Learning to Enjoy Liquor

I’m a frequent reader and slightly less frequent poster over at r/cocktails on Reddit and one of the most frequently asked questions is “What should I start with if I’m a new drinker?”  Other posters clearly have a little more patience than I, to answer those every week, but my own response isn’t a cocktail… it’s a conversation.  It takes some time and a little bit of effort, but people can learn to enjoy liquor.

It probably won’t come naturally

First of all, there are a lot of aspects to come at this from.  In my opinion, most people don’t really like the ‘flavor’ of alcohol.  Take a sip of vodka straight and that’s the flavor of alcohol.  Vodka is essentially pure ethanol… that’s the part that gets you drunk.  Every other aspect of the alcohol industry (flavoring, aging, complex mash bills, different distillation methods etc..) is what actually makes us enjoy liquor.  Gin shouldn’t taste like ethanol, it should taste like juniper and lemon and anise and flowers and whatever else they’ve put in there.  Whiskey shouldn’t taste like alcohol, it should taste like oak and vanilla and caramel and spice.  The flavored alcohol industry gets some pretty hard knocks, and not without reason, but at it’s most basic that is what we’re doing most of the time… so when you say you don’t like the flavor of alcohol well… welcome to the club.

First of all, pony up

The most simple remedy for this problem is to stop drinking the Really cheap alcohol, which has a significantly more pungent ‘alcoholic’ flavor.  From my observation its usually younger crowds that use the “I just don’t love liquor” sentence and there’s two reasons for that.  1. It takes time to get used to the flavor of alcohol in order to ‘get’ the more nuanced elements and 2. younger people buy cheaper alcohol.  Now, I don’t recommend prolific drinking pretty much ever.  This is doubly true for those who haven’t become accustomed to alcohol… It’s a great way to make people think you’re an alcoholic and to ruin your chances of truly enjoying liquor.

Some recommended brands

So, in my opinion the next best way to improve your drinking experience is to buy better alcohol, or at least more ‘beginner’ alcohol.  While Tanqueray may be the best known gin brand (and is priced right) try substituting Hendricks if you want to enjoy gin.  Yes, they are different styles, but Hendricks is much more likely to be drinkable by a beginner.  If you’re looking improving up whiskey game, try subbing your Jack Daniels for Crown Royal or Makers Mark.  Again, different styles but both are smooth, slightly sweeter, and make for much easier drinking.  For Vodka, instead of reaching for Smirnoff or Popov, Titos or Deep Eddy vodka are great middle-of-the-road brands.

These are some very very common substitutions that will make a big difference in your home bar and your drinking experience.  The ones listed here are by no means the best in their class, so if you really want to step up the game, head on over to your local Total Wine & More (if you have it, their staff is usually very knowledgeable in my experience) or one of the many alcohol related sub-reddits.  You’ll find hundreds of reviews, recommendations, and enthusiasts looking to share their love for liquors.  Gin. Vodka. Rum. Whiskey.  Or just navigate the site and explore yourself.  It’s worth it to spend some time before you ask questions, otherwise if you don’t, you kind of look like a tool who doesn’t know how to google.

The ‘beginners’ cocktails

Now, down to the answer that people actually want when they say they “Don’t enjoy liquor” and what should they drink… usually, the easier answer is the bastardizations of classic cocktails.  A frozen strawberry daquari or margarita or maybe a pina colada.  On our menu at Lucidi Distilling we have a drink called the Strawberry Smash: Vodka, strawberry puree, lemon, mint and crushed ice.  You can’t tell there is alcohol at all, so many people gravitate towards that.

There is one on every menu and if you go to any restaurant or cocktail bar they can point you right towards it.  I’m of a different opinion though… these drinks usually manage to not taste like alcohol by dumping a ton of sugar on top of it so you don’t taste it.  Not only does that suck if you are counting calories or trying to be healthier (Seriously, its like a 500 calorie drink that’s nothing but sugar and poison) but it’s also a really slap-dash answer to your problem.

Or the Better Cocktails

Again, my answer is to spend more.  Spend more money, spend more time, spend more effort.  Get higher quality cocktails and appreciate them for the nuanced flavors that they bring to the table.  Tiki drinks are a good way to get started.  You can also try classic cocktails like a whiskey sour or true daiquiri or any number of incredible concoctions being created in bars across the globe right now.  In fact, if you have any interest in cocktails or becoming a better class of drinker, I strongly recommend finding yourself a really good local bar and working your way through the official IBA cocktail list.  I myself have not even worked through this entire list yet and I already enjoy liquor… maybe I’ll make it a new years resolution? By the time you complete such a list, drinking all as intended and doing even the most minor of information intake, you will find yourself a much more educated drinker by the end of it… Or you can just keep dumping sugar on top of alcohol.  Whatever you prefer.

You can also try Learning more about liquor and cocktails! I recommend The Drunken Botanast by Amy Stewart! 

Published by Spirit Sirens

Head Mixologist and Class Coordinator at Lucidi Distilling Co. in Old Town Peoria, Arizona. In my free time I eat good foods, drink good drinks and make mead with my brother. Soon to be on YouTube with Lucidi Distilling Co. making drinks and talking history and under Spirit Sirens, where myself and my partner Mariah talk about women in the alcohol industry and our experiences!

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