WHAT THE BOYS ARE DRINKING THESE DAYS

[haven't updated in a while for a very weird reason: i forgot my movable type login. really, i did. i need to start writing these things down.]

Before I forget and before it moves on, I wanted to mentioned how I’ve noticed a drinking trend among young men–specifically, the young and nerdy men I often encounter at comedy shows in some of the city’s downtown rooms. These little guys–most of them are barely of legal age–have started drinking whiskey, straight, and the sight of it is pretty damn adorable. On any given night, I’ll see several of them shuffling around with poor posture, holding whiskey glasses with the kind of self-conscious care usually reserved for holding one’s own urine specimen. If I study them long enough, I’ll usually catch a few of them taking lady-sips, and then turning their heads away so no one can see them wince from the burn. It just seems like an odd age to develop a taste for whiskey; it’s like they’re precocious alcoholics.

My early drinking habits were formed primarily by advertising and economics. When I was a sophomore in high school I discovered that drinking alcohol at parties with girls and upperclassmen could be an exciting alternative to hanging out in my friend Simon’s living room on a Friday night, watching Yor, the Hunter from the Future on Cinemax After Dark, and peer pressuring each other to split a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts between us. Not knowing anything about drinking, I chose Budweiser. First and most obviously, it was the King of Beers. That’s a given. Also, Budweiser had more commercials on television and in magazines than any other beer in America. It was as recognizable as Pepsi Free. (historical reference!) I’m certain there was a shrewdness on the part of the Budweiser marketing department to ensure their brand was imprinted on the minds of all underage drinkers. Kudos to them, because it worked. Everyone who drank in high school started with Budweiser, just as everyone who smoked started with Marlboro Reds or, if they hung out with cooler kids, Camel Lights.

If I wasn’t drinking Budweiser at parties, it was either because someone had scored a bottle of something that we would then mix with anything–Jim Beam and grape soda? Makes perfect sensen–or because I’d been burned by an older kid coming back from a beer run. (There were exactly two stores in my town that had a well-known reputation for selling beer to minors; at one of them, the store’s owner would even help you load the cases into the trunk of your car. There was also one liquor store called Sabatino’s Liquors was located in the heart of SUNY college campus housing. Their “no I.D. required or even desired” policy was reliable enough that they were frequently cited by local police, which meant you never knew what kind of reception you’d receive when you plunked down a couple bottles of peppermint Schnapp’s and one of those jugs of well vodka that had its own handle for convenient portage. A Sabatino’s run could make or break a Saturday night.) Often at parties, an upperclassman with a car would collect money and take orders for beer. In my fealty to his status as an older kid, it was customary to hand over ten dollars and say, “just get me something good.” Inevitably, “something good” would turn out to be a six-pack Piel’s or Utica Club–or if he was a total dick, Meister Brau. These beers retailed around $2.49, and I expect the remainder of my money would be spent on cigarettes, gas, Doritos, or pocket combs. Ask for change from a beer run was extremely taboo and, really, it didn’t matter anyway because I was fifteen years old and a horrible beer like Utica Club was going to get me exactly as drunk as a slightly less horrible beer like Coors or Budweiser.

Eventually, I picked up on what the older kids were drinking at parties and expanded my repertoire. Soon, I began to request Molson (very popular upstate), Beck’s (my friend, Andy, turned me on to this beer and drinking it made me feel sophisticated) or, if I were trying to impress someone, Grolsch. As a party beer, Grolsch had a lot of novelty appeal. First, it was allegedly higher in alcohol content, which meant one Grolsch was technically equivalent to slightly more than one regular beer–a fact that never went unstated by the person enjoying a Grolsch. Plus, the bottles were oversized and sealed with a ceramic stopper that could later be utilized as a makeshift roach for smoking weed. Yes, Grolsch kept on giving.

