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What's wrong with being a lightweight?

July 05, 2012|By Emily Van Zandt | RedEye

Plug my name into any major search Internet engine and glaring at you, somewhere below entries for Facebook and Twitter and RedEye, will be the following words: Emily Van Zandt is a lightweight.

Last fall, a blogger found it odd that a nightlife writer would feel buzzed after three cocktails and a glass of champagne in under two hours at The Aviary. In his mind, it was a rookie night of drinking.

My 20something conscience felt immediately moved to prove the Internet otherwise. Lightweight? Me? Never. I can put 'em away, drink you under the table, shots on shots, one more round, no chaser. Try me.

I'd be lying, of course. Not to mention toeing the line often blurry in the streets of Wrigleyville, the line between impressively capable and frighteningly destructive. Why is being a lightweight an insult at all?

This week, the Beer Institute (a Washington-based company) announced that Illinois' per capita beer consumption is down from last year. In 2011, the 21-and-up population of the state consumed around 51 six-packs over the course of the year, down from 53 six-packs in 2010. That's enough to rank Illinois at 28th among the states.

51 six-packs of beer. 306 beers per person, per year. Roughly six beers per week.

What was the social media reaction to the news that Illinoisans were soaking up fewer suds? Concern—over what's happened to our tolerance. C'mon Illinois, you're slacking! Only six beers a week? You lightweight.

Forgive the wide eyes. I understand there are weeks where the beers rack up. A dinner here, a cookout there. One sunny Saturday on the rooftop at Fountainhead could be enough to hit the average. And we certainly need enough beer lovers in the state to support all the new craft breweries. Even so, the statistic surprised me, and the reaction even more so.

When you take off the beer goggles that are your 20s, six beers per week, per person is a healthy consumption. And three cocktails and a glass of champagne in two hours? Provided you're not 6-feet-5-inches, you should feel that buzz.

Whether you're the type of person who gets silly on a single glass of merlot or can't feel a bit of difference three shots of tequila in, drinking should be about having fun and being safe. It's not a competition and we shouldn't feel compelled to defend or brag about our tolerance (or non-tolerance) to anyone. It's a dangerous game.

Drink what you will, Illinois. No pressure.

Emily Van Zandt is a RedEye reporter. evanzandt@tribune.com | @redeyedrinks

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