Did any of you wasters (pretend to) go alcohol-free in January? I know Jolie did, and I considered joining her, because I'm a big proponent of limiting your gross booze intake any way you can. Obviously year-round moderation is the best way to do it, but many of us just aren't wired that way, nor do we wish to be. I realize that a couple binges a week is harder on the old liver than slowly and steadily losing the race via two beers with dinner every night capped off by a bedtime brandy that doesn't really count anyway since it's mostly medicinal. But it's so much more fun to just get good and ripped every now and then, isn't it?
Regardless of your drinking style, February's a fine time to shake up your routine. Whether you're the type who spent January stockpiling booze credits or just another everyday drunk, February's the best month to expand your drinking horizons. Everything's cold and gray and awful, and just like you're done pretending to have a handle on your drinking, you're done pretending to tolerate the winter. You need something to get you through to March in one piece, and it's not going to be a trip to Aruba or another foolhardy bout of clean living, so it might as well be more thoughtful drinking. We all have favorites for a reason, and I'm not asking you to get weird just for novelty's sake, but I hereby submit 13 drinks you should consider in your pursuit of a drunker, more enlightened February.
1. The other color of wine
Even though the otherwise infallible Calvin Trillin questions if there's much of a difference, most casual wine drinkers I know have a color preference. My wife's a strictly white wino who was blessed with cheap tastes, so our fridge is always filthy with $3 Trader Joe's bullshit. I prefer red, but I also prefer not to be caught outspending her 4 to 1 on every bottle, so I just don't drink a lot of wine these days. But in my recent swig-sneakings of her restaurant wine, I've been reminded how good white can be if you're willing to spend in the higher single digits. My new theory is that it can be rewarding to step across the aisle, spend a couple extra bucks if necessary, and see if you can gain a new appreciation for the other.
2. Gin and tonic
I believe in drinking seasonally—not necessarily to stay in touch with Mother Earth's ebbs and flows, but to impose some variety on my routine. Imperial stouts are as delicious in July as they are in January, but setting rough guidelines concerning time and place helps you avoid lush-ruts. But there's something to be said for reminding yourself of better times ahead, so fix yourself a gin and tonic, stare out at the snow, and take comfort in knowing that summer will be along in just 1,000 short years.
You probably know someone who brews his own beer, and you probably know who that someone is, because he probably never shuts up about it. Well, if you have to listen to him, you might as well swipe some of his juice. A lot of homebrew is terrible, but I've had a few good ones, and regardless of quality drinking moonshine is always fun. I'm not Johnny Artisanal by any means, but if you've got the time and the inclination, there's no reason NOT to make your own beer or at least support (by which I mean steal from) those who do. Way too many killbuzzes claim to see no point since there's already so much good beer in the world. Yeah, well, the world's full of good meatballs too, and that doesn't stop you from making your own, because you realize you're not competing with Mario Batali, you're just trying to make the best dinner you can. No reason the same logic can't be applied to getting DIY drunk.
4. Good tequila neat
You don't need anything aged or expensive or endorsed by Cousin Christoper; just ask your bartender for $9 worth of a respectable blanco (Comrade Craggs hates when I mention brands, but Milagro's good for this sort of exercise), sip it nice and slow, and realize your beef all along has been with shitty tequila, shitty marketing, and shitty margaritas.
5. Bad triple sec neat
This is one is purely educational, as any pleasure will be derived from bulking up your brain in the process of beating down your tongue. Ask for a quick hit off the sugar-crusted bottle of off-brand bullshit most bars bury inside their margaritas and see the real root of the problem. Bad triple sec is a bigger scourge than bad tequila and bad commercials combined.
6. Your biggest regional craft brewery's flagship beer
I would rather be hit by the car Burneko sends after culinary infidels than get into a fight over beer industry definitions, so I will just say what I mean and let the pedants bicker amongst themselves. By "craft beer," I mean "Beer that is not shitty or owned by a giant company." By "biggest," I mean "The one that people outside your region have the most access to or at least knowledge of; you know, the one they serve at the airport, the one that sponsors your minor league teams and food truck festivals." For me, this beer is either Samuel Adams Boston Lager or Harpoon IPA (Samuel Adams is bigger but less regional now that it's brewed in Pennsylvania), so I resolve to have both. If you're on the West Coast, it's Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Shiner Bock in Texas, Dogfish 60 Minute in the Eastern Middle, and so on. You decide—just don't cheat. Our purpose here is to pay respects to the originators of our local craft beer scenes. There are now dozens of New England IPAs better than Harpoon, for example, but it doesn't hurt to kiss the ring once a year out of gratitude for whoever dragged your region out of the Bud abyss.
