HELP! I’m a Vodka-Guy now and I’m Not Sure If I’m Ready for this Lifestyle

By Ben D’Alessio

The saying goes: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” The lesser-known saying (lesser-known because I just made it up) goes: “Pain and suffering is the evil uncle of change.”

For too many a Saturday and/or Sunday morning, I curled up on my couch, the steam from my coffee twirling into the air, as my head pounded and stomach turned over. In my early 20s, “pulling the trigger,” taking a cold shower, and devouring a greasy breakfast was all I needed to defeat the hangover demon — I always pictured him as a goblin-like creature, banging his club against both sides of my skull — and I’d be back out there with the gang, downing fizzy yellow beer and whatever liquor came in a plastic handle.

But I turned 30 two months ago and the gradual deterioration from “feeling like crap” to considering if I could put one of those services that come to your house and hooks you up to an IV drip on retainer made me reconsider my weekends. I even contemplated if those medieval doctors drilling holes in their patients’ heads permitting the winged-demons to fly out were really onto something.

To be clear, I had issues with hangovers for years. I couldn’t make it to a brunch a friend threw for me after a Welcome Home party in NYC — they toasted to me anyway with mimosas that, ironically, may have been exactly what I needed, those menschs. But that was after a long night in Alphabet City and Jeremy’s at the Seaport, a far cry from having one-tempranillo-too-many watching exorcism movies with my fiancée.

Bacon and eggs breakfasts, glass after glass of water, aspirin & coffee had all become futile— yes, I believe the hangover cure Blowfish, an effervescent tablet of these two ingredients, somehow, is a miracle gift from God, but its one defect is it cannot function properly if it ends up in the toilet after thirty seconds in your system . If I wanted to have more than two bourbons on a Friday night, I was going to suffer for it; it was my cross to bear.

It was in-between my embraces with the toilet that I underwent research, lying sideways on the couch, that I discovered the incorrigible demons with my head in a vice grip had a name: Congeners.

Congener (n): a minor chemical constituent, especially one that gives a distinctive character to a wine or liquor or is responsible for some of its physiological effects. Syn: hangover demons, stomach snakes, my worst enemy.

A byproduct of the fermentation process, they exist in all spirits, but much more in certain beverages and very little in others. Find more info here.

High congeners

brandy
red wine
rum

Medium congeners

whiskey
white wine
gin

Low congeners

vodka
beer
ethanol (like vodka) diluted in orange juice

My first instinct was, “Where is the White Claw?” A beer here and there, especially while watching sports, is something I value dearly, but won’t get the job done marathon-watching 90 Day Fiancé and its many iterations. That left me with the dreaded vodka.

*Note* Other lists have gin, white wine, white rum, and other clear/white spirits in the same congener category as vodka, but that doesn’t fit my narrative for this piece.

My experience with the clear spirit comes from shots of Smirnoff between turns at the rut table in high school (pronounced: root. a.k.a. The Hill I Die On) and recommending it to customers in the wine and liquor stored in which I worked for 5 years in my early 20s. I had a college professor who drank Belvidere on ice and declared it evidence that there is a God, but I couldn’t tell the difference. When asked which vodka I would recommend, I’d go into my spiel concerning “drink what you like” and maybe how this one was distilled from potatoes, the other from grain, etc. etc. etc. I wouldn’t be able to tell Russian Standard from Siberian Serf Special distilled in the backyard.

I conducted some research and discovered that, according to cosmo, 2020 is a safe-space for vodka swilling gentlemen (apparently it has been since at least 2015):

“When a guy orders a vodka soda at her bar, she’s into it. This guy is way more willing to ~*challenge the status quo*~ than your Heineken-drinking friend. He has better stories than anyone else at the bar. He also probably had a man bun before it was #cool.”

Note* I went to HS with the author of this article. Thanks, Tess!

This news couldn’t have been better, as we are a seltzer family in this house, connoisseurs if you will, so the pairing of vodka and seltzer is sublime; add lime and it’s sublimer.

So, what will be my go-to, my standard? The bottle that will adorn my liquor cabinet alongside the more congener-laden bottles reserved for nights of self-restraint?

So, what will be my go-to, my standard? The bottle that will adorn my liquor cabinet alongside the more congener-laden bottles reserved for nights of self-restraint?

Who will I be?

The Contenders:

  1. A Smirnoff guy? Old reliable. The American vodka with a Russian name. Am I 22? Unfortunately, no. Also, their flavor catalog could fill a Cheesecake Factory menu. It’s overwhelming. For this reason, I’m out.

2. A Ketel One guy? In my college “Advertising, Marketing, and Propaganda” class, I did a presentation on Ketel One vodka adverts. Specifically, the ones where 25–35 year old handsome, suit-clad men did successful man things like wearing those suits and drinking that vodka — circular advertising. Their slogan: “Gentlemen, this is vodka.” While my 21-year-old self very much aspired to become a part of this demographic, I have devolved more into the suburbanite couch-crusader than the yuppie weekend warrior the adverts portray, and for this reason, I’m out.

3. A Stoli guy? No, I’m not talking about this kind. But this one:

I’m a sucker for Communist Propaganda artwork and Stoli is pulling me in here with an advert that makes me want to fight the Nazis at Stalingrad. *Upon further inspection, this vodka is made in… Latvia?? Your CCCP card is revoked. Moving on.

4. A Beluga guy? Am I in the Russian mafia? That’s classified. Next.

5. An Absolut guy? While I could absolutely pull off the robe, I’ll let this clip answer for me.

6. A Tito’s guy? Bro vodka. If I had a nickel for every time a customer told me Tito’s “tastes different than anything else they’ve ever had” — fucking liars — I’d be able to afford that bottle of Belvidere.

(I have 3 cats.)

7. A Ciroc guy? One, I don’t want my vodka made from grapes. Can’t put my finger on it, but just doesn’t sit well with me. Two, somehow I feel like I’d be called a misappropriator. For this ridiculous reason, I’m out.

8. A Svedka guy? For a few months during the summer of 2012, probably. Not now. Not now.

9. A Grey Goose guy?! This is the vodka equivalent of the guy who only drinks Patrón. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, come to New Jersey.) That’s a no from me, dog.

Who am I kidding, I can’t tell the difference, give me the plastic handle on the bottom shelf. I guess some old habits die hard after all.

Am I doomed?

I highly recommend checking out this guy’s video and channel.

Ben D’Alessio is the author of the novels Binge Until Tragedy, Lunchmeat, and The Neon God. Visit his website to learn more. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 20% of profits are donated to the Covenant House in Atlantic City, NJ.

Author of the novels: Binge Until Tragedy, Lunchmeat, The Neon God, & 6 Harlots: Rebirth of a Nation | Linwood, NJ https://www.bendalessio.com/

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