A Guide to Drinking for Adults

In my younger days, I had mixed feelings about going out for drinks. Lately, though, I love bellying up to the bar. Just not the way you might think.

“Let’s hit the bars.”

My younger, single self did bars differently.

We start at the trendy bar: we lean against the bar, Putting Out The Vibe so the cute girls in the bar will notice us. We’re drinking Jameson and PBR to build the courage to approach them.1

Later, we grudgingly accept that drinking does not make us attractive. We move to the “cool bar”. One of us starts buying shots for the others that nobody wants. The smoke is thick. We choose songs on the jukebox ironically; Lionel Richie asks the room if he’s the one we’re looking for. He’s not.

At closing time, we’re at the bar we swore we’d never drink in again, where sorority girls wobble like baby gazelle on their six-inch heels and frat boys circle like hyenas, ready to pick off the ones who get separated from the group.

The next day, we come to surrounded by fast food wrappers, nursing seventh-level hangovers, feeling greasy inside and out, promising ourselves we’ll never do this again.2

Looking back, this wasn’t fun. It was something that we did because we didn’t have any better ideas.

I’m Not Drinking Alone

These days, I love drinking. But I wouldn’t call what I do drinking.

I know what you’re about to say, but stay with me.

I like to meet friends at bars and have a couple drinks. I do not like “going drinking”.

(My friend Nate3 once argued, “Look, I’m not drinking alone — I’m having a cocktail by myself! — this feels like an important distinction to me.)

So while I may be heading to a bar with the intention of having a cocktail, I’m never going out with the goal of getting drunk.

It’s important we establish this early on.

It’s Not Drinking, It’s Research

I’m not drinking alone; I’m having a cocktail by myself.

Nate Green

I like learning about the things I’m into. Experiences mean more when we fully grasp the complexity of what’s happening.

Cocktails caught my attention because they’re a lost art4 that’s been rediscovered in recent years.

Half the fun for me is learning how the Old Fashioned morphed over time to include club soda and muddled fruit5, or that the daiquiri wasn’t always a fruity Spring Break booze smoothie.

I could certainly learn most of this by doing online research, but half the fun in cocktails is learning about them from smart people.

How to Drink

When I go to a bar, I sit at the bar.

I want to see the drinks being made, and ask questions. I want to get the bartender talking so I can hear about the history of the cocktail I’m about to drink.

When I drink now, I go to Clyde Common at 4pm on a Monday and ask Junior endless questions.

I don’t go during happy hour or on Friday night when the bar is packed and the bartenders are too busy to talk.

My best experience at a bar was in Rum Club after I was stood up for a 5:30 meeting. Bartenders from Expatriate and Broder Nord were there; otherwise, the bar was nearly empty.

I sat with a few of Portland’s biggest cocktail nerds for an hour, learned about Aquavit and Angostura bitters, and even did a shotski6 with them.

The Shotski.

The Shotski.Credit:Hillary Maybery

I didn’t just have a great cocktail or two; I had an awesome experience learning something new.

Let’s All Have a Drink

The best part about learning all this is testing my knowledge by trying to make drinks at home.

One of the first things I really learned (from Daniel at Teardrop) was the proper way to make an Old Fashioned.

The Old Fashioned is a simple drink that dates back to before Prohibition. It follows a simple formula: spirit, sugar, water, and bitters.

You should find a great bartender near you and learn about this drink. If you don’t have access to a great bartender, here’s a video of Jeffrey Morgenthaler showing you how it’s done.

Here’s a variation I’ve been making at home recently:

This is basically an Old Fashioned, but each varied ingredient makes the drink just a little different.

You can make it with rum instead of whisky. Maple syrup instead of honey simple. Orange bitters instead of walnut bitters.

And these are all variations on just one style of cocktail. The depth of information here is incredible.

I Need a Drink

Drinking is something I regularly look forward to now. Just not the way I did when I was younger.

Gone are the days of pounding Irish whiskey and bar hopping to see if something exciting will happen. I’ve reached the age where a hangover lasts multiple days, so there’s not a whole lot of upside to getting drunk.

Instead, I look at cocktails the same way I look at code, business, art, and philosophy: it’s a fascinating world to study, with a rich history.

And it’s delicious. Also, making a good cocktail makes me feel like a cool chemist.

Tonight, I’ll be making a drink. But remember: I’m not drinking alone; I’m having a cocktail by myself.


  1. We never actually approach them.
  2. We will. Sooner rather than later.
  3. Nate recently wrote a post similar to this one. We had the idea over drinks at Expatriate, and apparently he’s more productive than I am.
  4. It wasn’t all that long ago that bartenders enjoyed a similar level of respect as doctors and lawyers. Like any trade, a bartender who takes it seriously is on the level of an artist or chef.
  5. During the Prohibition they were introduced to cover the flavor of low-quality alcohol.
  6. “Didn’t you just spend 200 words talking about how drinking for the sake of drinking is bad?” Hey. Shut up. We were bonding.

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