7. Fresh Greyhound
I don't drink a lot of vodka, because it's a little bit bland and I simply prefer too many other liquors. But I'm tired of vodka-shaming among the self-appointed guardians of all that is right and true and vested and tattooed in the cocktail world. I'll poke fun at certain drinks, get a bit of a rise out of the Fernetsticks and Jagerholes, but you'll never catch me piling another post onto the "What Your Drink Says About You" dung heap. Those articles are manifestly stupid, because everyone's drink says the same thing: You're tired of being sober and hope this might be a tasty way out of that pickle. And they usually compound the stupidity with snobbery by including a dig about vodka drinkers being naïfs and amateurs who've yet to embrace the dangerous beauty of the darker spirits. This whole vodka-is-for-rookies narrative would be tiresome even if it were true, but you know who drinks vodka, besides the sorority girls and finance guys these articles always demean? Russians! Russians drink vodka! If it's bad enough for the Russians, it's bad enough for you and me. So I recommend that sometime before the month's through you pick up two fresh grapefruits and juice them into a giant glass of decent vodka.
If the bees are going to provide us with drunk-honey, the least we can do is try some.
The overwhelming majority of America's best beers are ales. In fact, Beer Advocate's Top 250 list rattles off 197 straight ales before Jack's Abby Hoponious Union represents for the lagers. This is partially because ales are awesome and partially because the newest wave of craft brewers have neglected lager's potential. Lagers differ from ales structurally in that they use different yeast strains and fermentation temperatures. There is no inherent qualitative disadvantage; the hurdles from the drinker's perspective are matters of heritage and reputation. Most of us rightly associate lagers with pissy yellow corporate brew—Bud, Miller, Coors—and, to a lesser extent, with skunky green-bottled European imports that sit on the shelf for way too long to maintain any integrity.
But new-school brewers who are looking to supplement their rosters of hop-monster ales are starting to turn out small batches of very good lagers. Most of these are lighter in both body and alcohol and therefore benefit from the shortest possible time between brew kettle and mouth, so try to find a local one. In Massachusetts we have the excellent Notch Pils, as well as the entire line from Jack's Abby. Dogfish Head's My Antonia Imperial Pilsner is very good, as is their new Piercing Pils. Boulevard Reverb is another widely available imperial pilsner, and Left Hand Polestar is a more traditional version. Have yourself a nice craft lager now and start daydreaming about what your new summer beer's going to be.
The modern American cider movement got off to a slow start because consumers didn't care what brand or style they drank; they were happy to settle for whatever cider a bar in 1997 happened to serve. So we ended up with oceans of mediocre Magner's and slightly better Woodchuck. But now cider, like lager, is starting to get more attention from ambitious producers and discerning (or gluten-averse) drinkers. There are scads of new ones and I can't claim to know much about them individually, but I know enough to say that the class of booze is much better than you'd expect if your cider experience consists of grabbing a Magner's from the back of the fridge when the beer's gone and you're not yet drunk enough to go for the Mike's Hard Whateverade.
11. Foreign Beer Somewhere It Might Possibly Be Fresh
This one's easy. Next time you're in an ethnic restaurant, just skip the Heineken and get whatever comes from the cuisine's homeland. Is Kingfisher any good? Hell, who knows, but the best way to find out is to order one someplace that stands a chance of selling enough to keep it fresh.
12. Mixed 6-Pack From the Closest Brewery to Your House
Even easier—you don't have to eat at all, never mind risk exposure to potentially intimidating utensils or condiments! Use this map to figure out your nearest brewery and try as much of their line as you can in one sitting.
13. Irish Coffee
Because it is fucking February, after all.
February is miserable, and despite the lying-ass calendar's claims of brevity, it provides more drink-it-away time than any other month. So play around with it a little bit and try a few new things before you settle back into your brilliant and filthy routine, willya?
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter @WillGordonAgain.
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Image by Sam Woolley.