I didn’t drink much prior to attending college; in the United States, where the legal drinking age is 21, consuming beverages containing 4.5-55% (9-110 proof) alcohol while underage isn’t a challenge so long as you procure a fake ID or maintain friendships with older peers. I grew up in a small (~15,000 people) Midwestern town isolated from major urban centers (the nearest metropolis was Indianapolis, over two hours away), where adolescents had to be creative in order to entertain themselves outside of school — that is, unless they drank or enjoyed contraband. Those of us who didn’t drink or smoke prior to higher education gravitated to athletics or cinephilia; for my part, at least, the latter two options consumed enough free-time to keep me out of trouble and made me about as “cosmopolitan” as one could be growing up in place that felt like the setting for a 1980s slasher flick. Imagine a sleepy, small town where everybody knows everyone, and nothing ever happens… until something happens!
But nothing much ever did happen, as I like to remind my adult peers; most of my current social circle are accustomed to entertainment options including but not limited to professional sport venues, art institutes, natural history museums, zoological parks, and aquariums, and who feel bored with population centers smaller than half a million people. To say I struggle to relate to the metropolitan upbringing of most of my colleagues would be an understatement, but the upside to all that is the extent to which we’ve bonded over booze, or the lifestyle of casual drinking. Few things assuage cultural differences more than a good drink.
In addition to calming nerves and “opening up strangers,” I’ve used alcoholic socializing to refine old tastes, discover new ones, and gauge my relative emotional growth over the past decade. Transitioning from child to adolescent to man-child isn’t always easy — in fact, the process is often excruciating, even for privileged members of society — yet, developing one’s taste within the fermented beverage library is a critical part of growing up. If you haven’t acquired a preference for even the mildest alcoholic experience, there’s a huge and historic section of society you’re overlooking, whether due to religious or cultural or inexplicable reasons.
What follows are several unrelated lessons I’ve learned directly or indirectly from my inebriated experiences with booze, most if not all of which are not unique to my specific person. For in wine, there is truth…
Drink water, especially if you’re drinking hard = Countless reasons justify, or ostensibly justify people’s reasons for heavy drinking when celebrating or drowning one’s sorrows. Hard drinking (i.e. drinking past drunkenness) is the ultimate form of short-term pleasure, but that doesn’t necessitate medium-term punishment (re: hangovers). Numerous times throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate tenure have I drunk four, five, six, or more drinks in an evening, yet woke the following morning with few to no uncomfortable side effects thanks to keeping myself hydrated throughout the previous night.
- Hangover symptoms are related to a variety of physiological and behavioral factors, to be sure, and how an individual’s biochemistry handles nutritional variation is unique to a certain extent. For my part, though, keeping oneself hydrated throughout social occasions, including and especially the fun ones with plentiful alcohol, kneecaps the physiological consequences of partying “too” hard.
- For tropical cocktails, forgo ice in favor of frozen fruit = I most enjoy alcohol in the summer heat when I consume so-called “tropical” drinks based on tequila and rum. Piña coladas, margaritas, strawberry daiquiris, and the like are most effective at mixing fruit with booze when using minimal ice. In order to keep your drink cold without ice, however, use frozen strawberries and pineapples for daiquiris and piña coladas, respectively, and pre-chilled lime juice for margaritas. This will also avoid watering down your frozen mixed drinks.
- Small yet significant increases in buyer awareness are worth it = While not an option for underage drinkers, exercising moderate selectivity in shopping for either more expensive liquor or more niche products greatly improves one’s drinking experience. Even small to medium-sized towns often have medium to large liquor stores with a plethora of drinking ingredients. Booze is a universally popular commodity — like movies, cocaine, or erectile dysfunction medication — so outside of hyperconservative religious communities, most never have to sacrifice convenience to drink like a king.
- Drink with friends who bring out the best (re: most fun) drunk in you = As in any social experience, one’s drinking behavior and behavior while drunk are modulated by their immediate company. I have had the pleasure of knowing many good friends over my short lifetime, but only a portion of them were good sports while drinking. Those who will designate themselves as drivers, buy a round (or two or three) of drinks for others, and keep their cool when nights out go south (e.g. encounters with boorish drunken strangers, nosy cops, friends airing grievances in public, etc.) are true diamonds in the rough.
- Drinking goes with eating = A great many people enjoy drinking alone — no, not drinking by oneself, but consuming alcohol with little to no consumption of solid foods before, during, or after said alcohol. I’m not one of those people, and find alcohol’s ability to increase appetite one of its greatest attributes. There are few things more enjoyable, I argue, than stuffing oneself with great food after good cocktails, and that goes double for alcohol about which I’m less enthusiastic (i.e. India Pale Ales paired with burgers, sausages, or other rich, fatty meat-and-vegetable dishes; wine with pasta, etc.).
- In vino veritas, or transforming from a sad to a happy drunk = Multiple friends in college observed that drunk people act like four year-olds, which is accurate. Like children, drunk people seem predisposed to brutal honesty, including when that honesty yields embarrassing situations in public. Alcohol’s dual-function as both a tasty drug and truth serum implies one can learn much about themselves and others through inebriation. Put another way, drinking reveals your true emotional state.
- I recall most of my years drinking while in severe depression leaving me the most downtrodden, mopey son of a bitch in the room, much to the dismay of my friends and the chagrin of strangers. Drinking won’t be recommend by medical professionals as a constructive method of emotional rehabilitation, but with occasional chaperoning, one’s buzzed state-of-being often clarifies just how fragile our psychology is. By revealing our inner Eeyore, booze may help us recognize how far we must go to become more like Tigger.
- You’re getting old = This point isn’t so much another piece of advice as it is an anecdote that summarizes my “character development” as a drinker. When I was applying for graduate positions following my bachelors, I moved back with my folks to my aforementioned nowhere-ville small-town; most of my friends either had full-time jobs or were attending school elsewhere, and I had little to do other than apply for work and, well, drink.
- One time, I decided to purchase a bottle of wine at our local supermarket to pair with some pasta I was having for a late, late dinner. I believe it was a weeknight and the store was almost empty, save for myself and a handful of high-school kids and elderly people wandering about.
- Upon walking through the checkout with little fanfare, the middle-aged (50s-60s) cashier lady gave me a stern, authoritative look I hadn’t seen nor heeded from an adult since my high-school days, warning, “I’m gonna need to see the IDs of all those kids you came in with, too!“
- Her demand almost didn’t register with me. After realizing she wasn’t joking, I told her I had no idea what she was talking about, to which she responded a group of kids had entered the store at or near the precise time I had. Additional moments of awkward silence followed, after which I looked her dead in the eye, my voice equal parts deadly serious and incredulous: “Listen, ma’am, I’m drinking by myself.“