When you reminisce about your personal drinking history, it undoubtedly includes fond memories of enjoying those first drinks with good friends. Those were good times with good friends no matter the drink of choice, right?
Well, thank the Lord for good times, good friends, and short-term memory because if you really think about it, maybe those first drinks consumed during your teens and early twenties weren’t all that great….
I mean, most folks in their teens and early 20s just can’t afford quality spirits and top-end craft beer. If you’re a typical Southern boy (or girl), cheap beer and rotgut booze were your go-to drinks of choice when you first discovered that booze upped the game of enjoying good times with good friends.
Of course, now that you’re an “adult,” you only drink the finest of spirits and best craft beers, right? As a member of the Southern Drinking Club, your current tastes in alcohol bespeak of the distinction appropriate for our refined Southern culture. The very thought of those early drinking experiences must make your stomach turn or some such. How, given the time spent praying to the porcelain gods and/or battling the next morning’s bottle-flu, did we ever drink that stuff?
But let’s return to those blissful days of our youth anyway and contemplate our earliest drinks of choice.
Probably for a good reason….
OK, so I’ll lead the charge by describing my own earliest dalliances with the refined spirits (ahem, “rotgut” and piss brew) that initially charted my own appreciation for drinking, Southern-style or otherwise.
You could almost treat this as a drinking game of sorts. Yep, you’ve got to chug down a shot of your current favorite for every one of the following not-so-fine libations you are personally familiar with.
Oops—that’s right, we are now mature connoisseurs of fine spirits and craft beer and no longer stoop to such bawdry nonsense as “drinking games.”
Moving on, before you join me on my spirit-filled journey, I must confess that my Southern heritage for drinking purposes is somewhat compromised. While I am definitely Southern born—Great State of North Carolina, thank you very much—I am the product of a Southern father and Yankee mother (yeah, that nuptial bliss didn’t last). As such, I spent a few of my formative early drinking years in (gasp!) Massachusetts. But hey, it expanded my nascent experiences with alcohol which in turn helped me eventually better acquire a taste for top-shelf alcohol and beers of distinction.
As an aside, I should also note that I aged through the various state legal drinking age limits right before they were raised from 18 to 21. Thus, I found it easy to procure alcohol at an early age. Heck, I was buying booze with ease at age 16 with or without my fake ID (note to anyone under 21 reading this: the penalties for my youthful transgressions are way stiffer today than they were when I was nabbed—ahem, I mean, “got away” with them).
Also, please note this disclaimer: The following blog describes inane activities conducted by professionals afflicted with delayed-progression-through-adolescence syndrome. The publisher of this blog warns readers not to engage in or try to recreate any of these activities and will not be held responsible for any damages incurred should this warning be ignored.
OK, then, without further ado, I present you with my initial forays into enjoying good times with good friends with…well, piss-poor alcohol.
Haffenreffer Private Stock
While Budweiser was the beer of choice during my teen years, Haffenreffer became a go-to one weekend when my Massachusetts buddies and I wanted to up our fun quotient. Known as “Green Death” because of its distinctive green bottle and robust alcohol content, high school seniors claimed that no one could get through a whole six-pack without calling earl.
Hah! Upon hearing that, my merry band of freshman and sophomores set out to prove them wrong. A Saturday night, four six-packs of the Green Death, and—appropriately enough—Ye Olde Burial Ground as our drinking spot, and we were set.
However, it quickly became apparent that Haffenreffer was a different breed than Budweiser, as we were all feeling especially goofy halfway through the second bottle. By the third bottle, typical adolescent restlessness had kicked in, so we started wrestling and beating the hell out of each other. While this was relatively normal behavior for us at that time, the Haffenreffer upped the aggressive factor by several notches. This led to a broken tooth and far more bruises, scratches, and ripped clothes than usual, though with no lingering hard feelings.
Bottle four represented the beginning of the end. We were sitting around in a circle licking our respective wounds when Blotto suddenly turned to the side and violently spewed out chunks on top of the final resting place of some poor dude who’d passed on some 200 years prior. Naturally, we relocated, and Blotto crawled over to a cleaner spot to rest and recuperate.
Nickles was the next one to go down, but he managed to verbally warn us—“I’m gonna puke”—and made his way to some nearby bushes where he could offer his absolutions in private. T-Bone and I lasted another half bottle or so, but I’m not sure which one of us gacked first. Needless to say, but none of us made it to number six.
Interestingly, I sampled Haffenreffer again shortly before the brand was discontinued in 2013. I didn’t finish the bottle and can’t say that its discontinuation represents a significant loss to the brewing world.
Cut to a hot summer day in Carolina with good friends, a slow-flowing river, and a rope swing. To notch up the good times’ quotient, we tasked Beetle Baily with securing our beer. Not sure how the Beetle ended up with the task, but he failed miserably. When he showed up at the swimming hole on his bike, he pulled three bottles of Boone’s Farm apple wine out of his knapsack rather than our expected beer. As I recall, there was a long moment’s silence, followed quickly by a verbal beating.
Given these politically correct times, I will not repeat much of the verbal thrashing Beetle received, but let’s just say that it primarily referenced his gender and sexual orientation. Those of you who are not easily offended or of the politically correct ilk can easily imagine precisely what sentiments were expressed.
His only defense was that he couldn’t carry much beer in his knapsack and that Boone’s Farm was the perfect drink for a “stinkin’ hot day.” There was talk of stringing him up on the rope swing, but we calmed down, made the best of it, and somehow managed to quaff down that cloying excuse for wine.
