After a person turns 21, there comes a point where they must choose between drinking anything and everything for the sake of inebriation and drinking to enjoy the time and quality that goes into an alcoholic beverage.
In a college town fraught with craft breweries, wine vendors and quality cocktail lounges, it’s very easy to become lost in the language of cocktail culture and panic because no one broke down the difference between a porter and a stout. However, learning a few phrases and understanding what goes into a quality liquor can significantly improve the drinking experience.
Wine is a common beverage with centuries of history and culture surrounding the fermentation of grapes. Paul E. Read, a horticulture professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, teaches a class centered entirely around wine and all that goes into viticulture, or the cultivation and harvesting of grapes.
“Wine is, generally speaking, a beverage of moderation of every social interaction,” Read said. “It isn’t something people buy to get drunk on, but rather an appropriate beverage to consume with friends or food.”
According to Read, there are generally three categories of wine that branch out toward infinite subcategories of flavor profiles, vintages and appropriate pairings. Wine can be loosely categorized as red, white or rosé, with sparkling wine occurring between the trio. Regardless of the type of wine, Read said there are five S’s to consider when properly evaluating a wine.
“The first is sight — see the wine in your glass. Then swirl the wine and sniff it to release the aromatics. Finally, either swallow or spit,” Read said. “If you’re sampling wines, sometimes it is best to spit to avoid becoming drunk, and that’s why many tasting rooms have a spittoon available.”
Read said a crucial aspect of enjoying wines is pairing them with foods that compliment their flavor profile. Dry reds tend to pair well with steak or hearty cuisine, while subtle whites compliment seafood or spicy food. The difference between dry and sweet wines is simply the rate at which the yeast consumes sugar within the wine. Dry wines indicate a slightly bitter but pleasant taste, while aromatic wines indicate a softer or even sweet profile, Read said.
“The most important thing to consider for a new wine drinker is a willingness to try new wines and explore what they personally like as well as the setting and environment they’re in,” Read said. “There's a big difference between drinking a glass of wine while you're sitting on the back patio or whether you're drinking it with that steak you just grilled.”
Similarly to wine, beer and cocktails have a complex language and history regarding what makes one enjoyable. Jay Donaldson, a long time bartender and owner of the South Lincoln cocktail lounge Rumology, said the key to enjoying a good cocktail is a willingness to try new things and find what pleases your palate.
“People kind of have to figure out what it is they like. Personally, I like rums. Coming from a culinary background, I like to dissect the flavors and all that goes into drink,” Donaldson said. “There's usually a pretty dominant flavor right up front when you take a bourbon or rum or even a gin, and then there's other flavors that kind of expose themselves as you enjoy that flavor going in over your taste buds.”
According to Donaldson, price is not always the definitive factor that decides a quality liquor. He said it’s ultimately best to ask the bartender what they recommend and find what tastes best for the person. It’s also advantageous, he said, to try establishment-specific products such as infusions and specially made cocktails. Ultimately, enjoying a drink has more to do with the quality of the drink than the quantity, he said.
“It's like food. You can go buy salmon at the grocery store and enjoy that just fine, or you can go buy wild caught salmon from a hiring vendor. You cook it the exact same way and the flavor profiles are significantly different, because [of] the quality of the product you're consuming.”
Similarly to rum, whiskeys and bourbons can be enjoyed in a classic cocktail or straight out of the bottle. Donaldson said the way one enjoys whiskeys and bourbons is just as important, if not more, than the actual product. There are three ways to enjoy a dark liquor: straight-up, neat or on the rocks. Straight-up indicates a fresh pour right out of the bottle, and neat is chilled with some water poured in to react with the enzymes and release a different flavor. On the rocks indicates a pour over ice, Donaldson said.
“You go to any bar, and they're always going to have Jack Daniel’s or Captain Morgan or Tanqueray,” Donaldson said. “Those are all really common drinks, but if you are looking for something unique to enjoy, properly ask the bartender and look at what the venue offers.”
Donaldson said wines, liquors and beers are great, simple drinks to enjoy anywhere, but a good cocktail is best enjoyed with a proper ambiance and pleasant people.
“A lot of bars are just like, ‘How fast can we pour the Jack and Cokes or the PBR off the tap and get it in your hands so you can consume it faster?’” Donaldson said. “My personal philosophy around food and drink is it all depends on the people you're with and the ability to sit in a really cool atmosphere to enjoy a drink.”
Both Read and Donaldson said a big part of growing up is the ability to enjoy drinking like an adult. They said drinking becomes something exclusive from the booze and more about the environment and mature conversations one begins to have with others. Alcohol just happens to be present.
“When a person matures to the point where the conversation shifts to more adult conversation, I think that's the time they start thinking about how they're drinking and what you're drinking instead of just slamming shots and beers,” Donaldson said.