Surviving the cash bar this holiday season

No matter how firm one’s devotion to craft beer, nor how resolute one might be in the rejection of corporate, industrial, marketing-driven beer brands, sooner or later, there will come a moment tests your faith.

Each of us, eventually, will attend an event and face the dreaded cash bar.

This is especially a concern at this time of year, as holiday gatherings for work, etc, come with the promise of tiny plates filled with Swedish-y meatballs, cubes of cheese, and mass-produced chicken tenders, and enough box wine and macro beer to make that lampshade – you know the one – begin to seem a particularly jaunty hat.

That’s exactly the situation I found myself in last weekend.  Wait, I mean, not the questionable lampshade decisions part, but facing the cash bar conundrum.  It wasn’t actually a holiday party in my case, but rather a roast in honor of my father, a life-long educator well-loved and respected by a plethora of students over a career spanning nearly forty years.

Forty years is a long time, which means a lot of people were on hand.  That includes people who might have known me when I was but knee-high to a grasshopper and still coveting a sip of Grandpa’s PBR, as well as people who didn’t know me from Adam, and of course, people with whom I, myself, went to high school.

Now, as I’ve mentioned many times on Puddintopia, when it comes to having reliable social skills, i.e., knowing what to say when attempting a conversation with someone I don’t really know well, it turns out that I’m a pretty good wallflower.  In this case, I was a wallflower facing an entire room of people I didn’t really know.

Well, I guess that’s not entirely true.  I did know a handful of the guests, the ones who went to school at the same time I did.  But as someone with the proclivity to use words like, well, proclivity, it’s safe to assume I was never the front-runner for Homecoming King.  And yet there I was, a mere 20 years later, still very subconscious about the possibility of using the wrong words, mumbling incoherently about the frame rate of Modern Warfare 3, or just not using any words at all.

None of which would have represented my parents very well.

With all that in mind, what the event called for was a little bit of confidence and a big boost of charm, the kind that comes in liquid form.

It’s entirely debatable, of course, whether any bonus in personal charm is made manifest after I’ve had a few drinks.  It could be I’m just a less self-conscious version of the same arrogant idiot I manage to be day-to-day.  But I seem way cooler in my head.  Perception is everything, right?

So, then, to the bar!

For the record, I am not an advocate of drinking just to be drinking.  I’ve always assumed that was a slippery slope into deeper waters I’d prefer to avoid, something always to be wary of.  And as I’ve said before, that basic concept is what led to the realization that if I was going to drink beer, it really ought to be beer I enjoyed tasting.  Which is, then, why no version of American Light lager produced by a multi-national corporation has passed my lips since, um, er, I don’t know, the last Mayan age or something.

But for every rule, there is the exception.  In this case, I found myself standing at a cash bar facing the lesser of three evils:

  1. Miller Genuine Draft
  2. Miller Lite
  3. Something with mixed with bourbon at $4 a pop

Since I’ve become cheap in my old age, and generally figured it was going to take several adult beverages to activate my latent charm and loosen my tongue to a reasonable level, the bourbon mixers seemed a costly choice.  So I cringed, swallowed my pride, and ordered the MGD.

The shame, oh, how it burned.

After popping the top, I held the can to my mouth for a moment, hesitant,  before slurping the near-frozen beer.  Based on the fuzzy memories of my college days, I expected my taste buds to be overrun with the bitter taste of ash, dead flowers, skunk musk, and failure.

As it turned out, I mostly tasted bubbles, then an odd sweetness, and finally an aftertaste I’m still not sure I can describe.

But I didn’t turn to stone, and I didn’t turn green, which I thought was an overall positive result.

Not surprisingly, I finished it quickly.  It did, after all, largely taste like slightly sweetened yet brackish water.  That said, I wasn’t drinking another one short of being forced at gun point.

My brother, also attending the event and having himself an appreciation for craft beer, was somehow consuming Lite.  Feeling adventurous, and already having sullied myself with a decent into the Pit of Macro Despair, I figured I might as well give it a shot too.  It is, after all, “triple hops brewed”.

I was looking forward to all that hoppiness when I took my first swig.  Imagine my disappointment.  Someone might really actually add hops to that brew three times, but I’d bet I add more basil to my spaghetti sauce, all at once even.  And yes, I’m comparing my 2 qt pot full of marinara to an industrial boil kettle of tens of thousands of gallons.

Still more herbs in my sauce than hops in that beer.

So what did I learn from my escapades at the cash bar?  That time has somewhat altered my memory of what the big boys’ brews really taste like, and while I might occasionally deign to climb down off my high craft brew horse in the name of cost efficiency, they still don’t or can’t produce anything I’ll repeatedly consume.

Take my advice, then, as you attend a whole host of social functions this holiday season: when you find yourself standing in a desert of drinkable beers and need a little help lest that lampshade start feeling lonely, drop the $20 on cocktails.

It’s money well spent.

I swallowed my pride and 24 ounces of swill to reinforce that lesson.

Use my sacrifice; it’s my gift to you this holiday season.


5 Replies to “Surviving the cash bar this holiday season”

  1. There’s also a fine line on bourbon mixers. Depending on the well bourbon they are serving your experience might vary between pleasureable and drinking gasoline. There’s something to be said for taking one for the team I mean just check out the Yeah We Tried Its. 😉

  2. I wanted to wax poetic against this column, truly. Instead, I thought better of it, and boiled it down to this.

    Attitudes like this give beer-lovers a bad reputation.

    I hope this point is considered next time you tell people where to put their dollars based on your own taste perception.

    I’ll pick up the keyboard again if Pud’n is looking for a fight. The ball is in your court, sir.

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