Crafted and crocked in the Queen City

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It’s the first day of 2015. I’m sitting here trying yet another hangover cure — Airborne Hot Soothing Mix. New year, new me, right? Nope, same hangover. It’s only day one and I’ve already ruined my resolutions.

The problem is whenever I am faced with the question, “To drink or not to drink?” the answer is always, drink! I think we can all agree, however, that it is ridiculous to entertain that question. Of course we should drink. So let’s focus on more important details: What and how much we are going to drink?

Even with my big 2-5 looming, I feel confident in assuming that most of us 20-somethings on a tight budget still find ourselves throwing back a few Natty Lights or shots of Smirnoff vodka (a step up from Burnett’s or even worse, Aristocrat). The goal is ultimately still the same: get wasted, even in 2015.

At some point during a recent hangover, in between praying to God for salvation and throwing up, I began to wonder if the type of alcohol I was consuming had anything to do with the length of my hangover. And that’s when I posed a question to the good Lord directly: “Well, what can we drink differently?”

This past weekend, I went to Soul Gastrolounge. I’ve been there a couple times before; the atmosphere is laid-back and intimate — not to mention the tapas are to die for. (Try the pork belly tacos and lamb lollipops.) My friends and I checked out the new winter cocktail list and started weighing our options. We decided to each order a different drink so we could all try one another’s.

Side note: This is worse than playing Dirty Santa — I always end up with the gift, in this case drink, that no one wants. And as always, I worried about whether there would be enough alcohol in one drink to get us all equally drunk.

When no one was interested in the same cocktail I ordered, I double-checked my choice: Nativity Thief. Of course, it was $14, one of the more expensive offerings on the list. The ingredients included Cazadores Reposado tequila (I hate tequila); del Maguey Vida mezcal (I should have paid more attention in Spanish class and learned more practical vocabulary); Mayan cocoa/chili horchata (is this chocolate with a spicy kick?); and mole bitters (um, isn’t that an animal?). Clearly, I should have read the ingredients before placing my order. Just as I was about to change my mind, of course, the bartender arrived with the drink I was now dreading.

But those moles really knew what they were doing. File the Nativity Thief under the category of the best mixed drink I had ever tasted. All of the flavors, whatever they were, went together perfectly. What magic was this, you may ask? The answer: a craft cocktail.

When I say “craft,” I am not talking about mac and cheese. I’m also not talking about your run-of-the-mill “whiskey ginger.” Or just a top shelf liquor with a splash of blue Curaçao. We are talking about a high-quality concoction made with love. These are culinary, handcrafted and artfully mixed cocktails. Drinks that awaken your taste buds and get you wasted without leaving you with that the cheap hooker feeling you might experience the day after when hungover.

Craft cocktails aren’t cheap, but if you’re looking for a good time and taste while you’re out, they will definitely do the trick. Check out this incredibly scientific calculation:

Cost of a beer (multiplied by how many you consume) + cost of a shot (multiplied by how many you consume) + amount of time you spend in the bathroom peeing + hours and intensity of hangover = more expensive than buying two craft cocktails that will get you just as drunk.

For those of you ready to stop being basic every night of the week, hop on this craft cocktail journey with me. But proceed with caution — it can still be a bumpy ride. And let’s be honest: A few too many of these can still lead to questionable decisions and painful mornings.

Word on the street is that in addition to Soul (though we hear beverage director Andy Maurer is leaving soon for a new gig out of state), e2 emeril’s eatery and Pisces Sushi Bar are good places to get crafty in the Queen City. Drink on Charlotte.

If you have any suggestions on great places to engage in cocktails of the craft variety, or know a local bartender I must meet, email me at backtalk@clclt.com.

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