When you drink semi-frequently, you typically come up with a cocktail, spirit, or style of beer you like, and gravitate toward it when you're out. When you don't drink often, drink menus can be hard to navigate, and what all your friends enjoy might be a bit different than what works for you. For instance, things like double IPAs and smoky scotches can be great for seasoned drinkers, but revolting to less-frequent ones.
I'm of the opinion that everyone should try everything at least once to determine what they like and dislike. However, as the group booze-lover, I often get the question from friends that don't drink as often "What should I order?" The question came up this week on a bigger level, when a friend in his mid-30s who has never had any alcohol asked where he should get started.
Obviously, everyone's taste is different, and what Tim likes out of the gate might taste awful to Bob and Sally (which is why you should try everything), but if you're not much of a drinker and are looking for something to order when you're out with friends or at a wedding (or to get started in general), here are some good places to start:
The key to enjoying liquor is to not drink the cheap stuff. That doesn't mean you need to buy the vodka on the top shelf, but try and order cocktails using mid-range spirits.
In general, vodka-based drinks are always a good call for infrequent drinkers. By design vodka is flavourless, and mixers are often fruity. That means you're going to get something that tastes pretty close to whatever that vodka is being mixed with. Most bars (and weddings for that matter) will have the makings for a vodka cranberry or a screwdriver (vodka and OJ) on hand. Grapefruit juice is also pretty solid with vodka and easy to find.
I'm also a big fan of rum. Rum is sweet and is also most-often mixed with fruit juices, sometimes in tiki-like cocktails. Rum and coke is an easy order. My personal go-to is a Dark and Stormy, which is rum and ginger beer. If you like ginger, it's divine.
If you really want to dive into liquor, our three-ingredient Happy Hour can be a great place to read about and learn how to make an assortment of awesome cocktails.
My go-to with wine is a nice glass of Barbera, but if you're not a wine drinker then red wine can sometimes be a bit much.
A good place to start is sparkling wine. If the taste is too much for you, adding a splash of a fruit juice (like OJ to make a mimosa), can make the drink more palatable. Sweeter white wines can also be a good entry point. Rieslings and Gewurztraminers are both on the sweeter side, but most often not overpoweringly so.
For reds, start with something like Merlot or a Pinot Noir, before exploring bolder varietals.
Most people drink beer in college for the first time, where the budget is low and someone with a fake ID managed to score a case of the cheapest beer possible. It was horrible and now you think you don't like beer. The fact of the matter is all cheap beer is horrible (or at least it's an acquired taste that no one should ever acquire).
I'm a big IPA drinker now, but the first beer I recall ever really enjoying was Duck Rabbit Milk Stout. Milk Stouts have a creamy mouthfeel and often hints of cocoa and malty sweetness. They're light, and super-easy drinking. For years I would grab one whenever I could.
Recently I took a good friend of mine that "hates" beer but loves wine to Almanac's taproom in San Francisco. While he's still not a big fan of beer in general, over the course of the afternoon he managed to drink every single sour on their menu (in taster form). For him, sours, which are fruity and a little tart (or a lot tart sometimes), were the perfect beer. He protested when we originally went to the bar, but by the end of our trip was asking to come back again.
Lambics can be a good starting place for sours. I'm also a big fan of goses, which are most often fruity, slightly salted beers that have very low alcohol content (so you can have several). My personal fave is Anderson Valley's Briny Melon Gose, but Sierra Nevada also makes a great one called Otra Vez that's distributed nationwide. Both are available in cans, perfect for taking to picnics or parties.