How to Drink with Class

Allen Faulton
8 min readNov 29, 2019

A Modern Survival Guide Interlude

Pictured: not the only option

You’re reading the Modern Survival Guide, a guidebook for navigating and interacting with the modern world. This essay is an interlude, an article that talks about a tip for modern living. This isn’t a philosophical insight, or a deep discussion of human impulses, or an explanation of some major phenomenon; it’s just something people might want to know. And frankly, everyone ought to know how to drink like a classy adult.¹

So let’s get the obvious elephant out of the room first: what the heck does “classy” mean, anyway? Well, look, there are certain things that make you classy and certain things that disqualify you from that category, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with what you are drinking. Beer, wine, liquor, or malted beverage of your choice, you can be classy while drinking it.

“Classy” means you are keeping yourself together, not making a scene, not getting overly inebriated, and not ruining other people’s nights. It’s about respect and self-control. It also means that you’re drinking to enjoy the company of others or the beverage of your choice, not to get shitfaced. Cannot overemphasize that last bit enough. No stumbling drunk in the history of the world has been considered classy. It’s a disqualifying mark.

So with that in mind, here’s my guide to being a classy drinker, you’re welcome.

Drink Out of a Glass

Ok, for beer this may seem a little elitist, but drinking out of a glass helps with the classy image. For wine and liquor this should go without saying. Drinking out of a glass just looks better. Drinking out of the correct glass is a bonus. The “correct” glass is somewhat open to interpretation, but in general goes as follows:

  • Large-bulb wine glasses for red wine
  • Fluted wine glasses for white wine
  • Tumblers for whiskey, bourbon, and scotch
  • Snifters for cognac
  • Tall shot glasses for vodka or tequila
  • Martini glasses for martinis and manhattans
  • Margarita glasses for margaritas
  • Pretty much anything for other mixed drinks
  • Mugs, snifters, or tall glasses for beer (or at a beer hall, steins!)

Using the correct glass shows that you have paid attention to the finer points of high-society drink snobbery. It’s an exercise in meeting arbitrary expectations, based on the concept of flaunting conspicuous wealth through specialized utensils, and should be treated as such. This means that if you use the right glass, people will automatically assume that you are more sophisticated. I’m sorry; it’s just how our species works.

That being said, if someone else isn’t using the right glass, the least-classy thing you can possibly do is demean them for it. It’s all arbitrary socially-constructed finagling, let’s not take it too seriously.² To return to the constant theme of this series, don’t be an asshole.

No Shots (Within Reason)

Ok, so remember the part about not getting shitfaced? There is no faster way to get shitfaced than to take a bunch of shots. If your goal for the evening is to get drunk, do shots. If your goal for the evening is to stay classy, do not do shots.

There are two exceptions to this rule: vodka and tequila. If you are in a social situation that requires you to drink vodka or tequila, you will be probably be taking shots. Try to avoid taking too many. Which is when our next point comes into play…

Know Your Limits

This one is kind of fun, because you have to practice to figure it out, but drinking with class means not getting falling-down drunk.³ Classy drinking gets you tipsy enough to have fun and bring down enough of your personal mental barriers to socially interact, without seriously impairing your motor functions or judgement.

We all have a limit to how much we can drink before we get beyond tipsy. For most people, that limit is somewhere in the neighborhood of three or four drinks over a two hour period. If you go faster than that, you will be drunk in short order unless you have a lot of body mass to soak up the alcohol.

As a general rule, the body can metabolize one drink (i.e., one mixed drink, one glass of wine, one beer, or one shot) per hour. Therefore if you have one drink per hour, consumed over the course of that hour, you will probably get a mild buzz and that’s about it. Go faster and you will get more inebriated.

It’s also worth mentioning that some of the effects of alcohol will remain until you go to sleep. Sleep is your brain’s cleaning cycle. We’re never really sober until we wake up the next morning.

Last but not least, there are some of us who are not suited to drinking, period full stop. If you know that you are a mean drunk, don’t drink. If you know that you can’t hold your liquor, don’t drink. If you know that you won’t be able to stop once you get started, don’t drink. There is no shame in denying alcohol; it is indeed the classiest possible thing you can do if you know for a fact that things are better when you do not imbibe.

Know Your Alcohol

Having a passing knowledge of alcohol quality is a must for the classy drinker. In general, it is useful to know some good brands for each type of alcohol you might be expecting to drink or serve to guests. This one is also kind of fun, because it means that you are going to have to try different brands to figure out what you like!

