You’ve just turned 21, and you want to celebrate your birthday in style by buying your very first (legal) drink. We trust that you won’t have had many encounters with alcohol up to that point, so when you walk into a bar or a liquor store, how will you know what to go for?
After all, the alcohol industry is vast and there are so many different products on offer. There are even several different categories of alcohol to familiarize yourself with: beers, ciders, spirits, wines, cocktails… you can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed and confused.
What you don’t want to do is end up paralyzed with choice in the moment when you have to order. This will make you look seriously uncool if your friends realize you don’t know what you’re doing.
What’s worse is if they take advantage of the situation by ordering for you, and you get given something really strong or unpleasant that you can’t stomach.
For people who aren’t accustomed to drinking lots of alcohol, their tolerance is likely to be quite low. This improves over time, and it’s best to start off with weaker drinks that don’t have a high percentage of actual alcohol.
You may also find you don’t like the taste at first, so you might prefer to find something that masks the bitterness.
Luckily, we’re here to help: we have compiled a list of ‘safe’ drinks to try during your first foray into alcohol. These include malternatives, spirit mixers and ciders, so you can still have varied options for your next party or social event.
Malternatives are flavored drinks that usually contain somewhere between 3% and 7% alcohol. This is a relatively low percentage, because they are usually meant to cater to the younger side of the alcohol-drinking market.
You can also get stronger drinks with similar flavors that are basically just pre-mixed spirits, which contain around 12.5% alcohol and aren’t recommended as highly for beginners.
There are different types of low-alcohol fruity beverages across the world, each with a different way of referring to them: in the UK, they are often called alcopops, and they are often known as coolers in Canada.
The US version is made out of beer in the early stage of brewing, and most of the malt is removed (the part that gives it the bitter flavor). Flavourings are then added, as well as other alcohols like vodka.
Because of how they’re made, malternatives are classed as a beer in most states, so you can easily pick them up from stores that don’t sell spirits, as well as ones that do.
You can’t taste the alcohol much at all in these drinks – they are easy to swallow and are a great option if you don’t enjoy beer. They usually come in small bottles roughly the size of a can of soda pop.
Here are some popular malternatives to get you started:
There are no laws when you’re on the claws! Or something like that…
Here’s another malternative made by a popular vodka brand, but this one actually has vodka in it (5% volume).
White Claws, or really any of their peers like Truly, High Noon, Lone River, etc. are great for beginners for a few reasons.
First and foremost, they taste pretty dang good – they’re almost thirst quenching and go down incredibly easy on a summer day.
So if you’re new to the game and want an easy to drink, fruity tasting beverage, Claws are a great place to start.
There are more than a handful of flavors of White Claw – our advice? Pick up a variety pack and see which ones you like.
- Drinks very easy and tastes great
- Lots of flavors to choose from
- Good price point
- White Claw in particular can taste a little too sweet to some
Chances are, if you’ve heard of one fruity malt beverage, it’s Smirnoff Ice. The popular vodka brand offers a range of low-alcohol drinks in many different flavors, and is a favorite in nightclubs and bars throughout the world.
Smirnoff Ice made in the USA doesn’t actually contain vodka, although it does in other places, and it is still manufactured by the same company.
The original Smirnoff Ice is a refreshing citrus flavor, and sells more units than any other malternative in the country.
It tastes much like lemonade, which makes it palatable to a large market. The alcohol content in a bottle of Smirnoff Ice is 4.5% so it’s roughly the same strength as a pint of beer.
- Comes in many different flavors, from green apple to pink lemonade
- A gentle introduction to the world of alcohol
- High in sugar, carbs and calories
This beverage is marketed like an energy drink, packaged in cans with bright neon prints and bold text that screams ‘wasted youth’.
Some of the flavors are straightforward, like fruit punch and watermelon, while others are more enigmatic – any guesses what ‘red’ or ‘blue razz’ flavors taste like?!
Four Loko drinks are 14% alcohol, which is higher than most similar malternatives. They are just as easy to drink, though, and give you a burst of energy to boot.
The range includes core flavors, sour flavors, an Innovation Series and pregame bottles, so there’s sure to be a Four Loko for everyone.
- Many exciting flavors to suit all tastes and all occasions
- Funky designs to keep you awake
- Higher alcohol content than you might be looking for as a beginner, so you should be careful not to drink too many
If you love iced tea, the alcoholic version will be the perfect drink for your nights out (or in!). At 5% alcohol, it is firmly in the mid-range as far as malternatives are concerned.
There is a traditional iced tea flavor you will be familiar with, but there are also more exotic flavors on offer such as blueberry and mango.
You might be surprised to find out, but Twisted Tea actually contains real tea and natural flavorings, making it a healthier option than a lot of its market rivals.
This means it also has some caffeine, but not as much as in a cup of coffee.
- Hard version of a classic soft drink
- All-natural ingredients, so it’s actually quite good for you
- The company features fans’ pictures on their cans and bottles
- Alcohol and tea both contain acids, making the combination of the two more acidic than either on its own – this could trigger Gastrointestinal symptoms if you drink too much
Ciders are great if you’re not a fan of beer. You might find the yeasty beer taste too harsh at first, so you can ease yourself into brewed drinks by having a fruity cider instead.
There are different types of cider available – the most common is of course apple, but you can also get ciders that are made from other fruits. This is ideal if you are more into darker fruits such as berries.
As well as fruit, cider contains antioxidants, which help protect you against diseases. This doesn’t mean that you should drink lots of it, but it doesn’t hurt to have these bonus features.
Most ciders have around 4% alcohol content and are served in pints, making them a fruity equivalent to beer.
