10 Rules for Spirits Enthusiasts

Everyday life is congested with rules. Some of us go to the bar to escape having to deal with all the damn rules all the time. But then, of course, the bar has rules all its own. Some of the rules really need a little toning down, so I’m making a simple list today of the only truly important rules of drinking.
Beyond these, don’t take drinking rules too seriously.

The zeroth law (supersedes all others):

10. Do not make the mistake of equating expense with quality.

Probably not worth it, but I REALLY want it!


Price helps differentiate rotgut from spirits, but not good spirits from bad.

If someone asks me whether (insert cheap gin) or (insert expensive gin) is better, I’ll tell them I don’t know: I’m not them. Taste is subjective. Yes, there are certain things (like mixto tequilas and american whiskey blends) that just suck, but those aren’t spirits. Those are rotgut. Above a certain quality level, it’s all a matter of taste.

9. No mixtos. No American whiskey blends.

How much fresh blue agave?

Don’t drink poor-quality liquor except to give it a chance to surprise you. If it’s not better than you expect, don’t finish. Life is too short. Wasting bad alcohol is not a waste, so pour it down the drain.

8. No shots.

It’s just so BAD I want to skip tasting it!

Shots are intended to hide poor quality liquor. Don’t drink poor-quality liquor.

Pousse-Cafes are an exception, because they’re just plain fun!

 7. Know what you are drinking and what it’s made from. Do not order a drink if you don’t know what it is.

I was once in a liquor store when I noticed someone looking for tequila in the cordials section. She saw the Patron XO and picked up a half-gallon, heading for the counter. I stepped in and notified her that she was holding a coffee liqueur. “Coffee? Eck,” was her reply, and she returned the over $100 bottle to the shelf.

She was going to spend $100 on something because the bottle looked familiar, without even reading the label.

People order or drink things all the time without the slightest clue what it is they’re drinking. Don’t be one of those people.

6. Know why you like what you like.


Describe something you like to a friend, and try to avoid the word “smooth.” If you can do that, you’re golden.

5. Know why you don’t like what you don’t like.

It’s the best way to become liquor-literate.

Don’t just complain, analyze. See what it is that doesn’t appeal to you. I don’t like Larceny, but I know it’s a perfectly good bourbon. When I inspect it, I find it’s the wheaty sharpness that turns me off. Knowing that, I can recommend it to people who like similar things.

What’s more, it’s possible you’re drinking a great cocktail that’s poorly made. Is it too sour? Too sweet? Try a different recipe to try and strike a balance. There was a great article recently about a Rusty Nail that illustrates this perfectly.

Even better, in the course of inspecting what you don’t like, you may develop a taste for it.

4. Sip slowly, but not too slowly.


Slow down; we’re responsible drinkers here, so we limit our rounds. Make this one last.

On the flip-side, don’t let it drown (if it’s on ice) or warm up (if it’s served up).

 3. A Martini is Gin and Dry Vermouth (with optional orange bitters). An Old-Fashioned is made the old way.

You’re not wrong to drink it, just to call it an old fashioned.

Create all the crazy variations you want on classic recipes, but language becomes useless if we don’t have agreed meanings for words.

You’ve gotta know the rules before you can break them.

So if, for example, you invented the Kangaroo Cocktail, you would tell your drinking buddies “It’s like a martini, but I substituted vodka for gin,” not “It’s a martini.”

2. Never pressure someone to drink. It’s rude and it makes enemies.

“Come on, we’re friends, right? We’re only asking you to abandon your principles!”

We want tee-totalers as our advocates. They make their choices, and everything’s alright. Mix them up a Sober Sam. Or a virgin piña colada. Or a Southampton. Or a hot chocolate. Or Chocolate milk. They’ll be grateful for the thoughtfulness.

1. Drink what you love; don’t be an asshole.

I had this commissioned for this article. You're welcome!

Since it’s all a matter of taste, don’t be judgmental, and don’t shame someone for enjoying something different than you. Drink what you like, even if it breaks rules 8, 9, or even 6! Let others do the same.

Have you ever been shamed for your drink choice? Tell us about it in the comments.


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