Personal drinks of choice
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With the holidays upon us, there are family gatherings, office parties, dinners, and other get-togethers. And all this means drinking, either to socially lubricate oneself, or just to forget. So what spirits and libations are The A.V. Club’s staffers using to steel their nerves before/during/after the holiday fiestas and fiascos? —Jonathan Meinhold
My drink of choice is red wine, particularly port. It tastes good (except when it doesn’t), and it gets you fucked-up faster and more thoroughly than anything on earth. Second choice: white Russians, which I liked long before I ever saw The Big Lebowski.
My heavy drinking days ended shortly after I graduated college; these days, I’m strictly a one-beer-or-wine-with-dinner kind of guy, though I’ll go for a margarita or mojito if they’re mixed well. Back when I drank for the express purpose of getting hammered, though, my roommates and I discovered a drink called a Godmother, which consists of two parts vodka and one part amaretto, served over ice with no other mixer. It tastes like sweet cream. And it will fuck you up.
Sadly (and much to the lamentation of the wallets of Denver’s bartenders), I quit drinking a couple years ago. Cold turkey. Don’t ask. Nowadays, however, I will indulge in a glass of wine with my girlfriend over dinner—usually a spicy Shiraz or a Rioja. But back in the day, I used to get shit-faced fucking plowed every Thanksgiving Eve and Christmas Eve. I’d usually warm up with a couple of Newcastles before diving into alternating shots of cheap bourbon and well tequila. I was in it to win it. (Um, that is, until I lost it.) My little brother just bought a new house with a kick-ass basement bar in it, though, and he made me swear I’d split a PBR tall-boy with him this Christmas to break the place in. Deck the halls with recidivism.
I’m not much for drowning my sorrows in booze; I’m a clumsy, maudlin drunk, which just makes me more sorrowful. But while I can normally be tempted with any number of girly-ass wuss drunks (mudslides, amaretto sours, etc.) my holiday drink of choice has always been hot spiced cider. Add some nutmeg, some orange peel, and a generous dose of applejack, and I guarantee those sorrows will get thoroughly drowned. Just don’t drink so much that you forget to make sure it’s cooled off enough to not burn your lips off.
My friends and enemies all know that I basically only drink girly drinks. I like them because they taste like candy, not because they get me drunk. (Also, I don’t call it “drunk,” I call it “more charming.”) So way back when, it was Malibu and orange juice, or even Malibu and Coke if I was feeling frisky. Now I like to sip some Bailey’s over ice around the holidays. Somebody also gave my wife and I a bottle of cachaça, so we’ve muddled some limes and made delicious caipirinhas. This is all making me sound like my lush peers, so I should note that I have approximately one alcoholic beverage per month. My drugs of choice are sugar and poker.
So I do this thing where I try not to have more than a drink a day, but I actually like to save up these seven drinks for the weekend, which, according to my doctor, is binge drinking. (Although four drinks in a night is much different than four drinks in two hours, the technical definition of binge drinking.) So I’m trying to cut down in situations where I do tend to lose count of drinks. My method for this is stronger, less-tasty booze. So, these days at weddings and Christmas parties and whatnot, I’m doing vodka on the rocks with lime, or maybe a Bombay Sapphire dirty martini. They go down much slower than red wine, the Zulkey family holiday beverage, and don’t taste nearly as good as Wassail with brandy, my mother-in-law’s preferred Yuletide drink.
Like the good little Pole I am, I usually turn to vodka, though its configuration changes depending on the situation. A gimlet is the default, but if I’m looking to get rip-roaring drunk, I’ll go for martinis (preferably with a blue-cheese-stuffed olive) or straight vodka shots if I’m in the mood to make some bad decisions. I’m also a big believer in the morning-after bloody Mary, made with lots of sriracha, onion powder, Worcestershire sauce, and more blue-cheese-stuffed olives.
But that’s just everyday drinking. Holiday boozing has always meant one thing in my family: shots of “Grandpa’s medicine,” or Southern Comfort. Since I was a kid, every family gathering, without fail, would be interrupted by loud, obnoxious, fake coughing from my grandpa, which would be everyone’s cue to gather round and do a shot of SoCo. He died before I was old enough to take part—to anyone’s knowledge, that is—but thankfully, the tradition has lived on, with theatrical “coughing” fits punctuating every family Christmas. I don’t really care for SoCo usually, but on Christmas (or Easter, or Thanksgiving, or birthdays, or any other time when I miss my completely awesome Grandpa Hank) it’s the best drink there is.
I drink the drink of my ancestors, the drink that inspired a whole people to sit around and, well, drink some more, ’cause why not? A drink that honed our snobbery and strengthened our resolve for more casual drinking, a drink that goes well with basically anything worth eating. I’m talking, of course, about wine*. In case you haven’t noticed, wine is the best drink the world has come up with so far. It’s uncomplicated, usually delicious, available in many different varieties, and, most importantly, you’re never a drunk when you drink too much wine. You’re a wino. Which just sounds less serious.
*Obviously, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon don’t count as wine because they both taste like old cloth, albeit different kinds of old cloth. Anything described as “sweet” doesn’t count as wine either, because yuck.