Throughout college, I went through several drinking phases. In chronological order: a White Russian phase; a cheap Jug Wine phase; a Jaegermeister phase; a Crazy Horse and St. Ides Malt Liquor phase (“S-T-CROOKED ‘I’-D-E-S / GUARANTEED TO GET THE BIG BOOTIES UNDRESSED”); a Manhattans phase; and a White Russian Renaissance phase. By graduation, my relationship with alcohol was pretty well resolved. I still favored certain drinks in brief phases, usually based on whatever concoction my latest ex-girlfriend ordered while we were dating–7 & 7, Wild Turkey & Coke, vodka gimlets.

I didn’t drink white wine until I was in my thirties, because I had some kind of irrational prejudice against it. I thought red wine was for bohemians, gourmands and sophisticates, and white wine was for ladies who hang out in nail salons and enjoy an ice cube in their wine glass and lipstick stains along the rim. I still don’t know why I thought that, and I was to learn many of my friends also had the same unfair bias against Sauvignon Blanc.

Lately, when I’m not drinking wine (brag) I’m usually drinking mid-shelf vodka and soda. It’s a nice, clean drink as long as the vodka is just decent enough to not taste like you’re swallowing a length of rough cotton. Before settling into vodka and soda, I typically defaulted to Maker’s Mark on ice. (Or straight, when I felt like nursing one glass all night.) I can’t explain how much I loved that drink. As I said earlier, at this point in my life my relationship with alcohol is fairly casual and detached–I’ve stopped drinking for extended periods, while trying to lose weight. But there was something about seeing the caramel-colored swirl of bourbon in my glass that was so pleasing. It was almost like watching dessert being prepared. I liked bourbon so much I figured it was the only alcohol that had the power to be my undoing–what’s not to love about that?

I stopped drinking Maker’s Mark a few months ago, when I began a new diet that’s pretty restrictive about the amount of sugar and carbs I consume. (Again, I’m using my own personal science to determine that bourbon contains an excessive amount of both, and I look forward to having this theory debunked by ANYONE.) As a result, maybe I am more acutely aware of this drink’s presence in my vicinity but I would still argue there’s something to my theory about young, male comedy nerds and whiskey. Maybe it’s because many of the older comics seem to favor scotch and bourbon, and this behavior is being aped or emulated by younger comedy enthusiasts, as if somehow drinking brown spirits is implicitly part of a comedy training regimen. (And maybe it is, because bourbon is an extremely effective depressant, and that can be great for comedy.)

The point of my fascinating thesis on the importance of alcohol in my personal development is that I wanted to relate a very cute incident I overheard a couple weeks ago, as I was waiting to tell jokes at a show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Maybe you’ve read about Williamsburg in Newsweek!) I was scribbling hilarious notes at the bar when a very skinny guy who looked to be about 23 years old approached the bar and had the following exchange with the bartender:

YOUNG GUY WITH SMATTERING OF A BEARD GROWN TO DIRECT FOCUS AWAY FROM THE FACT THAT HE ENJOYS THE MUSIC OF RILO KILEY AND CRIED DURING THE SHAVING SCENE IN ‘THE ROYAL TANNENBAUMS’:
“Hi, may I have a whiskey on the rocks, please?”

BARTENDER, WHO WAS EITHER BEING HELPFUL OR, MORE LIKELY, CALLING
A BLUFF:

“OK…what kind of whiskey would you like?”

YOUNG GUY WHO HAS BEEN THINKING OF GETTING AN OLD-FASHIONED SAILOR TATTOO ON HIS FOREARM BUT, AS RECENTLY AS ONE YEAR AGO, HAD CONSIDERED HAVING THE WORD ‘QWERTY’ TATTOOED ON THE INSIDE OF HIS WRIST INSTEAD:
“(stammering and gesticulating nervously) Um…I guess…whatever you think is…um…appropriate…uh, given the, um, circumstances…”

[BARTENDER POURS A CAN OF PIEL'S INTO A WHISKEY GLASS]

Exeunt.

When he ordered his drink, I half-hoped the bartender wouldn’t ask him for further clarification because I remembered being in his place not long enough ago. I knew he didn’t know anything about whiskey, or the difference between bourbon and scotch and rye, and probably didn’t care. He just didn’t want to walk up to the bar and say, “I would like some brown alcohol, served in a ‘big boy’ glass, please.”

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