Many people, myself included, like the taste of some alcoholic beverages but as alcohol comes in many guises learning which ones are good, and which ones are not, requires some trial and effort.
Heads up – coconut tequila; just say no kids, just say no.
I can remember my first alcoholic drink. A sip from a half bottle of vodka, purchased by an older friend (not that much older but he was taller), that we snuck in to drink during our duties minding the cloakroom as part of a Boys Brigade dance. I think. The details of why were there escape me, but that’s purely an indulgence of age and in no way related to consumption of said vodka.
I confident of that because I can still remember that first mouthful. Three of us were huddled out of sight round the side of the building, I was the last one to get passed the bottle and the only one who hadn’t already had been through this particular ritual. Without pause, for every 14 year old knows that face has to be saved at all costs, I up-ended the bottle just like I’d seen on TV. The (very!) cheap, clear liquid filled my mouth and as my taste buds started to process the flavour, I quickly swallowed. I wish I hadn’t but there is nothing worse than coughing and spluttering up your first drink in front of your peers, splattering their shoes as you try not to vomit.
Vile. Is the word that still springs to mind to this day when I think bit. A bitter acidic flavour, a burning sensation that felt like someone sandpapering the back of my throat. Why on earth did people drink this stuff?!
Of course what I said to my compatriots was how it was OK but I didn’t see what all the fuss was, which prompted the need to have another mouthful of said death liquid to prove just how little of a deal it was. Vodka? Pffffttt… I’m SO over that already! Thankfully that was all I had to endure that night.
Fast forward a couple of years and my first foray into a public house. I will leave the name out of this story so as to save any legal implications (although the establishment has changed owners/names since then).
It was a life changing moment, and I often wonder what my alcohol preferences would be these days if I had spent any time at all thinking through that evening before entering the pub. I was with a mix of people, most were older and perfectly entitled to be there, but rather than let them take the lead I, bold as stupid brass, marched up to the bar to help with the first order.
There was only one barman working (it was a Thursday evening in a quiet bar) and we had to wait until he served a man who had just arrived at the bar before us. I listened to their conversation intently, although I’m not sure quite why I paid it such attention (but I was glad I did).
He toddled off and then it was our turn. My friend ordered most of the round and then turned to me to ask what I was having.
‘A pint of heavy’ I responded, knowingly and confidently (fake it til you make it, right?).
The barman didn’t blink and started pouring drinks, plonking down a pint of dark liquid down in front of me when he was finished.
I had NO IDEA what I had just ordered and, for those not familiar with the Scottish vernacular, what I had done was order something akin to dark lager (English readers would equate it to a pint of Bitter). So there I was, with my weird pint whilst my friends were drinking lager, or cider, but no, not for me!
I’d had the odd half-lager at home but this was entirely less sharp, a dark balm to the throat, and once my taste buds adjusted it wasn’t so bad. And lo was my journey into ale began.
Side note: I drank in this bar for about 18 months, and celebrated my 18th birthday in it. I realise now that, when the bar manager spotted the cards on the table and asked me how old I was, he did so in full realisation that I’d been underage, but I still managed to scramble my brain to suggest I was 20!
It took a few more years for some other drinks to be discovered. Two were notably the outcome of my first ‘proper’ job.
I’m not sure if I had tried gin before but one Friday afternoon, on one of the occasional ‘shut the office cos we are all in the pub ‘ days (it was a very small company) we were joined by the wife of one of my colleagues. She was very particular about her gin and retained the slices of lemon between drinks. I asked why and she said it made a difference to the next drink. I was skeptical and so she said to try her current drink and then try the next one. It must’ve been during the summer as I remember how the cold, refreshingly sharp drink tasted and whilst it wasn’t an instant conversion, it was the beginning of the journey on the good ship Gin!
Alas the same place (literally, same company, same pub) was the scene of my worst drinking night ever. Not that I knew it at the time of course, but the next morning was not a fun one. At some point having had lunch, and then spending all afternoon in the pub drinking, it was deemed a good idea to have some tequila and then move on to whisky! And after that, when the pub shut, it was an EVEN BETTER idea to go back to someone’s house and drink more whisky (and some weird Dutch thing that was 60% or some such nonsense).
I should, at this point, pause and confess that by that point in the evening I’d already had a fight with my then fiancee (Louise) on the phone about how ‘of course I wasn’t getting drunk’ as we had plans that evening. Only to get on to get very drunk and decide that not going home was CLEARLY a good idea, just as it was OBVIOUS that I didn’t need to phone her again (in the days before mobile phones too). Top tip, it was NONE OF THESE were good ideas.
And so it was I woke up the next morning in a strange house with the distinct taste of whisky in my mouth, a taste that wouldn’t disappear all damn day and now, 20 odd years later, even the SMELL of whisky makes me gag.
I remain a beer and gin drinking for pleasure, vodka and mixer for those later night drinks. Aside from that there are various concoctions (cocktails, whatever) that re-surface from time to time. I am very partial to a white russian (Lebowski style) and can suffer the occasional Jaeger-bomb (ahhhh the wonders of saving face/peer pressure!) although I have to admit the most recent excursion into ‘donkey dropper’ territory is possibly a challenge too far (I had two just to confirm that theory).
Every now and then I try something new but I always come back to beer (lagers, ales, and stouts) and gin. I don’t mind some rums, and I’ve had some dalliances with Southern Comfort (always served with 7-Up… one for the Stephen King fans!), not to mention the Christmas bottle of Baileys.
But I still can’t drink whisky.