Today's man is about knowing what he wants. But knowing what that is becomes increasingly difficult amidst the morass of choices. It's time to dig yourself out of the quagmire of confusion and develop the confident, dignified air of a man who knows his own taste. What you need is a drink to call your own.
Sure, Maslow and his hierarchy will tell you there are other basic needs that come first -- food, shelter, a fulfilling job, blah, blah, blah. You don't really need these. Food? There's bar snacks. Shelter? If you exude that savoir-faire air provided by having your own drink, you may at least have access to temporary (read "one-night") lodging that could, lucky you, also include a babe. And about that fulfilling jobs. Aren't we all tired of hearing about what people do for a living? It's a sad and true indictment of American man that he defines himself by what he does for a living. You wanna be more than a consultant, an analyst, a lawyer (you definitely want to be more than a lawyer), a salesman. You wanna be a person whose depth is too great to be measured by his job. Next time people ask you what you do, tell them what you do to live, not for a living. Wouldn't you rather be "Joe the Rock Climber" or "Steve the Martini Guy" instead of "Ralph, the Mutual Fund Investment Analyst?" If what makes you tick is solely what you do between nine and five, then be gone with you.
What reveals your very essence should be your passionate pursuit of happiness. Naysayers will tell you happiness isn't found in the bottom of a glass at a bar. Don't listen to them. Naysayers suck. Besides, the desire to while away hours astride a barstool speaking of matters of little interest and no importance is firmly entrenched in the bowels of the Y chromosome; therefore, you instinctively want to be that certain type of man who knows what he enjoys and knows what he drinks. The naysayers will also contend that some manly things are damaging to men (i.e., drink, women, carousing in bars and being irresponsible just for the hell of it). Clearly, even more damaging than these manly things is the absence of drink, women, carousing in bars and being irresponsible just for the hell of it.
The glorious and sordid history of mankind has included many great epochs and events: the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, the conception of Monday Night Football and the Industrial Revolution, which ultimately inspired pubs and the invention of Happy Hour. History hungrily and thirstily marches forward, and like mankind, man himself goes through his formative eras.
The Age of Drinking Enlightenment
You're irresponsible, foolhardy and immortal, which is another way of saying you're a teenager. You've just discovered drinking. More importantly, discovered getting drunk. It makes you feel even more irresponsible, foolhardy and immortal, so you take to it like an olive to a martini. This is a testosterone-surging period of great awakening for many of your primeval needs.
At this point you'll drink pretty much anything alcoholic. In the beginning, a six-pack of any cheap beer at any place that'll serve you will do just fine. Then you figure out if you drink more - and drink faster - you get even more drunk. You're a teenager, so this is a good thing to you. Cro-Magnon man had his wheel, his fire. You discover shot-gunning and the beer bong. You find that these are good things.
If you have a girlfriend you might even try savoring some more elegant libations like, say, Boone's Farm Tickled Pink, available for $1.99 from the poor slob working the late shift at 7-Eleven. You know, the guy who doesn't know or care about the drinking age. A drink must fit the mood, and Tickled Pink has that certain devil-may-care insouciance that makes it the ideal companion to grappling a fresh body in the back seat.
The progressive amongst you may branch out and become interested in hard liquor. Since you haven't yet developed a palate for spirits, you judge the quality by the hard stuff's strength. (Some grow out of this phase, others don't.) In my teen years, it was Everclear Grain Alcohol, which hadn't yet been outlawed in many states. You could mix it with pretty much everything, and though it tasted like shit, it got the job done (also true of rubbing alcohol). The idea was to assert your masculinity by drinking grain shots straight. I'm pleased to have survived this age. Thinking back, the only thing more painful (though not by much) would've been to remove my liver myself.
The Drinking Renaissance
or the Sporting Age of Drinking with Reckless Abandon for Four (or Five) Years Straight
Off to the hallowed halls of learning and your well-lubricated assault on the Ivory Towers of American academia. This is your first call up to the bigs. Sure, you've got some drinking experience under your belt. But this is the show, man. They want to see what you really got.
