Several Defector idiots were recently made aware of the Paralyzer cocktail. The Paralyzer, which apparently is quite popular in Canada, consists of vodka and coffee liqueur, poured into a glass of Coca-Cola, and then fattened up with a half-shot of heavy whipping cream. At first glance this concoction seems chaotic, and possibly repulsive, but here you must simply reorganize your brain. A White Russian cocktail (vodka, coffee liqueur, cream) is delicious, and a Coke Float (Coca-Cola, ice cream) is also delicious, and what the Paralyzer does is essentially combine the two. It’s a boozy Coke Float, with Kahlua. I’m sure it’s delicious.
I am also sure that I will never, as long as I live, ever ever ever order a Paralyzer.
Something I have learned about myself over an adulthood spent drinking alcohol and then refusing alcohol and then drinking alcohol again and then refusing alcohol and then finally landing on a relatively moderated drinking habit, at the end of my third decade of life, is that delicious cocktails must be avoided. If I order a cocktail and take a sip and think “whoa this is delicious,” I know that I have chosen poorly. If, on the other hand, I order a cocktail and take a sip and think “hmm, interesting and possibly disgusting,” I know that I have done very well. For me, any cocktail that is delicious enough that I am comfortable consuming it in increments larger than an occasional bracing sip is simply an extremely expensive way to become drunk as balls.
In most circumstances, becoming truly drunk—slurry, wobbly, old Building-and-Loan Pal drunk—is a negative outcome. For this reason, the majority of alcoholic beverages should be at least slightly gross. A person should not have to work hard to avoid drunkenness, precisely because hard work requires discipline, and discipline and intoxication simply do not go together. Delicious non-alcoholic beverages are sold in six-packs and cases and large plastic jugs precisely because it is expected that you will drink them eight to 20 ounces at a time. A six-ounce beverage that tastes like something you could chug despite containing three ounces of 80-proof-or-higher alcohol is a trap. If you consume it as you would a frosty and delicious non-alcoholic beverage—say, a large soda at the movie theater—you will become extremely drunk. But in order to consume it carefully, in measured sips over an extended period of time, you will need to practice discipline and self-control. Meanwhile, because it is an alcoholic beverage, your mango “jargarita”—a favorite of the Defector New York bureau, and the cause of many a slow blog morning—is actively undermining your self-control the entire time. You tell yourself that you will moderate your consumption of the ecstatically sweet and citrusy Yucca contained in that huge party jug, and then some short time later you are wearing a lampshade while vomiting powerfully into a flower pot.
A low-level buzz, on the other hand, is great! It should not be too hard to achieve a nice happy buzz, and it should be even easier to maintain one, because things which are hard become even harder once you are intoxicated. Beer is fine for achieving a low-grade buzz. But beer is fizzy and is served frosty cold, which means that a beer becomes steadily and decisively worse starting immediately after you open it. Additionally, if you drink several beers you will become full, and very possibly may become sick of the taste of beer over the course of 36 ounces. Wine is also problematic: One-and-a-half glasses of wine will hit the spot, but then you are left with half an opened bottle of wine, which is both annoying and once again will test a person’s resolve. I do not want to pour out half a bottle of wine, but I also do not want to finish Tuesday’s bottle of wine on Friday, by which time it will just be lousy wine, but I also do not want to drink an extra half-bottle of wine just to avoid the first two situations.
A cocktail—four to six ounces of thoughtfully mixed ingredients in a purpose-suited glass—is perfect: You go in knowing that this is your portion, and that this portion will build and maintain your buzz quite successfully, if you simply sip at it for a while. Then, later, once you have sipped all of it, if you would like to continue maintaining your buzz, you can order a second cocktail, and continue sipping. That’s hours of solid buzz-time, and all from eight to 12 total ounces of liquid!
The key is to stick to concoctions that are neither delicious nor nauseating. A perfect cocktail is either strangely appealing despite being gross, or is strangely unapproachable despite being tasty. Every time I sidle up to a bar I am seeking to score a bullseye at exactly the point where a drink is interesting but not at all yummy, challenging but not quite repulsive. It is better to miss on the yuck side than the yum side, for the simple reason that you will have no trouble whatsoever moderating your consumption of a nasty beverage that you dislike. The perfect cocktail for achieving a perfect buzz is slightly more foul than it is delicious.
A Paralyzer will seduce you onward with its yummy sweetness (and with the threat of flat soda), all the while masking the full shot of vodka floating around in there. You tell yourself that the cream and sugar and carbonation will fill you up, but meanwhile the Paralyzer is disarming your defenses, so that you will fire it down recklessly, find yourself suddenly drinkless, and head back to the bar for another beverage. Disaster! Had you instead ordered yourself a Gibson—gin, dry vermouth, and pearl onions—you would still be nursing it half an hour later, sipping it very occasionally, mostly out of fascination bordering on incredulity. Importantly, the Gibson would be stiff-arming your self-destructive tendency to mindlessly chug, and your buzz would be threatened not at all.
A cocktail should do the work of keeping you from becoming drunk, by keeping you constantly at arms length. Bitter Negronis, bitter and smoky Boulevardiers, and the reliable old Manhattan force you to behave like a grownup, by gently offending your senses. The reason to order them is precisely because they fall way short of pure deliciousness. People will see your reserved sips, your pursed lips, and your steely thousand-yard scowl, and assume that you are a big serious adult with a well-refined palate and/or that you are enormously pretentious, but really what you are is ever so slightly grossed out. This is the true cocktail experience.