I always wonder when the first official tailgate happened. My guess is it had something to do with beating traffic and the opportunity to eat and drink more. One person had some extra hot dogs, a second person picked up a 30 pack of Stroh’s and the third brought a Smokey Joe grill. This is probably how it went down. Today, those same three are still there and I’m pretty sure Stroh’s still sells 30 packs (has anyone ever bought less than a 30 pack of Stroh’s?), but the party around this group has evolved. No longer are basic meats and beer the only ingredients to a kick-ass tailgate, everyone is upping the ante, especially in the drink department.
This is not a public service announcement against beer; instead, a look at the other options you will find among the team fanatics, casual supporters and not to be left out, those looking to party. Several factors determine which alternative cocktails are best suited. We must consider temperature, no hot drinks in Miami for example. There is the all-important wake-up factor – tailgating often means waking up early, the ability to spike a “pick me up” helps, a lot. Regional preferences: more bourbon drinkers in the south, more Bloody Mary drinkers in the Midwest. Most important is the event. Shots of hard liquor outside Camden Yards in Baltimore will occur, but it definitely is not the norm and probably frowned upon. On the flip side, shots prior to an SEC football game, yeah, there are too many shots occurring before SEC football games.
So what didn’t make the list? I love Bartles and Jaymes and really wish they would bring back those commercials, the originals, and just replay them. However, I can’t sign off on wine coolers being acceptable for tailgating. There are too many other options, plus too much glass (Note: Same applies to specialty Jack Daniels “cooler” drinks.) Nothing on fire, so no flaming drinks – we are looking at you, Oakland, put out the fires! I know it's fun to put Bacardi 151 on top of everything and light it on fire, but it’s too dangerous with too many people around. There are enough moral concerns around all this drinking occurring around motor vehicles, no need to introduce fire as well. Also, no Cape Codder (vodka and cranberry); I don’t think we need to go into reasons why this is not acceptable.
The first rule of drinking straight bourbon out of a flask is that you shouldn’t talk about drinking straight bourbon out of a flask. You know the second rule. The point is no one needs to talk about this or make it a big production. My assumption is that anyone drinking bourbon this way NEEDS to drink bourbon or they will turn into a pumpkin, are New York Jets fans or something worse (Jaguar fans). Best to let it be. Always offer others a pull off the flask (especially if standing in a circle), it's good manners. Also, passing around the flask early on Sunday is a little bit like communion among friends.
This one is definitely region specific. Perfect for San Francisco Giant baseball tailgating; fans are already on boats, might as well go full-fancy and bring a few bottles of your favorite wine from the neighboring wine regions. Wine country is no longer specific to only Northern California. It’s always acceptable to bring local wines to a tailgate; in fact you will gain points because you will be supporting the team and region. You may also want to consider running for Mayor.
8 Jell-O Shots
Best for college football and NASCAR tailgating, the preparation is minimal and who doesn’t like a Jell-O shot? The “beware” of course is the amount of alcohol you are digesting and that you won’t feel its effects immediately. Depending on your time and resources, make extras because sharing Jell-O shots is a very neighborly thing to do and a great way to meet new people. Have a couple of drinks, pop a couple Jell-O shots and then walk into the stadium and POW! Now going to a game has become an adventure worthy of a Hunter S. Thompson narrative, almost.
7 Mint Julep
This only applies to The Kentucky Derby, but doesn't have to be consumed at Churchill Downs. Any Derby party or bar or simulcast of The Kentucky Derby is an acceptable venue to enjoy several Mint Juleps, but only on this particular first Saturday in May. Don’t be the guy who condemns others for trying something new. This is tradition as much as that ridiculous hat you are wearing.
6 Hot Toddy / Spiked Apple Cider
For cold weather fan bases (Chicago, Green Bay, Buffalo) making a Hot Toddy or spiking warm apple cider is a good idea. The beauty of the Hot Toddy is that there isn’t just one way to enjoy. You can use whiskey, brandy or rum – each gives your drink a distinct taste while keeping you warm inside. Bonus, you get to bring your mug up to your mouth with two hands and lightly blow on it. Everyone with already frozen hands will be jealous.
5 Ice Cold Shots
No matter how many students pass out, college football fans will continue to enjoy their shots. It’s immediate, low-calorie and easy to transport. Looking to add something special to your tailgate? Chill a bottle of Goldschlager, Jagermeister or vanilla schnapps. Wait until your party has had a cocktail or two and unveil this special “treat” to all. Given this is chilled, it’s an ideal drink for Miami and Texas where it’s really hot and everyone is looking to party (always the case in warm cities.) Bonus is that girls love shots, especially chilled shots followed by music and dancing. (Note: If you plan on having shots at your tailgate, don’t forget the music.)
4 Irish Coffee
This is really the perfect morning tailgating drink that wakes you up enough to crave more alcohol and makes having a beer at 8am the right decision. This is an especially important drink for tailgating parties that last multiple days because those mornings after are brutal. Irish coffee is easy to make, just add coffee, Irish whiskey, sugar and cream. You can also just mix coffee and whiskey, depending on how bad you are hurting. Just don’t hold the coffee, that caffeine will do you wonders.
Whopatooli or punch should probably be the official drink of NASCAR given its accessibility and “quantity is everything” approach to drinking. Interesting, tell me, how do I make such a drink? Combine rum, vodka, brandy, 7up, Kool-Aid and anything that is not a paint chip into a pitcher, bucket or garbage can and mix. There are no hard rules and finding the perfect mix is more of a Science than it probably should be. Some use a bathtub to mix up everything, which of course has sanitary concerns, but also gives the maker that “making something really illegal” feeling which can be exciting. If you use a garbage can please use garbage bags as liners and also don’t forget the extra garbage bags for after, you will probably need them for “clean up.”
2 Bloody Mary
If you are the type of tailgater that prepares spreads of food this is a perfect opportunity to create a proper Bloody Mary bar. This basic drink's ingredients are simple, starting with tomato juice and vodka, but taking this drink to the next level will have people talking for years. Use V8 Vegetable juice, vodka, pickle juice and then a lot of “groceries” including celery, pickles and hot peppers. Another must-have ingredient is Worcestershire sauce; it’s that extra burn-in-your-throat feel that lasts for minutes after each swallow. If you must do a down and dirty version I would suggest Mr. & Mrs. T Bloody Mary mix and vodka. Always use plastic (glass and tailgating is not a good mix) and have extra cups for subsequent rounds. Pull out the good vodka for the first round and feel free to go “cheaper” as the drinks go down, if these drinks are made properly (60% vodka) your guests won’t know the difference.
1 Screwdriver / Alabama Slammer
I think we can all agree that orange juice is a good thing and vodka mixed with orange juice, a Screwdriver, is a pretty awesome morning drink. Like the Screwdriver, an Alabama Slammer uses orange juice and vodka along with Southern Comfort. If you have never had Southern Comfort then you are in for a treat. If you have, there is a good chance you have become violently ill from drinking too much and can no longer bear the smell of this liquor. I have blacked out from alcohol once in my life, I was drinking Southern Comfort and don’t remember anything past 8pm that night. Apparently I was awake until the early morning, spending a lot of time on the toilet. If you are part of this experience, enjoy your Screwdrivers.