Why I Drink Just for the Flavour

In not always calling for shots, you can let your taste buds rule and liver thrive. New Year's is the exception, of course.  
Photo by: Bert Hardy Advertising Archive/Getty Images
Photo by: Bert Hardy Advertising Archive/Getty Images

You have been warned: Not-Nice-Person Alert. Actually, Extremely-Irritating-Person Alert, while we’re at it. I am boring, unlikeable and terribly posh. Boring because I don’t drink all that much. My parents, bless their livers, were happy to let my sister and I try any alcohol we wanted, which, in the best recommendation for reverse-psychology parenting I can think of, made us not want to try very much at all.

A little port wine, yes (especially the kind that came in a box with a little tap), but beer was frankly disgusting, and the burps came out through my nose, which made it even worse. The main thing was drinking wasn’t something we had to hide. No Bertie Wooster-style sneaking into the study for a decanter of rum and a cigar, no flayed backsides upon discovery, no sense for general criminality and mayhem.

So, in college, when everyone else went, “Duuuuude, no parents, let’s get smaaaaashed!” with the drawls often lasting entire weeks, I was the one going, “Meh, I have a good book to read.” Boring, I warned you. I also have the ‘responsible person’ gene, which meant I was always the one dropping people off after parties.

And I’ve never liked getting drunk in the first place. I mean, getting a little talkative is great, but the couple of times I’ve gone all in, I’ve ended up hurling my guts all over someone’s bathroom. I get dizzy, I get gloomy, I wake up with a mouth that feels like it’s been used to clean drains. You can keep the whole experience, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, yes, call me a lightweight, but remember: you’re dribbling as you say it.

Limiting my drinking means I can afford to be posh. While the rest of you are tanking up on cheap vodka, I can be James Bond and order a single Vesper Martini, which is a taste explosion rather than an appetiser for a hangover. And then I can still snigger genteelly while you talk to stuffed animals and look wretched the next day and I will remind you of that for the rest of your life. (I warned you).

Another reason I never ended up drinking very much is just the way people drank their drinks, particularly in India. Growing up, I thought whiskey was the pits, because everyone would have their Black Label topped up with a litre of soda, making a nice whiskey taste like liquid flatulence. I nearly choked with delight when a friend finally showed me how to drink a good whiskey. A) Take the good stuff. It’s worth it. B) Add a splash of cold water. No ice or soda or topping up the glass. C) And, preferably, take small amounts, so you can try lots of different kinds and see how the taste actually, really varies. Peaty, fruity, creamy, astringent, one even like licking a delicious piece of tarmac, but God, what fun that was! Important lesson: drink for flavour. You don’t have to lose your head and start talking about how its structure is a bit medieval and how the topnotes remind you of a gorilla’s sorrow, but taste the damn thing, don’t just swill it down. You’re a man, not a hosepipe.

Wine tastings, therefore, rule, as do real gin bars (oh, that juniper!). Beer, too. I couldn’t figure out why grown-ups would drink something that just made you gassy and tasted like something that already been drunk, until I went to Canada and discovered that you could make beer with honey, with coffee, with raspberries and chocolate milkshake, for fevvin’s sake, and it could be utterly wonderful. Also, I think some ancient wound in my soul was healed by the discovery of tasting platters. Lord, if the person who invented those is up there with you, please note that I will take an extra decade in purgatory if he can get an upgrade to Business Class.

That, to me, is the way to drink: let your taste buds rule, let your liver thrive, and look at people through tiny glasses of something that makes you wonder which utter b******* kept this a secret from you for so long. And never, ever, get bottled.

Ok, well, except at New Year’s, perhaps. That’s the night you make sure you’re whale-drowningly drunk, and that others around you are worse, so that you can make outrageous resolutions (save money, lose weight, that’s outrageous enough for me), and people will laugh heartily. And most important, they will have forgotten this the next day, so no one will hold you to it.

That, yes, that I can drink to.

  • Vardhan Kondvikar is a travel, car, and humour writer and editor, who is known for road trips, generalised exasperation and far too many bathroom stops.

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