How to Be Drunk Like a Gentleman
High on the list of people one can never trust are bad drinkers—bad drunks, yes, but people who don’t drink at all are even less worthy of trust. It takes a good deal of confidence in onseself to be able to master something as dangerous and two-faced as alcohol. Because alcohol truly is dangerous, and being a Man who Knows How to Handle His Liquor speaks to more than just your drinking habits.
Of course, there is always the chance that you’ll fail. Be weak, be lazy for a moment, and the alcohol takes over. It takes a fine mastery and sense of balance to be able to get just to. That. Point. The point where you’re reaping all the benefits of liquor, where you’re happy and relaxed and perhaps a little bit more charming than you usually are. It’s the point where you’re master over the liquor.
RULE NO. 1: GROW UP.
There’s a great many things about life that one can learn from drinking. And so here is the first and most important parallel between life and a visit to a bar, a rule that underpins all the other rules.
You’re not a 12-year-old sneaking a taste from your daddy’s brandy snifter. You’re no longer an awkward prepubescent giddy from your illegal purchase of a six-pack of beer (or, heaven help us, alcopops) at the convenience store. You are too mature and sophisticated to fall back into college fratboy drinking binges. (This is true even if you actually are a college fratboy, by the way.)
Unfortunately, for too many of us, our relationship with liquor has been defined by those early memories, and like one’s taste in music, drinking habits tend to stagnate a bit too early in life. But you’re grown up, you’re your own man, making your own money, and so it’s high time you start treating your liquor—and, by virtue of transference, yourself—with more respect.
A serious man doesn’t use liquor as a passport to oblivion; a serious man treats liquor like a friend. You choose your friends wisely, treat them with respect, and you certainly don’t use them. You also genuinely like your friends for who they are, which means you take time to get to know them and all their complexities. Which bring us to…
RULE NO. 2: QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY.
If you measure your manhood by the number of empty bottles there are at the end of the evening, you, sir, are not a man, much less a gentleman. When you’re ready to join us grownups at our special corner of the bar, we’ll teach you how to be a discerning drinker, not a gluttonous one.
See, the thing about learning how to handle your liquor is knowing which liquor to handle, and which you shouldn’t even touch without a hazmat suit and a liver donor on standby. And I promise you that the paradigm shift is more painless than you imagine. Once you switch to the good stuff, you’ll find that it takes less to have enough, and “enough” comes way before you get hammered.
RULE NO. 3: KNOW YOUR FRIENDS.
The best kind of drinkers treat their liquor with ardor and rigor that straddles the border between affection and obsession. You should approach your liquors as a benign stalker: you Google them, you talk to other people about them, you occasionally whip out a notebook to jot down notes.
If you like a liquor enough, make it a point to be acquainted with the best of its kind. You like your whiskey? Learn what makes a single malt so much better than a blended Scotch. If rum is your thing, find a storied Caribbean brand and see what they learned about spicing their liquor. Knowledge breeds respect, and respect breeds self-control.
RULE NO. 4: SOMETIMES BE A PURIST.
Those who like whisky cocktails…haven’t had good whisky. The same is true for most liquors and their cocktails. Though it often feels like we’ve entered into some sort of Golden Age when it comes to cocktails, or perhaps a parallel universe where bartenders (or, excuse me, mixologists) are rock stars who go on multi-country tours, the cocktail can’t escape its origins: They were created as a way to mask the taste of bad liquor.
Letting go of mixes lets you enter into a virtuous cycle: Without the accoutrements, you look for better liquor, and, drinking better liquor, you find yourself loathe to sully them with mixes.
Recently I was at a party where the models were allowed the run of the counter alongside the real bartenders. Are there any cocktails available on the open bar, I inquired gently. “Cocktails?” the handsome non-bartender replied, looking every bit like a deer caught in the headlights. He disappeared under the counter and came back up with a carton of fruit juice. “I have this?” he said sheepishly. I think I’ll just have a cognac, then, I said. “Yes,” he said. “Perhaps that would be best.”
RULE NO. 5: DON’T BE A DOUCHEBAG.
If you like fine things and can recognize them, you’re a discerning gentleman. If you like expensive things, and love that other people know they’re expensive, you’re a douchebag. Bartenders, connoisseurs, manufacturers—everyone knows that quality has little to do with price. Proof: there is an Ed Hardy line of wine, which looks, costs and tastes exactly as you might imagine an Ed Hardy shirt might if it were a bottle of wine.
A sommelier, aware of my budget constraints, let me in on a tip that’s useful, and not just for wine. Just stay away from the two cheapest things on the wine list, she said, and you’ll probably be fine.
RULE NO. 6: NEVER BE THE DRUNKEST PERSON IN THE ROOM.
How are you going to be able to assert your Bruce Wayne-like presence if you’re planted facedown on the bar and drooling out the side of your mouth? Remember that you only have dominance over people who are drunker than you, so make sure that there is at least one person between you and the bottom of the list.
But don’t be the most sober person in the room, either. That person is boring.
RULE NO. 7: BE GOOD TO YOUR BARTENDER.
The bartender is a powerful man, and you should be nice to him (or her). It’s just wise to be nice to the man who holds the keys to the liquor cabinet, for one thing. Bartenders have a code that allows them to dole out extra servings to favored patrons—that’s why your cocktail just arrived in a tumbler-sized glass, or why there’s a note on your tab that says “10 percent off.”
But more than that, and most useful if you’re still learning Rule No. 8, is the fact that a good bartender worth his salt will know when to cut you off, and perhaps even wrest the car keys away from you with one hand while calling for a cab with the other.
I personally consider it a failure on my part if I’ve been to a bar more than three times and am not on at least warm-smile terms with the bartender. There are at least two bartenders that I regularly call for drink-related emergencies (“I’m throwing a dinner party—what’s a good, inexpensive set of wines to have around?” “I’m hopping on a plane in four hours and I want to pack some of that cheese you serve as an appetizer. Can I drop by at 3 AM to pick some up?” “My deadline is tomorrow for writing a feature about drinking like a man. Help me!”). There is at least one bartender who calls me for grammar-related advice (true story). This tells me I’ve pretty much made it as a good drinker.
RULE NO. 8: LEARN HOW TO GIVE UP.
It happens to the best of us. You come right up to the limit, and perhaps take the tiniest of staggering steps over it. The important thing is to know how to wrest yourself back from that point where you think, hey, another drink would be a great idea! And congratulate yourself for having the best idea in the history of good ideas. That’s when you know you’ve perhaps had a bit too much, and it’ll take every ounce of will to get yourself to stop having such an awesome time. But you’ll stop. You will. Because you’re a gentleman.
This article originally appeared in our August 2016 issue.