Ah, dorm parties: the jungle juice, the big plastic jugs of liquor. Now they're just hazy—and headachy—memories. As our capacity to overcome hangovers shrinks with each passing day, so expands the importance of moderation. And to enjoy every single sip, a preferred liquor is a must.
But this doesn't mean you can't party.
Hosting a spirits tasting can be very revealing. Is it possible that he really, truly prefers bottom-shelf gin, and isn't just cheap? Will you discover yourself to be a Jim Beam fan, and proud of it? Do the premium vodkas really taste better, or have we been brainwashed? Get the gang together and have some fun while you find your own truths.
PICK YOUR POISON
Choose one spirit only; our palates are easily confused. To help you decide which to explore, get The Complete Book of Spirits by Anthony Dias Blue (HarperCollins, $24.95). Blue delves into the history and nuances of a huge number of liquors and brands, providing information you won't find anywhere else. Select no more than four or five brands from a range of prices, but avoid those at the extremely low end—they are as bad as you remember.
$: under $20 per liter
$$: $20-40 per liter
$$$: $40-60 per liter
$$$: above $60 liter
Any vodka you select has to be served straight from the freezer; good vodka will be thick and syrupy when frozen. Try tasting vodkas from different countries side by side—like Skyy (USA $), Absolut (Sweden $$), Cîroc (made from grapes, France $$), and Bison Grass (which has a hint of flavor from being bottled with native bison grass, Poland, $).
Try pitting gin standbys such as Tanqueray No. 10 (UK $$) and Bombay Sapphire (UK $$) against unusual, highly flavored brands like Junipero (USA $$$) or Hendrick (with rose petals and cucumber essence, Scotland, $$).