Angry Orchard is the best-selling cider brand in the US, offering classic apple and pear ciders as well as the more innovative flavors including strawberry, and peach mango.
The bottles and cans are decorated with quaint artwork, displaying scenes of bustling orchards and ripe, juicy apples.
The ciders are produced in small batches, giving the company a personal vibe. They even have a Cider Club, where members receive shipments of different products to try every three months, and they can also enjoy 10% off their online store.
Sign up and you can feel part of something great – this is an excellent way to introduce yourself to the cider market.
- You can buy single bottles, or variously-sized packs depending on how many you need
- Also comes in variety packs so you can enjoy different flavors
- Described as a ‘hard cider’, which means it is quite dry – could be too complex for some beginners
Kopparberg is one of the most popular ciders in many parts of the world. The company was founded in Sweden in 1882, and was named after the town where the first brewery stood.
Since then, it has grown into a global enterprise, and its products are sold in over 30 countries.
The focus of Kopparberg is on sweet cider, rather than dry, so it is perfect for introducing new drinkers to this alcohol category.
It is also the best-selling pear cider in the world, so you know you’re in safe hands if you decide to buy yourself some cans.
As well as pear, strawberry & lime and mixed berry ciders, Kopparberg was the first company ever to introduce a frozen fruit cider range.
- Strong reputation for high-quality ciders through the world
- Sweet cider is often preferred by beginners
- Only a few different products are available in the US
This cider company owns three orchards in New York State, which produce most of the apples they use in their drinks.
The rest are foraged from wild trees in the region, showing that they use all the natural resources available to them to create the best flavors possible.
The apples used depend on what is in season at any one time, so there is always an exciting amount of variation across the range.
Blackduck is focused on apple ciders only, but their blend of modern and traditional apple species makes them far from boring.
They also produce perry, which is a similar drink but made from fermented pears – it is different from pear cider in that it has 100% pear content, rather than mostly apple with some pear.
- The perry is an appealing alternative for people who want a sweeter taste than cider
- Wide range of apples grown, so there’s bound to be a variety you like
- Because it is still a relatively small operation, some products can be low in stock
One of the main factors to consider when deciding on great beginner drinks is a low alcohol percentage. You don’t want to rush straight into hard liquor at this stage, because that can cause a whole load of problems and you’re more likely to end up feeling very ill the next day.
You need to ease into drinking alcohol by getting your body used to it gradually. It’s simply not the case that a high amount of alcohol is required to have a good time, and you can still get a buzz from just a little bit.
With low-alcohol drinks, it takes longer to get through them relative to the actual amount of alcohol consumed.
On the other hand, stronger alcohol is often served in small glasses that you can finish quickly – straight shots are a great example of this, and it is so easy to go overboard when drinking them.
A higher volume of drink where the alcohol content is diluted with other things helps you to pace yourself properly and not get carried away.
Something that can put new drinkers off alcohol is the taste; alcoholic drinks have a harsh, bitter quality to them that often makes people grimace if they’re not used to it.
Of course, different alcohols taste different depending on the base, but you can still instantly tell if a drink contains some kind of alcohol.
Research suggests that people experience the taste of alcohol differently due to the kind of bitterness receptors they have on their tongue.
People with a certain gene find it less bitter than others, even perceiving it to be pleasant. They may not experience any burning sensation when they drink alcohol, no matter how strong it is.
If you do find it bitter, as many people do, there are fortunately lots of alcoholic drinks that disguise the taste effectively.
They use a variety of flavorings to achieve this, so you should browse your favorite store to see for yourself what flavors you can get.
Malt beverages are often flavored to resemble soft drinks like soda pop in taste, and many are carbonated as well. Ciders can come in several fruit flavors, not just apple – pear, berries and blackcurrant are all popular ingredients in craft ciders.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Drink Sensibly As A Beginner?
If you’re going out to drink when you don’t have much alcohol experience, you should definitely go in a group of trusted friends so you have people looking out for you.
It is a good idea to go out with people you know anyway, but this is especially important when you’re not sure of how much you can handle.
Don’t ever leave a drink unattended, as it is so easy for someone to slip nasty things into your drink. If you do forget and come back to your drink, discard it immediately without taking so much as a sip – you have to stay vigilant and assume that it will have been tampered with.
Try and stick to one type of alcohol for the whole night, because mixing your drinks can make you very sick. It is harder to keep track of your units, and you might fall into the trap of drinking harder drinks at the same rate as ones that are lower in alcohol, if you switch between the two.
In terms of spending money, set yourself a limit before you go out, and only take that much with you. This way, you won’t end up overspending when you’re too drunk to think rationally, and it also limits the damage if your wallet gets lost or stolen.
If you are drinking at a house party, you don’t have to worry so much about being spiked by strangers, but you should still be on your guard. Try and space out your alcohol and not have too much in one go.
The best way to do this is to have one glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume, and make sure you have a substantial meal beforehand – drinking on an empty stomach will get you drunk quicker and increase your chances of having a bad hangover.
What Counts As A Drink Of Alcohol?
In the US, there are guidelines detailing the maximum recommended intake of alcohol for responsible drinking. This is 7 alcoholic drinks per week for women, and 14 for men.
If you stay within this range, you are at low risk of developing serious problems related to your drinking. While the amount of alcohol you can comfortably take depends on a number of other factors including height, weight and existing health conditions, this guideline represents a safe quantity for most people.
However, not all drinks are made equal – surely a glass of neat whiskey counts for more than a can of malternative, for example?
Well, fortunately a ‘drink’ is defined specifically for the purposes of the guideline: 5 fluid ounces of wine, 12 fluid ounces of beer, or 1.5 fluid ounces of spirits (80 proof).