Sláinte- Staying Safe this Christmas

Those of us who drink alcohol all have our favourite tipple.


Some love the moment when the perfectly chilled bottle of white wine is taken out of the fridge and the first glass poured. That familiar sound is music to the ear of the wine lover.

Gin and Tonic afficionados are obsessive-compulsive about their rituals.  Ice- how many cubes?  Lemon or lime- slice, wedge or twist?  Which gin?  Which tonic?  Which glass?

Lovers of red wine take it to another level. The temperature matters. Go on, say ‘chambré’ in a French accent.  Decanting can make a great difference.  Swirl it in a large wine glass and inhale the ‘nose’.  Even if you know nothing about wine, at this stage you know if you will like it or not.  Its ‘Terroir’ speaks to your nose and invites your palate to join the party.  Good food is enhanced so much by the right wine that it’s a different experience altogether.

Cocktails, aperitifs, digestifs, beers, stouts and ales all play a role in convivial company, especially around Christmas. Our Irish sean-fhocal says it all- “ Is túisce deoch ná scéal” meaning ”Drinks first, then conversation”.  I’m sure this also applies to a welcome pot of tea or coffee.

The pleasures of drinking alcohol in good company are many.  Unfortunately, drinking to excess can cause trouble- rows, fights, injuries, road traffic accidents and fatalities.  The Irish Government declared a new legal limit for drinking and driving on 27th October 2011. From that date forward, the new legal blood alcohol limit is reduced to 50mg% for drivers in general, and 20mg% for professional drivers.

It’s all here at the drinkaware website-

Now, the question is, how do you or I know what our Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is after one/two/three alcoholic beverages?

Being of a curious disposition, I had to find out, so I brought a breathalyzer online,

Alco-Sense breathalyzer

and produced it after main course at a recent family dinner.
Nobody had been forewarned, and all enjoyed trying it out. The results were fascinating.

We were seven, my 89 year old father, my 88 year old mother-in-law, my eldest daughter, my son-in-law, my youngest daughter, my husband and myself.

Two of the menfolk had a G&T before dinner, shared a bottle of red wine (Faustino V, 13.5% vol.) and had opened a second one.  My dad had a single G&T.  My M-i-L had a glass of white wine as an aperitif (her favourite tipple) and another with her dinner (Basa from Spain, 13% vol.).  Neither of my daughters drank any alcohol, one, because she’s expecting a baby, and the other because she’s studying hard.

Knowing that I was going to produce the Alco-Sense after main course, and wanting to be forensic about it, I had sparkling water with Angostura bitters before dinner, and a single glass of white wine with my meal.

The Alco-sense device is a model of simplicity and good design. Well, it would have to be, wouldn’t it?
Batteries are installed, the device is slid open , like the movement of some little mobile phones, the disposable plastic tube is attached. On pressing the ‘set’ button, the digital display begins to count down from nineteen to zero, and then displays ‘BLOW’. The subject blows a lung-ful of air into the device until it beeps, indicating time to stop blowing. Within a few seconds the reading is displayed. To test a new subject, the device is re-set, and the above steps repeated. It couldn’t be easier, and the display characters are very large.

Here’s how we scored.

The G&T + red wine drinkers both had readings >80mg%, and the device flashed red, warning them not to consider getting behind the wheel of a car.
My dad scored 20mg% after his one G&T. My m-i-l, who is very thin, was horrified to score >80mg% after 2 glasses of wine. Yours truly scored a reading of 20mg% after a single glass of white wine, consumed with dinner.

There are so many variables in how alcohol is absorbed that you’d have to repeat this exercise quite often to become aware of your own response. Even then, the device might not be calibrated exactly like the Garda breathalyzer. In my own case, drinking wine with dinner probably went a long way towards slowing down its absorption.  So I had a second glass of white wine and took another measurement one hour later. It still recorded 20mg%. Needless to say, the red wine drinkers continued to record a BAC > 80mg%.

So now we know, and have a way of measuring our BAC.  Like many families in Ireland, both sides of the family tree are dotted with people who have been addicted to alcohol. So far, all of us can take it or leave it and the designated driver has never broken his or her pledge for the evening to deliver everyone home safely.

John Keats expresses his love of wine so lyrically in “Ode to a Nightingale”

“O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth……”

Family and friends will be arriving home for Christmas over the next week. We look forward to enjoying their company over a few pots of tea, capuccinos and/or alcoholic beverages and hope that everyone stays safe.

Light at Christmas

Take care of each other this festive season.


About haysparks

Viewing the world, the human condition, our history, evolution and health through the prism of food.
This entry was posted in Alcohol Intoxication- Prevention, Celebration, Christmas and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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