Friday, August 19, 2011

Cocktailing: The Early Years

If you hang around booze geeks long enough, eventually you find yourself discussing a topic that's become a perennial favorite: what kinds of stuff you used to drink before you got turned onto a wider spectrum of adult beverages. (Despite what they'd have you believe, in their youth, cocktail nerds weren't sneaking off into the woods to make Negronis or lounging around the frat house basement trying to find the perfect Singapore Sling recipe).

No, like most other people, their teens and early twenties were the age when most drink enthusiasts were only dimly aware of spirits. Hard liquor was likely something you knew only from advertisements, your parents' liquor cabinet, or whispered, cautionary tales of how somebody's brother got completely wasted that one time drinking way too much (insert liquor brand here).

I'm no different. I was actually a latecomer to the drinking scene, not really getting my feet wet until a year or so before I was legally entitled to do so. Prior to that, I'd have a couple beers now and then, but didn't really go much for the hard stuff. That changed sometime during my sophomore year of college.

Of course, this is not to say that I woke up one day and decided to responsibly explore the world of spirits and cocktails with a scholarly approach. Nope. I had a brief trial-and-error period with various things and when I ended up shelling out for my first honest-to-goodness bottle of giggle water, I ended up going with Jack Daniels. Why? Simply because it was a name I was aware of, and I knew you could mix it with Coke. No experience required.

And like most other college students, I drank my share of beer too (pretty much any brand was acceptable), and I often ponied up $2.99 for my weapon-of-choice, MD 20/20 (a surprising variety of flavors!). However, when it came to the hard stuff, I stayed loyal to only a few brands: The aforementioned Jack Daniel's, Bacardi rum (whichever one was cheapest), and bottom-shelf vodka. All three could be dumped into Coke and that pretty much covered my cocktail ambitions at that time.

But this isn't really so much about what I drank as how I drank it. While at school, my two main concerns cocktail-wise (aside from catching a nice buzz) amounted to:

1) How can I take booze with me to places where I'm not necessarily supposed to have it?

2) How can I bring along enough booze so that I won't be stuck somewhere needing a refill?

Fortunately, I had two weapons in my arsenal that weren't remarkable in any way individually, but when combined, provided the perfect traveling drinking rig: The Sports Bottle and Jean Jacket.

Obviously we aren't talking Batman-grade technology here. These were just a couple of things I already owned that I realized could suit my needs quite well. Neither was expensive or appeared special in any way, which were key parts of their simple charm. They were just a couple commonplace items any college student could use to roam around campus clandestinely hauling hooch. Here's how it worked:

First up, the sports bottle. It was made of heavy, durable plastic and came with a screw-on cap and sturdy re-usable straw (see Fig. 1 below). Virtually every convenience store and gas station with a soda fountain had them and they could be gotten for less than a buck (or sometimes free) by buying a large soft drink. It held somewhere between 24 and 32 ounces.


This was my shaker and glass in one convenient package. To make a drink, I first poured in whatever liquor I had handy (No measuring...I just eyeballed it until it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/4 to 1/3 full, depending on how festive I was feeling). If I had ice handy, I'd toss in a handful and top everything off with Coke or Pepsi (see Fig. 2 below) and give it a few gentle swirls. Brutally simple and effective.


The other half of the combo was a bit of outerwear made by Levi's that everyone I knew referred to simply as a "jean jacket."* You don't see them too often these days, but for a while it seemed like half the world owned one. It was cheap, durable, and comfy. It came in different colors. It was machine-washable. You could layer other stuff under or over it when it got cold. John Bender wore one, and if that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is.

All these things made it a great garment, but for me it's greatest feature was two enormous pockets located on the lower inside front of each of the jacket's sides. They were big enough you could stash surprisingly large items in them without being noticeable from the outside. I often used those pockets to carry a magazine, snacks and my Walkman, and it didn't take long for me to realize a sport bottle filled with a giant rum & Coke fit perfectly in there as well (see Fig. 3 below).


So once I had the bottle/jacket combo established, I was off to the races. I could easily smuggle my oversized cocktail anywhere. One one of my favorites places to do so was the student movies, where alcohol was not permitted, but somehow always managed to be in abundance.** It worked great in a bunch of other situations too, and if I got caught (which I never did, by the way), I could just toss the bottle. My net loss would have been a couple bucks worth of booze and a drinking vessel I could replace at the nearest Speedy Mart.

Sophisticated? Certainly not. Clever? Not terribly. All it really amounted to was a big flask tucked into a coat that hid things well. But it got the job done and then some.

I no longer drink cocktails out of sports bottles (usually), and I don't have a jean jacket anymore, but I still occasionally get nostalgic about my early days of cocktailing when what my drinks lacked in style and preparation they more than made up for with ingenuity and longevity.

* According to their website, Levi's calls this item a "trucker jacket", but I have never heard anyone use this name. They also now make it in all kinds of frou-frou materials and styles, which is the very antithesis of the jean jacket in my opinion. I remain unconvinced.

** I was clearly not the only one who regularly did this...the lecture hall where they showed the films would always be littered with bottles and cans after the crowd left. Make whatever judgments you like, but at least I get points for not being an inconsiderate slob who leaves his empties all over the place.


DJ HawaiianShirt said...

My best addition to this topic is my roommate in college. He would spike his Gatorade with Everclear and take it to his last class of the week, which was usually about noon on Thursdays.

SeanMike said...

At The University, we called 'em squeeze bottles. My preferred beverage in one was Goldschlager (back when it was 107 proof) and Mountain Dew.

Being in the band meant it was easy for us to get liquor into sporting events...

Sylvan said...

In high school I used to totally smuggle beers in those huge front pockets!

Doug Winship said...

Terrifyingly, I don't believe that I ever smuggled any alcoholic beverage into anywhere.

Of course, I did go to a boarding prep school, where I kept an entire wine cellar in my dorm room my senior year.... Wonderful days, but how I wish we'd had screwtop wine back then.

As for transitioning to hard liquor, My first real experience with that was at Stanford, where my physicist roommate and I jumped in at the deep end one weekend by trying to reverse engineer Long Island Iced Tea from nothing but an approximate ingredient list and DESCRIPTIONS of what it was supposed to taste like.

Tony Harion said...

I remember a friend that was remarkably enthusiastic about making fake coke lookalike labels to put in beer cans during high school field trips. I wasn’t a drinker back then, but thought it was pretty clever (until he got caught, after that he became THE Dumba$s)

SeanMike said...

Doug, you didn't HAVE to smuggle, because those were the days before laws were invented.

Ben Bennett said...

Good stuff :-)

In a similar vein, this one floated by my rss reader:

tiare said...

We used to smuggle beer in our sports trunks. I always raided my parents bar and made some wild unlikely concoctions for us all.

Tikimama said...

I keep meaning to post to this (clearly on time). Before I moved to Pdx, I used to smuggle those giant cans of Foster's into movie theaters (they fit perfectly into the cup holders). Here of course move theaters serve beer on purpose. I still have my jean jacket with "Depeche Mode" written across the back. I'm cool and old.