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Improve Your Drink Palate with These Cocktail Upgrades

Ayana Wilson Ayana Wilson Improve Your Drink Palate with These Cocktail UpgradesPhoto by Ayana Wilson.
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The Fall season signifies the end to a lot of the things (hello, it’s called Fall), like warm weather, real vacation time, and for some, a hot fling. But it’s also a time of year for beginnings, none of which holds more import than that of the recent graduate.

The end of college should signal the end of several bad habits – sleeping until noon more days than not, having mom do your laundry, and drinking cheap swill not fit for anyone who’s braved and mastered the halls of higher education.

Now is the time to update your drink. Not only can you afford better, but as you age, the body changes, and the 12-pack of Natural Light you used to be able to drink on Saturday night with no repercussion other than a slight headache (and shame) the next day, will not be so easy to metabolize.

You should be focused on drinking smarter as life’s responsibilities (job, spouse, kids) begin to dictate more when, where, and how much you can actually have. In that vein, here’s a quick guide to get you started on the path to more enlightened drinking experiences:

  • You Drank Then: Sex on the Beach
  • Drink Now: Vodka & Soda with a lime

No self-respecting, non-teenage woman should ever order this drink. Not even on vacation. And ditto for the guys. Sex on the Beach is nothing more than a combination of sugary liqueurs and juices, guaranteed to give you a headache, not get you laid. Instead, stick with vodka, which, if you still desperately crave the fruitiness of a SOTB, comes in many flavors. A splash of soda keeps it light and saves calories.

  •  You Drank Then: Screwdriver
  • Drink Now: Tom Collins

There’s nothing really wrong with a Screwdriver – it’s vodka and orange juice – but unless you’re at a craft bar, it’s probably juice from a gun or cheap brand and well vodka. A Tom Collins is equally as inoffensive, but more elegant, and more often than not, tastes better, and is better for your waistline. The floral quality of the gin, the smooth sweetness of the syrup, the refreshing burst of lime, and the slight spritz of soda makes this cocktail satisfying without being overwrought.

  • You Drank Then: Rum & Diet Coke
  • Drink Now: Bourbon on the Rocks

There’re few things funnier in a bar than someone ordering liquor and diet anything. It’s like ordering a double cheeseburger with a side salad instead of fries. If you’re really that concerned about inches on the hip, skip the soda altogether, and order a good bourbon over ice, preferably one 2 x 2 x 2 cube. The subtle sweetness of the bourbon will compensate for both the rum and the soda, and this way, you can probably have two where you would have felt guilty after one.

  • You Drank Then: Fireball
  • Drink Now: Moscow Mule

Fireball is one of those liqueurs that fall under the category, “Why?” It’s too fiery to really be enjoyed, and too cheap to actually taste good. You’d be much better off sipping a Moscow Mule, especially one made with a biting brand of ginger beer. You’ll still get the same afterburn, the same punch in the teeth, but now, people won’t judge you when you order a drink at the bar.

  • You Drank Then: Jager Bomb
  • Drink Now: Campari & Soda

Blackoutmeister, I mean Jagermeister, is a German spirit made with herbs and spices. It was not created to be the better half in the most popular version of the bomb drink in the US, but it has risen to that rank thanks, mainly, to Girls Gone Wild and the guys who love them. Now that you’re past that stage, sip on Campari instead, an Italian spirit made with herbs and spices. A bit more bitter than Jager, Campari makes a sophisticated cocktail for those who seek a slightly more unusual flavor, and the soda doesn’t leave a funny aftertaste in the mouth the way that energy drink does.

  • You Drank Then: Jack & Coke
  • Drink Now: Sazerac

Again, there’s nothing really wrong with a Jack & Coke, it’s just that once you can drink better, why wouldn’t you? Jack Daniels is training wheels; cognac, which any good Sazerac uses, is for the big boys. Add to that a wash of absinthe, a few dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, and sugar, and you’ll not only have a tasty drink, but a classic that’s worth savoring every time you go out.

  • You Drank Then: Hard Lemonade
  • Drink Now: Gin Blossom

Gin Blossoms have many different variations, depending on who makes your drink and where they learned it. There are two ingredients it shouldn’t fail to have, however: gin, and a flowery or citrusy spirit, like Elderflower or Lillet Blanc. Whether then grapefruit juice or orange bitters is added is completely up to the mixer, but regardless, the result is akin to hard lemonade, which is syrupy and hard to digest past half a bottle, without all the nasty elements of the hangover you were certain to have.

  • You Drank Then: Cheap Beer
  • Drink Now: Pisco Sour

Cheap beer, the kind you can find in cases in the refrigerator at UDF, is characterized by a sickly sourness, both in smell and taste, that reinforces the state one would be in after consumption. If you find you still have an affinity for that kind of acerbity, try having a Pisco Sour the next time. The unaged brandy, Peruvian in origin, is joined by lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg whites (for that frothy head) to create a drink that celebrates sourness rather than anticipates it. It has more flavor, more oomph, and makes you look more impressive to the cute bartender if you order it.

  • You Drank Then: Boxed Wine/Riunite
  • Drink Now: Martinez (Red) or Marilyn Monroe (White)

Boxed wine has been trying to have a moment lately, and there’s little wrong with the oenophile-approved ones on the market today. The problem lies with the wine you drank because you had to, the wine your friends brought over to the dorm for girls’ night, the wine you would have never seen served at Thanksgiving dinner. If you always found yourself reaching for “Red”, try ordering a Martinez next time. The gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and bitters cocktail is round in flavor to mimic the full-mouth feel of traditional boxed red, and slightly fruity, like all boxed wines of this quality seem to be. If you always grabbed for “White”, upgrade to the Marilyn Monroe, a sexy mixed drink that’s only two ingredients: vodka and champagne. It’s timeless, delicious, and a more mature choice than anything in a box. Just watch out for the potent combination of grape and grain.

  • You Drank Then: Four Loko
  • Drink Now: Old Fashioned

It doesn’t matter which flavor you got – fruit punch, lemon lime, peach, blue hurricane – Four Loko is disgusting, and should never have been invented, let alone sold. If you did happen to find yourself enjoying the flavor and rush of this surly canned cocktail, substitute an Old Fashioned next time. It’s a classic, made retro cool again thanks to one Donald Draper, and it’s delicious: muddled sugar and bitters is topped off with brandy, and the whole thing is garnished with an orange rind and a cherry. Some bars will use bourbon, which is an acceptable replacement, but the fruit itself should never be muddled, instead there for scent and look. An Old Fashioned makes you look newly stylish, and isn’t that what you’re really going for?

So, now that you have a better idea of the kind of road on which you should be drinking, get started already. As always, do it safely, do it in moderation, and do it local. Cheers!

Photo by Ayana Wilson.

vipohiowinesColumbus Underground is Celebrating Sprits & Wine Week from September 1st to 7th, brought to you by Ohio Wines. Visit www.ohiowinesvip.com to learn more about Ohio’s fruit of the vine.

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