurate alcohol content. By law, the alcohol stated on a wine bottle is not required to be accurate; it may be as much as 1.5% different from true levels. Since producers pay taxes for higher alcohol, many of them make higher alcohol wines but label them lower.)
And yet despite alcohol’s ills, in nearly every Blue Zone — regions with the longest-living people around the world — moderate alcohol consumption is part of the culture. The alcohol of choice is Natural Wine made by local artisan winegrowers.
What’s more, wine holds one of the most important places in human history. It inspired trade across the globe; it became the foundation of religious sacraments; it was enjoyed by Egyptians, Incas, Romans, and Greeks in worship to their gods; it was even used for medicinal purposes because of its fermented quality.
So the question remains: even though it is toxic, can alcohol enhance your life?
The short answer is yes, in the right dose. As the Greeks found, alcohol can be a powerful way to increase social connection, decrease anxiety, and improve focus and creativity, as long as the dosage is low.
Increased Social Connection
When you consume alcohol, you release endorphins. These are the same “feel good” chemicals you release when you laugh, dance, or exercise.
Endorphins are considered the heart of human bonding and an important tenet of social interaction. Releasing endorphins connects people biochemically. One study found alcohol’s effects on the endorphin system are similar to those of singing and dancing.
When enjoying alcohol with others, you release endorphins together in ways that elevate your mood and heighten your joy in the moment. You tell personal stories, confide secrets, engage in deeper emotional conversation. A small dose of alcohol can encourage honesty and quiet the worrisome voice in your head.
A word to the wise: there is a limit. Consume too much and the relaxing effect of alcohol quickly becomes a stressor to the body.
A glass of wine can lower your stress response.
Ancient cultures like the Greeks and Egyptians drank in moderation to find peace more effectively. Research shows they had it right. In a study, moderate drinking helped socially-anxious people feel at ease and want to socialize more.
The colloquial expression for this is, “taking the edge off.” Scientifically, alcohol can lower blood pressure and increase blood flow, both of which can bring down stress levels.
A glass of wine at the end of a long day can encourage quiet reflection or shared gratitude with others. It calms the mind and brings you peace.
On the other hand, large doses of alcohol disrupt GABA receptors. These receptors are important transmitters in our central nervous system. Low GABA levels cause anxiety, restlessness, and poor mood.
So, stick to lower alcohol sipping. It can give you a healthy buzz and some peace of mind.
Improved Focus and Creativity
Low alcohol can inspire you. From the right combination of more endorphins and less anxiety, consumption of low alcohol can bring you creativity, mental focus, and open-mindedness.
Programmers refer to this phenomenon as the “Ballmer Peak,” in honor of Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft. Here’s the idea (illustrated in the famous comic below): Programmers experience elevated perception and cognition from low doses of alcohol up to a certain point. After reaching a larger dose, the returns plummet and they lose focus.
In addition to productivity and creativity, lower doses of alcohol can help rejigger your brain chemicals, disrupting unhelpful habits and creating new ones. This is called “depatterning.”
And it’s not just humans; it works for animals, too. Researchers found animals learned new habits when introduced to psychoactive substances.
As a fun side note, plenty of wild animals self-intoxicate, both to improve evolutionary habits and for shear pleasure. Bees drink fermented saps and nectars, deer find psychedelic mushrooms, and dolphins enjoy excreted neurotoxins from puffer fish.
So, if you find the right low dose, alcohol can elevate your brain’s performance.
Low Alcohol Wine
We find the best way to consume low alcohol is from Natural Wines.
When consumed in lower dosages, wine can be a healthy drink. It’s filled with antioxidants and polyphenols. Plus, if farmed organically and fermented naturally, it has healthy probiotic bacteria. As an example, Natural Wine has strong levels of Pediococcus pentosaceus, a bacterium that attaches to your intestinal wall and protects it from pathogens like E. coli.
(This is not true of standard commercial wines, which have been sterilized and chemically preserved with sulphur dioxide, killing the gut friendly bacteria.)
Here are a few more reasons why wine is the best way to achieve a low alcohol buzz:
Food pairing. Low alcohol wines complement food flavors. Most higher alcohol alternatives like hard liquor and stronger commercial wines cause palate fatigue and prevent you from experiencing more subtle tastes.
Improved aromatics. Studies find casual drinkers enjoy low alcohol wine more because they experience a greater array of flavors. Wines with less alcohol express their aromatic complexity in a more subtle, elegant way.
Heart health. A glass or two of wine per day has been shown to improve heart health and enhance insulin response.
Ultimately, wine is a beautiful expression of taste and elegance. It is one of the best ways to socialize with friends and enjoy a buzz. Natural Wines with lower doses of alcohol can enhance your life experience, bring you closer to your friends, and encourage emotional honesty with yourself and others.
Just ask the Greeks.
“No thing more excellent nor more valuable than wine was ever granted mankind by God.”