Okay, Amelie, I’ll go toe-to-toe with you on sweet wine. I’m a total wimp when it comes to liquor that actually tastes like alcohol. That one time an employer encouraged me to try expensive brandy at the Christmas party? I still gag thinking about that stuff. Mixed drinks should contain more sugary drink mix than actual drink, in my opinion. Which explains why sweetish wines are just right for me. Riesling is a perfect party wine—not too dessert-y, but no bitterness; tastes like a cocktail dress with a homemade sequin Christmas wreath pinned at about the left collarbone. It goes well with rich food, which is what you’ll be eating at the party, right? But it’s equally wonderful by itself, preferably in a wood-paneled chalet before a roaring fire, chatting with somebody wearing a Norwegian ski sweater, the liquid in the glass the color of sunlight glinting off snow. If you come to my holiday party, Amelie, I’ll show you what I mean.
What do I drink? What don’t I drink?! Hey-o! Seriously, I have a drinking problem. Please help me. But before you do, let me enjoy the salty, clear-headed buzz that can only come from a dirty martini one last time. I’ve often said that if I could drink at least one dirty martini every day, I’d be a much happier man. Coincidentally, I’ve only said this while downing a dirty martini. But that doesn’t make this statement any less true. A dirty martini is like a beautiful woman, or a really snappy turtleneck sweater—it makes you look and feel fucking fantastic. I swear I turn into Jon Hamm every time I order one. You know what talking about this makes me crave right now? A dirty martini. Let’s go order a round!
I’m not going to say for sure that I am the biggest drunk of anyone whose name has ever appeared in an A.V. Club byline, but I will say that I like drinking… a lot. I drink every day, because a day without liquor is pert near unbearable, unless there’s some good zoot-weed in the house. I don’t drink wine (something about it makes me sick) and I quit drinking beer (takes too long and gets me too fat), but any kind of hard liquor has a home in my bloodstream: florid tiki drinks crammed with rum and fruit; peaty old single-malt Scotches that peel the lining off my throat; sissy girly drinks made with vodka and Schnapps; raspy old tequilas that I break out when I don’t even care if I wake up the next day; bourbon or SoCo when I want to unleash my inner peckerwood. But by far the finest drink known to humankind, one of the very few perfect creations our imperfect selves have created (and I believe that deeply enough to have it tattooed on my skin), is the dry martini. That’s a martini, cold as death, with a strong British gin and just enough vermouth to change the light. It’s a freezing shot of altered consciousness, delivered straight to your spine in a glass that’s so aesthetically perfect that it’s become a universal icon, with no filler to get in the way of the alcohol, but with a flavor that nothing else can mimic. It goes with almost any fine food, it makes you feel smarter and more sophisticated and better-looking, and it gets you drunk in the kind of way that no one holds against you. Plus at the end of the drink, a nice olive for dinner! There’s a reason whole books have been written about it. It fueled the lunch meetings of the capitalists who built the modern world, and the subversive snotty salons of the literati who hated them. There are a million quotes about martinis, and they’re almost all funny and clever (which tells you a lot about the drink and the people who favor it), but I’ll pick my favorite: H.L. Mencken called it the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet. Next time we all meet, sonnets are on me.
I’ve never been a hardcore drinker, to be honest. Drugs were much easier to get in high school, and I really didn’t find my boozin’ legs, so to speak, until a messy breakup compelled it in my mid-20s. Even then, I stuck to beer—my favorite is Shiner Bock (I grew up in Texas, you know)—thanks to a chronic stomach ailment that can turn cocktails into Seething Heartburn In A Glass. In the years since, I’ve learned that it’s crappy mixers that cause heartburn (stupid frozen Bacardi shit!) and found the right medicine, so my boozy horizons have expanded a bit. But I still keep it simple: White Russians, mojitos, the occasional margarita. However, when we had our first “Whiskey Friday” (a tradition started by our New York office) before Thanksgiving, the Bushmills 10-year whiskey treated me pretty well. I may become an inveterate drunk yet!
I’m a whiskey man, and after vowing a few months ago to spend less money on extremely awesome and distinctive Islay single-malts, I began buying rye whiskey, which is really good for really cheap. (Rittenhouse is my favorite rye for under $20.) But then just recently, I came upon Black Bottle, which is a blended whiskey from… Islay! Those who know about Islay will understand the exclamation point, but for those who don’t: Islay is an island off of Scotland known for super-peaty, super-briny, super-super whiskies like Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Lagavulin, and a few others. Unlike all those, though, Black Bottle, because it’s a blend, is pretty cheap at around $25 a bottle. It doesn’t have the same sense of mystery and shock as the single-malts from Islay, but it comes closer than the price would suggest. Try some: Instead of saying “This tastes like Band-Aids laid out for too long in the sun,” your less-than-braced friends will say “This tastes kind of like Band-Aids laid out for too long in the sun.”
Subtract everything about drinking every day and drinking all the time and just being a big old drunk, and I agree with everything Leonard says above about the martini. Except, and as a respecter of purists in all fields it pains me to say this, I generally prefer a nice vodka to gin. And, yes, technically I know this makes it something other than a martini. (Purists, again, I respect you.) It’s just my taste. Also, a good bourbon on the rocks can’t be beat. And don’t ask me if I mean Kentucky bourbon. If it isn’t from Kentucky, it isn’t bourbon.