At first you stick with beer because you're a rookie (freshman), which is another way of saying you don't know jack. You want to prove you're capable of consuming copious amounts of cheap peasant brew while only rarely losing consciousness. You're smart enough to realize that keeping yourself in a near constant state of inebriation can stand in the way of learning anything at all in college.
Having worked hard on your fundamentals, you quickly begin to expand your thirst and your palate. For training purposes, you move up from a basic barley diet to one that includes other important grains and herbs.
The "personal trainer" at your local bar puts you on an intensive circuit-training program - of shots. Still asserting your masculinity, you turn to tequila. Slowly you work your way up from the cheap white stuff to Cuervo Gold. If by then you can't do body shots with some delectable drunken damsel, it's time to dispense with the lime and salt and just say: "Cuervo 1800, no lime, no salt."
Because you're in your drinking prime, you're totally unconcerned with those little career-threatening injuries -- hangovers. You're vital, and you drink right through the pain. You drink anything with impunity and with anyone (everyone?) who invites you. You recklessly and zealously consume all manner of colors and flavors, little concerned with what's actually in them. You're more focused on getting them in you (insert your own dirty joke here). You toss back Kamis, Woo-Woos, B-52s, Watermelon shooters, Alabama Slammers, Fruit Loops, Mudslides, Melonballs, Lemondrops, Electric Kool-Aid and just about anything that anyone is brazen enough to toss together in a shot glass. You remain undaunted by the competition and proudly take on all comers. You reek with testosterone and shooters.
Unfortunately, you soon realize man can't spend all his time hanging out with his friends in a bar, getting trashed, even under the guise of picking up women. This sad eureka is the great tragedy of being shoved into adulthood. Fight it as long as you can, because you're about to enter:
The Romantic Era of Drinking
At some point early in your career, you're likely to look around at your beer-swilling teammates and decide you'd rather go for some one-on-one with the opposite sex. Unless you go to a junior or community college, this probably necessitates branching out in your drink choices as well. Since you're in your sexual prime, you're pretty much willing to drink whatever it takes to get a woman, short of chugging straight antifreeze. (Okay, maybe if it was a sure thing.)
Eventually you'll have to order something to drink with dinner, and if you don't want to look like a total rube, it better not be beer, tequila or anything with scantily clad German women on the label. You're drinking to impress, and you, my friend, have to drink wine. Because you're young and stupid, all you know is that it comes in red, white and pink. You start with white and choose based on price. Not the most expensive, which you can't afford and which costs even more than several cases of beer. And not the cheapest because, well, you want to get laid. You like the wine, not that you'd admit it to your beer-swilling pedestrian college chums. You might even branch out to red, which, much to your sophomoric dismay, you discover is served at room temp.
It takes time, but you soon realize that good things seem to happen when you drink wine. You enjoy good food even more, and your dinner companion isn't a sweaty guy. In your mind, just a hair more advanced than Pavlov's salivating dogs', you learn to associate wine with wooing women. Don't worry, it's been that way since man discovered fermentation. Despite what the bra-less Beaujolais-swilling Birkenstock-wearing feminists say, man created alcohol to get woman in bed - a system staunchly relied on for eons. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's pretty much a no-lose proposition; even if you don't score, you still catch a buzz.
You don't have to listen to Dr. Ruth to know that the Age of Romance can't last forever. You pass your prime, start to lose step, maybe lose a little interest. You no longer want to go out every night to meet women, or at least get drunk. Don't despair. Your career isn't completely dead yet. You still have some good years ahead of you on the Seniors Tour. You say goodbye to the halcyon days of youth and embark on:
The Age of Social Drinking
Unfortunately, most of us missed the glamorous days of scotch apéritifs and three-martini lunches. Fortunately, enough people are so sick and tired of the damned ubiquitous bubbly mineral water/fruit juice concoctions that they're once again drinking alcohol socially.
This is the Age of Manhood, my friend. Now it's go time. You need a drink. You're sitting with your boss, your girlfriend's father, maybe a sophisticated Mrs. Robinson-type, and you need a "go-to drink" - that certain something to call your own. Forget the puritanical rumblings of the social do-gooders and gym rats. You're still not a man unless you have a drink.
