how to drink

Reader D. D. asks:

I just turned 21, and while I’ve been “drinking” at parties for a long time (shh, don’t tell mom or the cops), I realized that when I go to the bar, I have no idea what to order. Help!

Dear D.D.:

drinky drink

Image: Paul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It takes a few years to learn what you like to drink. Alcohol — the really good stuff — is an acquired taste. Anyone can drink keg beer or jungle juice to get drunk, but learning about real booze takes time. There are people in the world who never learn how to drink beyond the simple goal of getting drunk. Personally, I think they’re missing out on one of the finer things in life, but to each her own, I guess.

In any case, I can give you a few recommendations on how to learn what you like and what you don’t.

First off, you should know how much to drink. I know the kids love to get wasted, and it’s a coming of age thing to learn not to, but as you age, you really should know how much you can drink in any of these situations:

– You’re going to be driving later. This is really important. Don’t be a dick. It only takes one time being a little over the limit to get a DWI on your record, or worse, a really bad wreck. My personal rule is 2 drinks total, preferably over 4 hours with a glass of water in between and a glass of water after, and preferably with a 30 minute-hourlong wait before I get behind the wheel. Ideally, you should not be driving at all if you’re going to be drinking. But you’ve probably heard that somewhere before.

– If you’re going to want your limbs to function, like if you’re going to be dancing. A couple of drinks can loosen you up, but too many drinks can get you kicked out of the bar. (I’m naturally clumsy, so bouncers at clubs often think I’m drunker than I actually am. Which is fine since they usually give me free bottles of water, anyway.) Two or three drinks is usually a good cut off. The problem with booze, of course, is that after you reach a certain point, you’re going to think you can handle more. Make yourself stop when you know you should.

– If you’re going to want to have a sensible conversation or not say something stupid. Some people find it endearing or charming when a friend bursts into tears after a few drinks. But most people don’t. If you’re sad, you’re going to get sadder after a few drinks. And you’re going to want to tell everyone about it. Save yourself the embarrassment and limit your intake unless you are really, really sure of your friends.

Next up, you should know what not to drink, and specifically what not to drink together. The age-old adages are:

– Don’t mix grape and grain. Grape = wine, grain = beer/whiskey. This obviously cannot be true all the time because my next age-old adage is…

– Beer before wine, you’ll be fine; wine before beer, c’est le pire. (That’s “it’s the worst” — I came up with this in Belgium, because apparently in Europe they have this adage, but I’ve never heard it expressed in English.)

– Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear; beer before liquor, never sicker.

If you really look at these statements, the basic suggestion is always to drink the beverage that has the most alcohol first, and follow it with the one that has the least alcohol, and then do not switch back and forth between them. Of course, the “beer before wine” adage negates this entirely, and I’m not sure why that one holds the way it is. Maybe it’s different in Europe.

My suggestion: stick to one kind of alcohol if you’re going to drink. Don’t do shots between beers unless you want the hangover. It’s okay to have a cocktail and follow it with a beer, but don’t have wine, and then beer, and then a martini, and then a shot of tequila.

Also, avoid sugary drinks because they can cause some pretty serious hangovers in the morning. Most of the specialty cocktails you see on the menu are sugary: the appletini, the chocotini, the mai tai, the cosmopolitan. Yes, I know, they’re very easy to drink. Again, if you just want to get drunk, these are the drinks that are designed to do that job without you having the icky real alcohol taste adults learn to enjoy. And these drinks can be fun once in a while — they come in fancy, pretty glasses, which is what I like about them. But they’re junk drinks.

My best piece of advice to you is to educate yourself. Go to wine tasting classes. Go to beer sampling. Check out a whiskey or Scotch or vodka tasting or two. You won’t get drunk at these events (hopefully), but you will learn what you like and what goes into the alcohol you’re drinking. Find a type of beer you like and drink something similar at the next bar you go to.

Okay, and what you really wanted was a list of things I think you should try the next time you go to a bar. Fine, fine, fine. Here you go:

Beer: try a hefeweizen. Imminently palatable, and a little sweeter than most lagers, ales, or IPAs. Some day you’ll learn to love hops, but for now, wheat beers are totally drinkable and make you look like you know something about beer. For something a bit more common, I think Sam Adams is a very respectable choice. Almost anything Belgian will probably be delicious. And I prefer to get my beer from the tap than from the bottle if I can manage it.

Wine: white wine is easier to drink than red, generally. As my father says: “Red wine makes women do what white wine makes them think of doing.” Most places will have a chardonnay on hand, and if it’s served nice and cold, it will probably be totally drinkable. My friends and I have been going through a real sauvignon blanc kick lately, and these are usually nice, crisp whites with plenty of citrus and fruit in them that I think you’ll enjoy. For reds, I’m a real sucker for a good zinfandel — not a white zin, mind you, but a real red zinfandel with lots of jam and pepper in it. Shiraz, syrahs and zinfandel tend to have fewer tannins (the kind of sour taste you get from a glass of wine) than cabernet sauvignon, so they’re a bit easier to drink for the inexperienced.

Whiskey: bourbon is sweeter than Scotch or rye, and is a pretty good way to introduce yourself to the stuff. A Manhattan is a drink that is made with sweet vermouth, bourbon, bitters, and a cherry (usually) and will make you look fancy. I order ’em up so I get the martini glass.

Vodka: well vodka is usually not a good way to introduce yourself to the stuff, ’cause if it’s cheap, it burns. Still, the easiest way to drink vodka is mixed with tonic, so go for something mid-level if you’re going to go this route. I like Ketel One, which may be a bit high-hat for some vodka-tonic drinkers, but it’s very smooth. Smirnoff will probably get you through the night, too. In my martinis, I like Belvedere or Grey Goose, plenty of olive juice (“extra dirty”), and an extra olive, preferably with blue cheese.

Gin: again, well gin is not your friend, even if you’re getting a gin and tonic. For a nice surprise, try Hendrick’s — it’s got cucumber in it and is very light and refreshing. Beefeater or Tanqueray will do you fine, too. Personally, I don’t drink gin because I’m allergic to juniper pollen and just can’t get the two disassociated from each other.

Tequila, Brandy, Cognac, Scotch, and other fancy liquor: Most of this stuff is best drunk on its own, sipped slowly from a proper glass. I wouldn’t order it unless you knew what you liked, as I’ve mentioned before. Study up on it and learn the difference between añejo and reposado, 12-year and 18-year, what barrels things are aged in, where they’re made, etc. etc. There’s a lot to learn about these and it can be a lot of fun.

So there you have it, a few ideas on what to drink when you go out.


4 Responses to “how to drink”

  1. 1 -C
    September 16, 2010 at 11:13 am

    It’s worth noting that the rules for liquor consumption associated with long dinner parties is somewhat different and somewhat more complex as a result of the need to associate with the food choices. Of course if you’re just learning to what to order at a bar you’re probably not worried about fancy dinners quite yet…

  2. 2 Jayem
    September 16, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I recommend drinking equal amounts of water to alcoholic drinks to avoid a hangover.

  3. 3 Geoff D
    September 16, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    It’s also worth noting that no proper martini has vodka in it 😉

    Gin and Vermouth only, please.

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