That evening I experienced my first-ever wine headache—piercing pain in the frontal lobes—though dehydration and excess sun probably contributed.
As for Boone’s Farm, it hasn’t passed through these lips since . . . and never will.
Picture a beautiful star-filled night sky, a frozen, snow-covered river, three teenage boys, and a bottle of Bacardi 151. Way too frigging cold to drink beer, but we wanted a little something to drink during our cross-country skiing expedition down the Concord River. Nickles came up with the “perfect” solution. As he explained, everyone knows that rum warms you up, so a high-powered 151 proof rum should add twice the heat. Thus, we ended up with Bacardi 151 for our midnight journey, and it did warm us up. . . at least in our minds.
We didn’t get hammered during our trip but definitely got quite silly. The exercise helped keep us warm in those sub-zero degree temperatures, but we convinced ourselves that it was the 151. Feeling so warm, we soon turned to outcompete each other as to who was the warmest. Layers of clothing started coming off and, at some point, we all found ourselves bare chested. Naturally, we each held to our claims of being warm, and it became a competition of endurance—or just idiocy. I don’t recall who broke first, but I believe we lasted about an hour, fortified by periodic hits of 151, which certainly felt warm as it slid down our respective gullets.
I haven’t had 151 since, but must admit that Bacardi was my rum of choice through college, primarily in rum and Coke formation. Blech—talk about sweet-on-sweet! I no longer drink the stuff, even if it’s the only rum available.
If you haven’t tried tequila yet, I highly recommend that you avoid this particular brand, which is the rotgut of tequilas. Heck, it doesn’t even taste like tequila and, as I recall, has a flavor more akin to acetone infused with burnt rubber.
It’s also the drink that— I’m not proud to say—caused my first black-out. It could have caused far worse but, fortunately, I ended up with a designated driver.
It’s not much of a story, but picture 50 or so high school kids partying at a remote reservoir. There’s a keg, car stereos competing to blast out the “best” music, and seniors celebrating their impending graduation with their own special libations. My small gang had brought several bottles of Pepe, and while we initially started with occasional salt-rimmed shots and lemon, by dark we were chugging it straight from the bottle. By 10:30, we were all pretty much blotto, and by 11:00, I was no longer feeling good and it was time to go home. Most of my other friends had gone their separate ways, and it was down to me and Nickles, who was also pickled and a younger kid we called DoubleT, who wasn’t much of a drinker. Drinking just didn’t agree with him and he didn’t find the thought of me driving us home to be agreeable either. So, he insisted that I let him drive. And, despite his lack of a driver’s license, I did.
Good thing, cause I don’t recall much from that drive home. I do know that I passed out on the back seat, but I don’t remember waking up and opening the door so that I could blow chunks out onto the Massachusetts turnpike rather than in my car. DoubleT rousted Nickles from his own slumber just in time to pull me back into the car; claimed the next day that I was within seconds of tumbling out onto the highway. Don’t know about all that, but I sure did have to contend with a mess in my backseat.
Old Mill Stream
This was my bourbon of choice through university, though certainly not a “choice” bourbon. Pretty much the cheapest bourbon in the ABC store, Old Mill Stream was the perfect low-budget option to cover all those important university social needs, that is excepting those involving entertainment of the fairer sex. Women tend to have far better taste (and sense) than men, and the few times it was offered up as a cocktail, it was promptly rejected after just one sip.
Lots of good times with good friends with the Old Mill Stream, and just the mention of its name today will immediately evoke laughter from my old college buddies. Lots of good stories, too, but I think I’ll keep those between my friends and me.
Old Milwaukee and Milwaukee’s Best
The cheap Budweiser alternatives for broke college students, my friends and I drank these brands by the truckload. Naturally, we’d drink Bud (and even fancier beers on occasion) when not feeling so broke, but because these other brews were almost always half-price compared to Bud, they became staples.
No specific stories to tell, as these brews were always within reach, but not sure how we put up with such crappy beer. Tried one not too long ago and marveled at how insipid the flavor was—carbonated yeasty water, and hard water, at that.
Not sure why I never ran across this one during my university days, but I only needed to experience it once to know that once was enough. Shortly after graduating, I met up with a friend in Washington, DC, who took me to a Jägermeister happy hour. The shots flowed freely, and the digestif’s 56 herbs, spices, and other ingredients worked their magic to give me one of the absolute worst cases of bottle-flu ever.
Well, kids, those were the alcoholic drinks that launched my appreciation for fine spirits and top-end beers. It’s a wonder that they didn’t serve to make me never drink again.
If you’re starting to gain an appreciation for alcohol, I’d suggest starting with the good stuff, if possible. In no particular order, some of my personal favorites include:
- Lagavulin (Scotch)
- Maker’s Mark (Bourbon)
- Patron Anejo (Tequila)
- The Botanist Islay Dry (Gin)
- Mount Gay XO (Rum)
- Ketel One (Vodka)
- Too many craft beers to name (off the shelf, though, I’ll take a Sam Adams)
And remember, drink responsibly. Trust me, nothing ruins the joys of alcohol like a raging case of bottle-flu, a black-out, having to explain yourself to John Law, or dealing with a pissed-off wife or girlfriend who is upset over your alcohol-induced, juvenile behavior.
—Originally not published by The Southern Drinking Club. Publisher loved it, but I guess it was a bit too much for his readers.