Just for men: A guide to choosing spirits

One of the rites of passage for men is learning about alcohol: what to drink, how to drink and how to mix drinks. Today’s world isn’t like the Don Draper/Mad Men 1960s when many men had a three-martini lunch, but alcohol still is a part of our culture.


When our minds pull up images of manly men, they often have a drink in their hands. Think Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Ernest Hemingway. You don’t want to be a walking encyclopedia of drinks, but you don’t want to embarrass yourself when the boss takes you out for a drink or you’re trying to impress a certain someone. So it’s good to know the basics.

The three basic types of alcoholic drinks are beer, wine and liquor.

Beer generally has the least alcohol (3-5 percent), liquor the most, but there is wide latitude within each category. Frat boy domestic beer, such as Budweiser, Coors Light and PBR, is being challenged by craft beers, which have seen an enormous growth in recent years. Craft beers have more flavor, and often more alcohol (upwards of 20 percent in some cases, though no more than 14 percent in Georgia).

Wine comes in four basic styles: red, white, rosé and sparkling, with alcohol content running in the 10-15 percent range. The taste of wine often is described in fruit and savory flavors, with sugar levels ranging from sweet and syrupy to bone dry. A rule of thumb is red with meat, white with fish and chicken, but there are no unbreakable rules with wine.

You could study wine and beer for years and never know everything about either one. The trick with those drinks is to find styles you like. Find a wine that is complementary to the food you are eating.

Wine and beer often are meant to be consumed with a meal, but with liquor, the main purpose seems to be getting a buzz on. Often called a social lubricant, alcohol loosens inhibitions and relaxes people.

A drink can be a way to unwind after a long, frustrating day at work. It takes the edge off your tension. Scientists say people tend to think less when they have been drinking. That can be OK at certain times, but you have to be careful not to do it when thinking is important. And not to do it to excess. Try to drink plenty of water when drinking alcohol.

Liquor can be divided into two colors: brown and clear.

Brown liquors include bourbon, scotch, rye and Irish whiskey. Clear liquors include vodka, gin, rum and tequila. Alcohol content often is listed as “proof.” To find the alcohol percentage divide proof by two. Thus, 100-proof whiskey is 50 percent alcohol.

WHISKEY: In terms of sales, the various kinds of whiskey including bourbon and Scotch are the leaders, nearly doubling the sales of vodka. Flavored liqueurs such as Jägermeister and Bailey’s are next, followed by Cognac, rum and tequila.

Whiskey is an alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented grains and aged in oak barrels. Whiskey is the manliest of drinks and can be drunk neat (nothing else added), on the rocks (over ice) or mixed with soda or fruit juice. It originated in Scotland and Ireland some 600 years ago.

The two types of whiskey are malt whiskey, made from malted barley, and grain whiskey, made from corn, wheat or rye. A single malt whiskey is made in one distillery, while a blend comes from several.

SCOTCH: One of the bigger trends in recent years is single malt Scotch whisky. (The Scots spell it without the “e”.) They come in a wide range of flavors and are usually more expensive than blended Scotch. Scotch tends to have a smokier taste than other whiskeys, often reflecting the peat bogs of Scotland. To be labeled Scotch it must be distilled and initially matured in Scotland. It will be aged at least three years in barrels.

Scotch is an acquired taste, not usually appreciated on the first try. Purists drink it neat, with only a drop or two of water, and never with a mix. Popular Scotches are Johnny Walker, J&B, Chivas Regal and Dewar’s.

IRISH WHISKEY: Irish whiskey is smoother and has a more delicate taste than scotch. Some of it is distilled three times instead of the usual two to make it even smoother. Bushmills and Jameson are the two most widely known brands. It must be aged at least three years in barrels.

AMERICAN WHISKEY: There are three types of American whiskey: bourbon, rye and Tennessee. They tend to be sweeter than other whiskeys. Bourbon is made from at least 51 percent corn, Rye from at least 51 percent rye and Tennessee is bourbon distilled in Tennessee and filtered through charcoal. Jack Daniels is a Tennessee whiskey.

Jim Beam, Evan Williams, Four Roses, Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey are popular bourbons, but special bourbons aged longer are becoming more popular. Many men collect various bourbons.

Bourbon must be made in America and be aged in barrels for at least two years.

CANADIAN WHISKEY: Cana­dian whiskey tends to be light-bodied and often fruity. It is distilled in Can­ada and aged at least three years. Crown Royal and Canadian Club are popular brands.

VODKA: Vodka is a neutral spirit made by distilling any number of grains or vegetables. It is mostly tasteless, but easily absorbs flavors. It usually has fewer calories than other liquors.

It originated in northern Europe, taking its name from the Russian word for water.

Vodka is not aged. It can be drunk neat or on the rocks but typically is mixed into a cocktail. Iconic vodka drinks include Screwdriver, Bloody Mary, Moscow Mule and Vodka Martini. Smirnoff, Grey Goose, Tito’s and Stolichnaya are popular brands.

