December is dedicated to drinking. Apparently, as a nation, we drink around 40% more in December than any other month — and even amid all this talk of 'mindful' imbibing, most of us will be asking our livers to put in the overtime over the next few weeks.
But let's face it, we need it. Nothing eases the pain of the so-called 'party season' better than drink. In social situations, booze can be a great buddy — it catalyses camaraderie and makes conversations appear more absorbing, it deftly fills awkward silences, helps Slade sound better and renders colleagues more compelling — even that weird guy from IT. The one with the ponytail.
But indulge overly in alcohol and it can flip from faithful sidekick to daft psychopath in just the space of a few small sips — and its unpredictability is particularly acute at Christmas.
With this in mind, please follow our discerning drinking guide to surviving the festive season.
1. Drink London beer
Londoners are lucky folk. Not content with a fancy Ferris wheel, its very own Wax Museum and regular direct trains to Luton, the capital currently boasts what must be, surely, the most thriving craft beer scene on the planet.
There has never been a more brilliant time to be a beer drinker in London. The last time London was blessed with this much great local beer was the 18th century when it was an unrivalled ale-making metropolis and brewers, not bankers, occupied the capital's industrial engine room.
Porter, stout and india pale ale are all beer styles born and bred in the Big Smoke and, at its peak, London's skyline was smudged by the bellowing smokestacks of more than 130 breweries.
But that was then and by 2006, London's proud brewing status had shrivelled up like a crisp packet in a roaring fire and the number of respected breweries in London could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Thankfully, in the last few years, London has rediscovered its microbrewing mojo in quite spectacular fashion. From Bermondsey to Bow and Tottenham to Twickenham, there are now more than a 100 craft breweries in the capital enhancing the lives of London’s elbow-benders with flavour, integrity, proper ingredients, plenty of passion and an unprecedented diversity of choice.
So drink a London beer this Christmas — we are particularly fond of Fuller's Frontier Lager, a refreshing kolsch-style affair that is brewed like an ale yet conditioned like a lager. It takes 42 days to make — which is a lot more than those cooking lagers we'd previously been forced to drink.
Besides, it's what Jesus would have wanted — and it's his birthday f'crissake. According to the original bible, Jesus Christ didn't turn water into wine, he turned it into beer. In the earliest scriptures, Jesus, the lead character, turns water into shekhar, a Hebrew word meaning strong drink and, crucially, a derivative of the ancient Semitic word Sikaru — which means barley beer.
The only reason we think Jesus turned water into wine is that, in an astonishing display of academic arrogance, 17th century English translators changed it into wine as, back in the 1600s, wine was seen as more sophisticated than beer and they wanted Jesus to be more into pinot grigio than a decent pint.
He wasn’t. He was a beer guy. With a beard and sandals. And he hung around with other men with beards and sandals. Have you ever been to a CAMRA real ale festival? And if that's not enough, where do you think the word Hebrew comes from?
2. Don't do shots
At some point over the next few weeks, someone will return from the bar with a tray full of shots, some lemon slices, some salt and plenty of peer-pressure bantz.
We strongly suggest you stand strong and politely decline the down-in-one invitation in favour of informing your colleagues that tequila should be sipped like a cognac — especially an extra añejo tequila, aged for a minimum of three years in oak casks. Go to somewhere that knows what it's doing, like Azulito Bar in Soho, or Cartel in Battersea.
Everyone will think you're a boring bumclown but at least you won’t wake up with Jane and/or John from Finance in the morning.
3. Sit down
Take the weight off your legs this Christmas and do your drinking sitting down. Go for somewhere with plenty of tempting array of comfy chairs, like, Scarfes Bar, or just about any Antic pub going. Back in the 1990s, white-coated boffins worked out that people drink less responsibly if they are standing up*. Pub companies sneakily took out all their furniture on which one could perch one's pint and, with glasses constantly in hand, people drank more quickly — pub profits rose but so too did the number of drunken douchebags. Try not to be that person.
4. Be nice to bar staff
Londoners aren't very good at smiling in public but, if you want to get served in a pub or a bar, it comes in handy. Also, don't be tight wads this Christmas — tip London town's bartenders. It's a nice thing to do and helps them survive January when you're all at home, righteously knocking back Nutribullet kale smoothies. Other tips to getting served first include:
- Stand next to the till: you’re more likely to establish eye contact.
- Don't order an old fashioned or a mojito when it's a dozen deep behind you — everyone will think you're a dick.
- If you're getting a Guinness then order it first.
- Whatever you do, don't shout, click your fingers or — unless it's going in the tip jar — wave £20 notes. Everyone around you is paying for their drinks with money as well.
- Alternatively, go to the pub dressed as Santa Claus. No-one has ever had to buy their own drink while dressed as Santa. Ever.
5. Own your hangover
If you awake with head pounding, your liver whimpering in the corner with a snot-bubble protruding from its nose, and what Kingsley Amis describes as that "ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety a, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future" then you have two options. You can either drink lots of water or, if that doesn't work, and it probably won’t, you can make yourself a Corpse Reviver No 2 — a cocktail created in the 1930s by the legendary Savoy bartender Harry Craddock to "raise the dead".
25ml Lillet Blanc
25ml fresh lemon juice
Dash of absinthe
Shake with ice and strain in to a coupe. Lemon zest garnish.
Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham are drinks writers and comedians The Thinking Drinkers. They perform their award-winning drinking show Thinking Drinkers: History of Alcohol at Museum of Comedy, from 12-23 December.