How To Drink Like An Adult

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
This story was originally published September 30, 2014.
Adult life is full of things we are never taught how to do. At least with some of it — filing taxes, buying a house, losing those last 10 pounds — there are a few courses you can take. But, when it comes to the drinking life, we are left to good old trial and error. And, a lot of it ends up in the latter.
Many are first introduced to drinking at the dark carnival that is college, where the best one can do is take a seat at the bar and learn from those who already have a tab going. But, eventually there comes a time when you need to start drinking, well, like an actual adult. And for that, there are a few areas for improvement and some lessons to learn. Click ahead for these invaluable tips — trust, you'll be thankful in the end.
1 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Like coffee and the films of Jim Jarmusch, drinking is an acquired taste. Whiskey, beer, and wine all taste gross out of the gate, so young drinkers often mix their booze with soda or juice until it suits the extremely well-honed candy palates we all developed as children (and/or suck down watery-ass beer).

Aside from sugar, young drinkers also fall hard for gimmicky stuff: booze with gold flakes, drinks you light on fire, and layered shots meant to look like a flag! I could go on — I have a whole tirade about Red Bull and caffeinated booze that neither you, nor I, have time for — but you get it.
2 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Start developing your palate for the bitter throat-burning stuff, either through a mild regiment of proper tall drinks — anything served in what is called a Collins glass (look it up) — or by jumping into the deep end of whiskey and tequila, served neat and sipped alongside a beer. Avoid highballs with sugary soda in them — Jack and Coke, whiskey and ginger, et al — and stick with straight soda water or tonic. Nothing trains a palate faster.

In all seriousness, the goal here is to develop a taste for spirits as-they-are so you can appreciate them at various levels: in stiff cocktails, like the martini, the old-fashioned, and the Sazerac; in citrus cocktails, like the daiquiri (not the slushy kind — again, Google it), the sidecar, and the margarita; and in tall day-drinking cocktails, like the Tom Collins and the mojito. Alcohol is an acquired taste, but once you do pick it up, there is much fun to be had.
3 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Young drinkers tend to surround their drinking with a lot of unnecessary theater: keg stands, card games, that dumb tequila-shot thing with the lime and the salt. This is probably because drinking when young is treated almost exclusively as a balls-completely-to-the-wall party activity and so requires a certain amount of escalation. This is all well and good, but one must necessarily grow beyond this: No adult should be licking the back of their hand in a bar or drinking Cuervo out of someone else's belly-button.

There's also a big novelty-cup aspect to young drinking life for some reason (i.e. drinking through a complicated plastic straw on Bourbon Street say, or chugging beer from a glass boot). Stop that.
4 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
This is one where you just have to put an end to doing those silly things and consume your liquor like a normal human. I'm not saying you need to get uptight about how you drink, but it is time to shed the more extreme drinking methods.

Also, it's time to invest in proper glassware, but be careful you don't go psycho about it — worrying about the right glass for your Bordeaux vs. your Burgundy, for instance, is one of the ways in which adult-drinking swings the pendulum way too far the other way. Get yourself some coupes, a few rocks glasses, some Collins glasses, and some basic run-of-the-mill wine glasses.

And then get clear on the different ways cocktails are prepared: "Neat" translates as a spirit served straight from the bottle, no ice; "straight up" is chilled with ice (either shaken or stirred) and then strained into a glass; "on the rocks" means with ice. Oh, and while there is no hard-and-fast rule here, you generally shake a drink when it contains stuff that needs help mixing with other stuff (I'm looking at you, citrus and egg whites), and then you stir a drink when it's just booze and are simply trying to make it colder (a Martini, for instance).
5 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
The neophyte's home bar is typically comprised of whatever's leftover from their most recent parties: large plastic bottles of vodka, sticky jugs of cranberry juice, and about three different kinds of flavored schnapps. Oh, and sometimes a bottle of dark spiced rum from that “tropical-themed” party you had. This horrifying collection is either stashed in that nearly unreachable cupboard above the fridge (where roommates cannot get to it), or just left on whatever amounts to a kitchen counter. These are left to collect dust until your next party while you pour wine from a hefty 1.5L bottle into a coffee mug.
6 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
First, get rid of all that flavored schnapps. Hang a "No schnapps" sign on your fridge to remind yourself of this (there is a time and place for schnapps, but that is some super varsity stuff that you are not ready for, believe me). At the very least, the experienced drinker’s home bar must accommodate our most sacred activity: making classic cocktails every day. You do not have to drink cocktails daily, but like a well-stocked first-aid kit, the experienced drinker’s bar should be ready to meet whatever daily emergencies adult life throws your way (daily-emergencies being something that does pile up in adult life).