GIN: Made from juniper berries, gin is most commonly associated with England, where it has been wildly popular for 400 years. Like vodka, it usually is mixed into a cocktail.

The most famous gin drink is gin and tonic, popularized by the British in their tropical colonies.

Quinine, the only effective anti-malarial compound, has a bitter taste, so gin was used to mask the flavor. Quinine was dissolved in carbonated water to create tonic water. There’s nothing better to prevent malaria on hot summer nights than a couple of cold gin and tonics.

After fading in popularity, gin has made a comeback in recent years. Popular brands include Gordon’s, Seagrams, Tanqueray, Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire.

RUM: Rum is made from sugarcane juice or molasses through fermentation and distillation. It is usually aged in oak barrels. Most rum is made in the Caribbean and Latin America, where it first gained popularity.

Rum was important to the early development of colonial North America. It was so popular that the first distillery in North America was set up in 1664 on what is now Staten Island. It is estimated that consumption of rum in the American colonies before the Revolutionary War averaged more than three gallons per year for every man, woman and child.

After the Revolution, George Washington insisted on having a barrel of Barbados rum at his inauguration in 1789.

Light rum is known as silver or white rum and is used in cocktails such as mojitos and daiquiris because of its sweet taste. It is fermented in steel barrels and filtered after aging.

Gold rum is medium-bodied and aged in wooden barrels. They have more flavor.

Dark rums have still stronger flavors. They are made from caramelized sugar or molasses and aged longer in charred barrels. They are used in heavier drinks. There also are premium rums, aged for 10 or 15 years or more. They are drunk neat, often as an after-dinner drink instead of brandy.

Popular brands include Bacardi, Ronrico and Cap­tain Morgan. In Cuba, which is known for great rum, the brand is Havana Club, and it is outstanding, especially their aged rums.

TEQUILA: Tequila is distilled from the blue agave plant and comes from Mex­ico. It can be served neat. It can be divided into five categories based on color and aging: silver, gold, reposado, añejo and extra añejo.

One popular way to drink it is to moisten the back of your hand below your index finger and pour on salt. Then drink a shot of tequila and bite into a slice of lime.

The most popular drink with tequila is the margarita or frozen margarita. Popular brands include Patrón, Don Julio and José Cuervo.

LIQUEURS, BRANDY: Brandy and liqueurs are for sipping after dinner. Liqueurs are a distilled spirit to which sugar and flavorings have been added. You can find one in nearly any flavor. In Europe they even have a marijuana-flavored liqueur.

Most of them you pour into a cordial glass either neat or on the rocks and sip.

Most men prefer brandy, which is made by distilling wine. Favorite brandies include Cognac and Armagnac, named for the French regions where they originate.

Brandy should be served in a snifter or tulip-shaped glass and sipped slowly while inhaling the aroma. It is perfect after a big dinner on cool evenings.


Once you get familiar with various spirits, you will want to set up your home bar for your own enjoyment and for entertaining. It’s simple and will impress your friends.

You can set the bar up on a cart, in a cabinet or even a bookcase. If you have a nook, you can hang glass shelves and a mirrored wall. The initial expense can be large, but you can build it up in stages, a bottle or two a week, various glasses and equipment as you can afford them.

You will need one bottle each of Scotch, Irish whiskey, bourbon, vodka, gin, rum and tequila. Stock some mixers such as vermouth, tonic water, juices and ginger beer.

You should have enough glasses to serve your guests. Make sure to include wine glasses as well as flutes if you like sparkling wine. Basic cocktail glasses include highball and Old Fashioned glasses.

Tools you will need include a cocktail shaker, jiggers to measure, a paring knife, cutting board, corkscrew, citrus press and ice bucket. It wouldn’t hurt to buy a nice book of cocktail recipes that includes serving tips.

Now you’re ready to mix those drinks and impress your friends. Here are two basic cocktails that every self-respecting man should know how to make.

Martini: There are so many myths about martinis and so many oddball combinations some people call martinis, but they are simple drinks. A proper martini contains only gin (or vodka), vermouth and a garnish such as an olive or lemon peel.

A dry martini means less vermouth. A dirty martini means you add some olive juice. If you put in a cocktail onion it’s called a Gibson, not a martini.

Your shaker and glasses can be chilled in the freezer if you like. (Gin and vodka also could be stored in the freezer.) Add a handful of ice cubes to the shaker and pour in a capful of vermouth. Swirl it around and pour out the vermouth. Add two shots of gin or vodka for every person you will be serving.

Shake or swirl the container. (Remember, James Bond likes his shaken not stirred.)

Pour into the stemmed martini glasses and add the garnish. Lean back and enjoy.

Manhattan: This classic cocktail has been an American favorite for years.

Start with a pint glass or a cocktail shaker. Fill it with ice cubes. Add 2 ounces of rye or bourbon, one ounce sweet vermouth and 3-4 dashes of bitters. Stir for 20-30 seconds.

Pour into an Old Fashioned glass, add a cherry and some of the juice from the cherry jar. You can serve it neat or on the rocks.