The new University of Calgary course Alcohol Studies 211 has been a resounding success this semester. At first, the university was hesitant about offering the course, but sociology professor and self-professed ‘alcoh-phile’ James McLean was key in structuring the course and offering it to students.
“At first glance, the course could appear to play into the notion that the only thing university students do is get drunk, but I think it is fascinating to study the social aspects, the chemistry and the history of alcohol,” said McLean.
The class, conveniently, runs as a double block from 2–5 p.m. on Thursday. There are no prerequisites and it is generally taken as an option.
Surprisingly, the course is quite rigorous, with an essay, two midterms, a final project and tastings every second week. The curriculum covers beverages such as wine, beer, vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila, gin and different liqueurs, but also looks at some less common beverages, such as sake, palm wine and mead.
The class studies the chemistry of brewing, the history of the different drinks and the cultural aspects of each. Within the cultural aspects, prohibition, marketing and bar and club culture are closely looked at.
“The tastings are my favourite part. I feel very cultured,” said second-year anthropology major Kristen Hills. Hills has an excellent nose for dissecting the bouquet of wine, and she is working on her skills of tasting beer and mead.
“If the anthropology thing doesn’t work out, I might become a sommelier, and that career choice would be thanks to this class,” said Hills. However, Hills loves the tastings so much that she admits to being “slightly more than tipsy” after several different classes.
When asked about the possibility of his students getting inebriated, McLean said, “That’s okay, because we learn about that too! We study the effect alcohol has on the body, both long-term and short-term. We learn about our individual alcohol metabolism rates, and we take blood-alcohol content tests at the end of every tasting and record the results.”
The students always know if they are over the legal limit and by how much, which dictates whether or not they can drive home after the class. If they are over, they are encouraged to stay in the classroom and graph the gradual drop in their BAC over a period of several hours. Sometimes, however, the students simply head down to the Den and continue applying their recently acquired knowledge, finding a safe way home after.
Fourth-year engineering student Justin Thorson has found this class to be a nice change from his heavy schedule. “I’m learning something, but at the same time, I’m just chillin’ on Thursday afternoon,” he said.
Thorson has found the class to be “quite relevant” to real life.
“This is knowledge I’m actually going to use. People talk about finding ‘their limit’ which usually means at what point they throw up, but now I’m finding my legal limit and that’s great. I’ve also got a ton of conversation starters for next time I’m at the bar,” said Thorson.
The students consider safe drinking practices, the consequences of drunk driving and the effects of alcoholism. Representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Alcoholics Anonymous are each giving a guest lecture later this semester.
“Overall, I want to give students knowledge so they can enjoy alcohol, not abuse it. It has great influence in our society, and students need to harness its power, not fall victim to it. Hopefully they will pass some of the knowledge on to their friends and family,” said McLean.
Due to the interest in the class, McLean is looking to offer another 200 level course in the winter, and maybe a 300 level next year, in addition to offering the current 211 course in Fall 2013.
Thorson gives the course a big thumbs up, “the university is paying for my Thursday afternoon buzz. How great is that?”