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Critical drinking // The longplay

Develop a strategy for liquid merriment

By the time you are reading this, there is little doubt the chill in the air is no longer charming. And I hardly need tell you what you already know: that we’re steady on course for that wonderful collection of holidays sometimes curiously referred to as celebrations. There will be family. There will be dinner parties. There will be work functions. There will be a Boxing Day. And at all of the above, libations will flow. There will be Montepulciano, porters, nogs, punches and toddies, fancy drinks the mustachioed man in front of you put pumpkin in, and there will be that bottle of Bushmills the night after Thanksgiving.

Which brings us to our theme: longevity, baby. How to enjoy yourself all night, but not too much, a strategy for socializing that will help you avoid ending the night with T-rex arms. The holidays and their engagements demand observance of all sorts of social mores, and having drinks, at least in public, is very much one of them. Just as there is an etiquette for bringing the party’s host a gift (a Cotes du Rhone or a growler is nice) or in greeting your boss’s wife (hands above the waist is a good start), there are ways to toast, laugh, sip, share a story, do a shot, joke, and have a nightcap without ending up being referred to next year as “the hugger.”

Note: the effects of too much alcohol are no secret, and this column assumes you understand the serious ills of excessive overindulgence. That aside, we are here to discuss the pleasures of socializing with drink and the advantages of knowing how to operate with some degree of moderation. Spend each party being awesome without getting to that stage where you are no longer nearly as awesome as you think you are. Clearly, a good initial strategy should be one of simple restraint. Over the course of an evening out, let us postulate that you should end up having three drinks. Assuming that, start by planning to have one. (Don’t worry, numbers two and three will follow.)

I don’t know the nursery rhymes associated with tippling and nausea, but I advise starting with a proper cocktail and sipping it slowly. Colder temperatures beg for darker spirits, so this is a good chance for you to get to know some whiskeys (as in a Bobby Burns), brandies (a Sidecar or Vieux Carré), or rums (a Dark and Stormy cocktail’s ginger bite perfectly marries the quintessential flavors of the season with memories of warmer temperatures). Water, whether still or soda, is a good companion all night long. It functions as a terrific buffer between rounds and also helps you avoid being known as the dreidel Grinch by your nieces and nephews.


After that glass of agua, if the vibe suggests it, carefully move on to drink two and slow down a bit. Ask for wine or beer, as in a glass of one or the other; no Christmas Eve keg stands. This second drink should provide quite a bit of social lubricant as part two of your evening unfolds. As far as timing goes, attempt to have drinks one and two last for the principle session of the evening’s festivities and conversation. And with good reason—now you have room in your sobriety for drink number three. In this way, your health and tolerance can accommodate your friends’ insistence on your imbibing in that traditional shot or pleas by the hosts to “stay for one more.” This is your nightcap and thereby your exit strategy. This drink should be a finale in smoothness, a graceful exit. Try a port or a nice amaro with soda.

All in all, make it your goal to drink for the joy of drinking. How you drink supersedes any strategy I can suggest for how much to drink. Through the holidays and beyond, aim to not get sloshed. Think of some figures from film or literature: in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Frederic Henry drank all the vermouth in Switzerland without ever getting white girl wasted. And if you have even half the tolerance of Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, you clearly don’t need to read this at all.

In the stormy social sea, you front crawl through your twenties and thirties (by forty, at which time you’ve been drinking half of your life, I assume you know how to handle yourself). Bars are the rendezvous point de rigeur, and alcohol is the featured dish every time.You can be the life of the party without becoming a liability—and leaving an impression of class always beats returning to the bar tomorrow to fetch your credit card only to find eighteen drinks on your tab. Knowing how to walk that tightrope between celebration and devastation is a skill to be learned, and your ability to do so has positive effects on your reputation, health, and wallet. 

Chuck Cerankosky is a cocktail enthusiast and co-owner of Rochester restaurants Good Luck and Cure.

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