The good thing about this is that the only way to choose the drink that's right for you is to, well, drink. Like most things you've consumed (except for Jungle Juice Grain Alcohol Punch and Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill), you won't like the taste at first. And you can't test the waters by tentatively dipping in your toe. Nope. You need to dive right in and try everything. Then pick the drink you like best (or dislike least). Sure, you can read about different concoctions, admire pithy slogans in glossy ads, even copy what everyone else is drinking. But you wanna be your own man; you wanna take various drinks out for a test drive. To thine own taste be true. You'll feel proud to strut your own taste and style. What you choose will be the right drink for you simply because you chose it as Your Drink.
Start your quest with the classics, like the much-heralded martini. Truth is, the dry martini of movie and literary lore is nothing more than straight gin. Unless you're a subject of a crumbling monarchy, a pretentious Anglophile or were perhaps nurse-fed G & Ts while summering in the Hamptons, you might not take to gin right away. Not to fret, as the original martini consisted of one-third vermouth (rather than a "dry" splash) and was much easier on the palate. Still, if you don't like gin, you won't like a dry martini. Don't be a quitter. Try vodka martinis. Not chocolate ones, not ones laced with flavored liqueurs. Don't let them put anything more than vermouth, a lemon twist, an olive or olive juice in yours. (Made with a splash of olive juice, it's called a Dirty Martini; these not only go down easy, but they're good signature drinks, offering that special spin that lifts you above the masses).
If that doesn't work, it's back to the drinking table. You need a mixed drink you can comfortably order in any bar across the land. A drink for which you can relay the recipe if need be. You may want to try some other classics: the Manhattan, the Rob Roy, the Old Fashioned. Not only will these choices reveal your appreciation of time-honored favorites, but any barkeep worth his margarita salt should be able to prepare one.
You also should know which dark liquor you prefer. There'll come a time when you need something to sip - something neat, not mixed with tonic or soda, perhaps not even filled with ice. Yes, you need to know about dark liquor. Preening pundits will refer you to a single malt scotch, a respectable and erudite choice, albeit somewhat of an acquired taste. Don't be deterred. All it takes is sip, sip, sip, and BAM, you've acquired a new vice. Try to glean whether it's the smoky or peat taste you appreciate, or something else. A single malt is always high-caliber; you simply need to see if one suits your taste.
If you're patriotic, or have an aversion to drinking something from a land where rugged men wear skirts, there's no reason to stray from home. America has refined its bourbons, and the burgeoning single barrel bourbons have every bit as much depth and character as the finest scotches. So when someone asks why you drink what you drink, you have a ready-made answer: you're a damned patriot. You drink for love of country (this doesn't count for Canadians drinking Canadian Club. It's a well-known fact that Canadians drink to overcompensate for the chronic inadequacy they feel at not being from the U.S).
Of course you'll have to choose some wines to include in your repertoire. You'll need a signature, quality red and white that you know you can buy anywhere and bring to any dinner party without embarrassment. Again, no need to stray from American shores. California, Oregon and Washington State wines are stellar, affordable and on par with any in the world. Pick a favorite varietal so you can find something familiar wherever you and your taste buds happen to be. The way to find what you like? Taste test. You're the King of your realm of taste. Mel Brooks was right: It's good to be the King.
Finally, if you're going to appreciate the ritual of eating and drinking well, it's incumbent upon you to have an after-dinner drink of choice. There are plenty of options - certain somethings that contribute a little kick to your coffee, or a number of quality brandies and liqueurs. Choose something that you'll like enough to sip slowly while lingering after a bountiful meal. Cognac - another libation that won't steer you wrong - is clearly the prestige leader in the brandy category. Since technically all Cognac is from France, your patriotism is out the door. Then again, it does have that certain je ne sais quoi. Alternatively, the range of after-dinner liqueurs is fantastic, with almost every herb and nut imaginable represented. If you can't find something you like, you're simply not trying hard enough.
Being a man with a thirst for life is hard work. Don't let anyone tell you differently. But your grandfather was right: Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Go out there and get to work. You've got a lot of drinking to do. Slake your thirst.