Now for the tricky bit: we live in a golden age of alcohol. There are literally hundreds of brands of each type of drink, and everyone has their own personal opinions regarding what tastes good. In general, though, the “classy” alcohol starts at mid-range pricing. You don’t have to buy 18-year-old MacAllan, but bottom-shelf vodka is probably no longer the drink of choice, because alcohol really is one of those things where (up to a certain price point) you get what you pay for.

Beyond that, a classy person tailors their liquor cabinet to the tastes of their guests. If you know your friend likes IPAs, it’s a nice gesture to have some on hand if they come over, for example. You’re not required to break the bank to do this, but it’s a classy gesture of hospitality — classy drinking is just one part of being a classy person, after all.

Know the Occasion

It helps to know which drinks are appropriate for which social occasions and/or meals.

For meals, red wine is for red meat, white wine is for everything else. Wine connoisseurs will of course have additional rules, but as long as you stick to this basic formula you’re fine.

Liquor is not normally consumed at meals, but instead usually serves as a pre-meal or post-meal social drink. Brandy is traditionally a post-meal digestive. Whiskey, scotch, and bourbon are for sipping during conversation. Vodka and tequila are often used for toasts.

Beer may be consumed whenever, it’s versatile that way.

Watch the Time

In general, it is not considered particularly classy to be drinking before 5 PM. This proscription is apparently waived for sports events, festivals, and holidays.

Watch Your Language and Actions

Classy drinking is about restraint. It’s about the adult recognition that some things are better when savored and consumed in moderation. This extends to your actions while drinking. Loud cursing and swinging from the ceiling lights are no longer permissible. These actions lower the tone of the party, and there’s simply no getting around that.

Above All — Have Fun!

Classy drinking is all about making life a little better by loosening up just a bit, enjoying a special flavor, and experiencing a slightly altered state of being. If you’re not having fun while drinking, stop drinking!

You’ll notice that in no way have I made the argument that you have to dress up, go to high-end establishments, adopt a snooty accent, or tell tales of your greatest accomplishments while being a classy drinker. That’s because these things are not required, and the latter are in fact detrimental, to class. You can be classy in a dive bar or at a high-society soiree; the setting doesn’t matter. Being classy is about respect. Respect for yourself, and especially respect for your neighbors and fellow drinkers. If they’re not having fun because you are drinking, stop drinking!

Otherwise, get out there and have fun. Find new and exciting flavors. Sample wines, beers, and liquors that it took humankind 50,000 years to learn how to brew. Enjoy life! But be classy, because it’s better if we enjoy life together.

¹Even if you don’t drink, this is worth knowing, just to know who your classy friends are! I kid, but seriously.

²Yes, I’m aware that wine people will say that different glasses alter the taste of wine. I’m also aware that wine experts can be easily fooled in blind taste tests, so as far as I’m concerned it’s all in their heads. That doesn’t mean the wine won’t taste different to them. So, you know, read the room.

³As a quick aside, there are various stages of drunkenness we should probably just go ahead and define:

  • Buzzed” is when you’ve had a drink or two and feel pretty good about life — you’re more social, you think you’re funnier, the world looks less daunting, and you’re more into risk-taking, but only slightly on all counts.
  • Tipsy” turns all those things up another notch and starts to add physical impairment — slight tunnel vision or blurry vision, minor losses of small motor coordination, that kind of thing.
  • Drunk” is when you lose major motor coordination — trouble walking, trouble talking, and you knock things over with your hands. Your decision-making abilities start trending heavily in favor of risky behaviors. And you think you’re hilarious, but non-drunk people will start to leave the room to avoid you.
  • Stumbling Drunk” is when you literally cannot stand up without support and the room is spinning around you. At this point you’ve officially stopping being a part of the party and started being someone’s problem. Stumbling drunks are traditionally carried out of the bar by their friends and kindly shoved into an Uber in order to get them out of the way and put them back in the general region of their home. This is when you find out who your true friends are, because those are the people who ride with you to make sure you get home.
  • Totally Shitfaced” is the final stage of drunkenness. By this point you’ve stopped encoding memories (i.e. blackout drunk) but may have magically regained the ability to stumble around. You may also magically regain some motor functionality and decision-making abilities, although both of these will be terrible. Shitfaced people wake up in puddles of their own vomit in the corner of someone else’s closet, wearing their underwear on their head and wrapped in a towel of uncertain origin, with no idea whatsoever how they got there.