What does it take to make classic cocktails every day? Less than you might think. Below is everything you need to make the Big Four: the martini, the Manhattan, the old-fashioned, and the Negroni. Figure those out and then move on to the Sazerac, the daiquiri, and the sidecar.

Your spirits: normal human-sized bottles of gin and bourbon. Other spirits are, of course, welcome — tequila and brandy are probably the next ones I'd go for — but many core drinks start with gin or bourbon.
Your liqueurs: one bottle each of Campari, sweet vermouth, and dry vermouth. If you have the cash, get a bottle of absinthe for the Sazerac.
Your bitters: one bottle each of angostura bitters and Peychaud's bitters.
Miscellaneous: lemons, limes, and oranges, both for garnish and for basic citrus drinks like the daiquiri; sugar cubes for old-fashioneds and Sazeracs.
7 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Young drinkers often confuse bars with clubs. I suppose it goes back to that capital-P Party stuff that suffuses drinking when you are younger, but it means that most young drinking establishments are loud, wildly lit, and absolutely terrible for drinking. They are good for hitting on people, and they give young people a reason to change out of their sorority sweatpants, but the drinks seem like something designed for a child: juices, sodas, bright colors, names that rhyme. Even college bars operate more like a party than a proper drinking establishment, being one of the only places I can think of where people wait in a line for a bar whose main attraction is cheap pitchers and buffalo wings.

Being loud and crazy, these establishments also breed a number of bad bar habits, especially with respect to interacting with bartenders: snapping, holding a $20 in plain view, ordering drinks without looking at the menu, or asking whether they have what you are ordering (not every bar carries Stoli, for instance).
8 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Stop thinking about drinking establishments as places to Party, and instead, start looking for places where you can grab a drink ("grabbing a drink" being something inexperienced drinkers never say because they never grab "a drink," but instead grab "all the drinks they can" as if they are hunter-gatherers fattening up for the lean months).

Places good for a drink range in style — and indeed, part of the fun of bars is finding the style that suits you best, but they all support one fundamental drinking activity: conversation. It seems like a simple thing, but finding a chill drinking establishment where you can meet after work or on a Sunday afternoon; where you can waste time with friends and recharge the ol' batteries is one of the exclusive pleasures of a drinking life and might be priority numero uno in terms of drinking like an adult.

In terms of bar etiquette, there’s one simple thing to wrap your head around: The bartender knows you are there. I know it can be stressful, especially in a crowded bar, but the bartender’s job is to look for the people who need drinks. Simple eye contact is all that is required, trust me.
9 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
When one first discovers the glories of drink, there's a tendency to be pretty exuberant about it: loud, full of emotion, ready to climb obstacles, and then jump off of said obstacles. The drunk brain is fun, for sure, but it can also be a bit of an ass. Inexperienced drinkers can be selfish in their drunkenness and overly enthusiastic about stuff. Like karaoke and stealing stop signs.
10 of 10
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Learn to hold your liquor. Being drunk is like riding a wild horse: There are ways to look elegant and retain your dignity while atop it. The zen lesson here is that being drunk is fun enough on its own, you don’t need to force it with crazy shenanigans. Instead of demanding that your friend get up for karaoke, be the best example of what karaoke can be. Instead of worrying about where your next drink is coming from, buy drinks for those around you. Drinking like an adult is not about having less fun, but learning how to spread the fun around.

Also, stop licking the back of your hand. Seriously.

More from Food & Drinks