Adam McDowell on life as a columnist, writer and drinks expert on CTV’s The Social
McDowell’s first book, ‘Drinks: A User’s Guide,’ was released in 2016
Image: Hudson Hwang
Adam McDowell, now the accomplished author of Drinks: A User’s Guide, which was released last fall, always had a passion for writing, but it was an internal crisis in his fourth year of university that truly put him on his path to success — although he had no idea at the time.
Many of his English teachers at Lawrence Park Collegiate made an effort to tell him he had a knack for writing, but he chose to major in political science at University of Toronto instead.
He quickly switched that major to linguistics after his first year, but once graduation began to loom in his fourth year, he became unsure. He knew he didn’t want to pursue academia and also knew he enjoyed writing for one of the school’s newspapers, but he didn’t know what to do next.
So he took a year off, moved to Lancaster, England, worked in a pub and developed an expertise in drinks. When he returned, he enrolled in the journalism program at Centennial College, nabbed a placement in the features department at the National Post, and eventually took over the drinks column.
“It’s a weird thing to think of a twentysomething person being given a drinks column, but that was the kind of place the Post was in those days. If you showed ambition, you were allowed to run with it,” says McDowell.
Other columnists who tackled the column would run out of ideas, but McDowell did it for over a decade with more than 500 columns.
“I realized people are frightened to death by drinks,” he says. “They look at my cocktail gear like it’s stuff that fell off a spaceship.”
McDowell says Canadians are guilty of drinking the same wine, beer and cocktails they did when they were in their 20s.
“You don’t see people eating [packaged] ramen noodles and mac and cheese when they’re 40, but you see people drinking that way,” he says.
He realized most of the drinks books available were targeted at people who were already cocktail connoisseurs. Nobody had written a general primer on how to drink well in North America. So he did.
“I thought this was the book that maybe the public could use,” he says. “It was like responding to a need I saw in friends and family, sort of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, but for drinks.”
McDowell also appears on CTV’s The Social about once a month as a drinks expert. “When the lights go on and we’re live, I love it. The hosts are wonderful: they are as genial and fun to work with as they appear to be on TV.”
He says he loves the public speaking, but the show does keep him on his toes. “I’m really klutzy. I’m terrified at all times of breaking something or spilling something on air.”
When he’s not on-air or working on Billy, Billy Bishop Airport’s lifestyle publication, where he’s the deputy editor, he is stirring up his next book idea. He’s keeping the details under his hat for now but said he’s been watching the way in which people in English-speaking cultures drink in comparison to people from the Mediterranean.
“The Mediterranean way of drinking is something I’m interested in and will be writing about. If a book results, fantastic.”