Everyone remembers their first drink. Unless, like me, you were five. Allow me to set the scene, as it's been relayed to me many, many times.
It's 1978, and my family has gathered for the holidays at my Great Aunt Rhoda's Farmingdale, Long Island home, a ranch-style affair bedecked in wall-to-wall brown shag carpeting, a metric ton of Mets memorabilia and more cats than an Andrew Lloyd Weber cast party. Apparently curious about alcohol, I went wandering from room to room, sneaking sips from any abandoned beverages I could get my wee hands on. Eventually, I staggered into the middle of the living room, swayed ominously for a moment, then barfed my way into Quenqua family legend. Best. Hanukkah. Ever.
Which brings me to last week, when I picked up my first-ever issue of Imbibe. My reasons are no more defensible than my first brush with the wet stuff back in '78: I dig liquor. And like High Times before it, Imbibe helps you celebrate a pastime not endorsed by the PTA. It provides clever recipes and long, gratuitous product shots; profiles of the drug's most prominent advocates, like Branson B., who allegedly introduced Cristal to the world of hip-hop; even tiny ads in the back for niche paraphernalia from mom-and-pop vendors. Imbibe is a swinging shindig for the liquor-happy booze hound -- or at least when it's focusing on booze.
The weird thing about Imbibe is that it takes its title literally. This is not just a magazine about drinking alcohol -- although that does account for most of the content, both editorial and advertising. This is a magazine about drinking, as in "to take liquid into the mouth for swallowing." Hence a six-page story about roasting your own coffee, and no fewer than two pieces that debate the merits of various travel mugs. That's right, mugs. The letters page even carries an editorial mea culpa for neglecting tea, and a promise that a full-blown feature on the topic is in the works. What's next, a buyers' guide to tap water?
What I can't decide is whether this improves the magazine by broadening its scope and relevance, or simply waters it down. Can Imbibe possibly hope to appeal to all "drinkers" of the world, literally? Why not publish Metabolize, the magazine for people who like to use enzymes to convert protein into body mass? You never see Saveur offering a review of chewable vitamins. Sometimes, a wider point of view comes at the expense of an editorial identity.
The look of the magazine leaves me a bit dry, as well. I'm all for the "white-space" approach; you want to leave some air on the page for your readers to breathe. But in some places, Imbibe takes it too far, leaving so much untouched real estate on the page it crosses the line from "coolly sparse" to "desolate," "cheap" and "the art director had to go home early again." This might not be so bad in itself, but other pages contain more elements than the periodic table, which ultimately lends the magazine an off-balance, slapped-together feel. Either look could work if it ran throughout the magazine, but the back-and-forth is disconcerting. Imbibe needs to pick a style and stick with it.
Still, these are ultimately minor quibbles with a magazine that deserves praise simply for being what it is: the only consumer title dedicated to the drink. As we all know, having a category on the newsstand all to yourself is a pretty remarkable feat, but we're talking about a very mag-worthy subject here. Why there aren't dozens of liquor rags lining the racks at Barnes & Noble is a mystery to me. Might someone eventually come along who does this better? Probably. But Imbibe, like Aunt Rhoda's discarded Manischewitz, is a pretty good start.
Published by: Imbibe Magazine, LLC