Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.

Bottom Shelf Resolutions for 2013

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[Photograph: Champagne glasses on Shutterstock]

New Year's Day is my favorite holiday. I really like New Year's Eve, too, but by the last day of December I'm pretty well burnt out on bourbon and cheese and jeez, listen to me, I guess the will to live too? But you know what I'm saying. December's great but it can grind a body down. Bottom Shelf research director Emily and I tend to favor very subdued, home-based New Year's Eve parties.

This year we went out for one fancy drink at our favorite nice bar and then two skuzzy drinks at our favorite skuzzy bar before coming home at 8:00 to eat oysters and pizza rolls while watching the Yule Log channel and coming up with increasingly fantastical plans about how we might better ourselves in the upcoming year. At one point I actually found myself promising to meet every work deadline of 2013—already failed, as I didn't finish this paragraph until 15 minutes from now—but then I put away the absinthe and started focusing on more feasible resolutions that specifically pertain to enhancing the Bottom Shelf lifestyle we've all built together here.

A lot of my plans for cheap drinking and dear living in 2013 involve respecting the importance of context. Time, place, and frame of mind have a lot to do with enjoying food and especially drink, and even more so when dealing with the sort of profane fire waters so often dictated by my job and my budget. It's easy to enjoy the good stuff under otherwise straitened circumstances: I'm pretty sure vintage Champagne tastes just fine on a cloudy day. It's quite a bit more challenging to wring joy out of the everyday liquids that help thin the common man's blood.

The most obvious way to do that is to surround the often-dubious spirit in question with a bit of pomp: Old Crow is decent on its own, but it's much better when poured as the centerpiece to a Larry Bird's Birthday party. But in recent years I've too often found myself neglecting to consider circumstance, which turns drinking into a more empirical exercise that doesn't suffer supermarket house label beer. I blame this on all the press releases I get declaring spurious national days of this or that food or drink. I'm bombarded with so many calls to pretend a random Wednesday is the best day to drink a certain brand of gin that I overcorrect by forgetting that gin does in fact taste best on an early summer afternoon at the Hotel Northampton.

So my general Bottom Shelf resolution for 2013 is to pay more attention to context. These are a few of the ways I intend to do that.

Remember not to order draft beer in dodgy bars unless there's an overwhelming price incentive to do so. I've always preferred draft beer, because I think drinking a thing out of its shipping container is a bit barbaric and also because even the cheatin'est faux-pint glass is bigger than a standard 12 ounce beer bottle. But a friendly acquaintance in the draft-line-cleaning business tells me that your suspicions are generally correct regarding which kinds of places bother to keep the pipes clean. When 2013 finds me in a dive bar, I'm sticking with high-turnover domestic bottles and brown shots.

I'm also going to do a better job of drinking the local Bottom Shelf specialty. I went to Maryland last summer and only managed to drink a single Natty Boh. I'm grateful to have squeezed the one, I don't think it's fair to judge a beer of that caliber until you've seen what the second pitcher does to your insides. One of my grand 2013 plans is to go on a national Bottom Shelf drinking tour, and I intend to explore the full range of "Wow, that's what my grandfather's drinking in family photos from the 1970s" beers. Iron City, Old Style, whatever it is they get up to in Cincinnati, all of it.

In compiling my 2012 Bottom Shelf retrospective posts, I realized I've been going too easy on a lot of garbage booze. The purpose of this column isn't to glorify simple drunkenness or poverty. Remember, to have a bottom shelf, you need to have at least two shelves, and to have two or more shelves, you need to have a home, and if you have a home, you are a lucky person who needn't bother with $1.99 blueberry malt liquor. I try to avoid mocking easy targets, but last year I went too far in the other direction and in so doing may have been derelict in my duty to you. I promise you a more discerning look at the world of cheap alcohol in 2013.

And how's about all my little pretties? Anyone have any ideas for sprucing up the discount drinking life this year? Emily is recommitting herself to not accepting any shots from our creepy friends, which seems like a sound policy. Have you sworn off any particular drink or drink category? Any low-end trophies you're vowing to hunt down?

About the author: Will Gordon loves life and has made peace with mayonnaise. You can eat and drink with him in Boston or follow him on twitter @WillGordonAgain.

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