Let's be honest here, alcohol is rough on the body and the brain; without some attention to how & what you consume, you'll at best have hangovers and can, far worse, create long-lasting impairments to your health.
The fundamental rule is obvious: don't drink more than you can handle. The art form is maximizing your enjoyment around that constraint.
Apart from knowing when to call it a night (or to take a night off), the best thing you can do for your immediate and subsequent pleasure is to keep hydrated and to pace yourself.
The water part is easy: drink more water than anything else (including not just cocktails but sodas & coffee). Have a big glass of water before you embark on any drinking, make sure you're sipping water throughout the evening, and then have another big glass or two at the end. Give your body the clean liquid funding it needs to keep its economy flowing.
But what if you've got a busy social week and know you'll be out for drinks at multiple places or long events for several days in a row? The trick here is to maintain a convivial feeling without wiping yourself out drinking far more than feels comfortable.
The sneaky way to avoid dizzy or worse yet queasy arrivals home at o'dark thirty followed by days at work feeling like a drained battery is to make use of what we like to call the shim drink.
Shims, as you may have encountered them before, are little supporting strips placed between other layers to even things out or stabilize them. One finds them in home construction, for example, being used to make nicely squared corner framing for doors & windows.
In the cocktail world, shims are those blessed little spacers between the serious drinks which give your system a little processing time to catch up.
Mocktails and preggatinis are shims, certainly, but so are lower alcohol rounds, for example, switching to beer or wine when you've been drinking strong cocktails. The best shims, though, continue to brighten your spirits while the intense bar spirits take a back seat. They can be comparatively simple, but in presentation or flavor combination feel as fancy as a cocktail.
Jackie Patterson's original menu for Orson in San Francisco included a great selection of these along with the traditional cocktails and you occasionally see them called out on other menus. Kitty Gallisa (neé Puzon) at Nopa, also in San Francisco, can always be relied on for a bright and refreshing round at any point on the spectrum from non-alcoholic to high-octane. Try a Quince Lemonade from her next time you arrive with an empty stomach and are waiting for the flatbread to provide a foundation for rye or gin drinks.
What sets the shim apart from the mocktail is that shims can include alcohol. We encourage you to explore this ecological niche, the very low alcohol drink, both for your health and as another way to celebrate the return to bars of fantastic ingredients like fresh juices, herbs, tinctures and bitters.
Mixologists, here's your challenge: what can you create which is complex, satisfying & good-looking, but contains under 10% alcohol?