How to Get Over the Drinks That Got Away

This article first appeared on After Party Magazine.

As I sat in my poolside lounge chair at a hotel in Miami recently, my travel buddy walked up from the beach to join me. She held a clear plastic cup with some sand stuck to it. Empty of liquid, the cup had mint leaves clinging to its inside, along with a couple of sad-looking, dessicated lime pieces. “Mojito?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she replied with a shrug that might have meant, “but it wasn’t very good.”

I appreciated her tact, intended to counter any envy I might have felt as I sat there with my sun-warmed bottle of sparkling water. She was right to think that I might have been jealous, but it wasn’t for the reason she likely thought.

I wasn’t envious because she was able to have a drink while sitting on the beach and I could not. Instead, it was the mojito itself that sparked a twinge of regret in my brain. I never had one when I was drinking. What did it taste like? Was it strong? Was my life not complete without having poured that particular blend of liquids down my throat?

As an alcoholic, I feel like I should know what a mojito tastes like and probably even have a mojito story or two—that Fourth of July that I drank mojitos on a boat, or the time I got sick after the mojitos at that Caribbean restaurant downtown.

I’ve been sober for a little while, so the list of popular drinks I never tasted has gotten quite long. Some of these sound like cocktails I would have enjoyed—a lychee martini, for example. Some sound like they pack a new buzz—absinthe, in particular. And some sound flat-out disgusting, such as the Flaming Dr Pepper—a mix of rum, light beer and amaretto. It’s even socially acceptable now to drink wine poured from a screw-top bottle. (Although I understand it’s still not appropriate to drink said wine directly from said bottle, as I might have been inclined to do.)

Over time, I’ve gotten some perspective on the lure of these drinks. Every once in a while, like in Miami, I just have to remind myself of a few things.

First, these unexplored cocktails need to come off the pedestal I’ve put them on. I am susceptible to thinking that people out drinking mojitos are having more fun than I had when I was out drinking, simply because they’re drinking mojitos. But if I’m honest, for the last several years of my drinking, pretty much everyone I knew was already having more fun than I was, no matter what cocktail they held in their hands. Once my drinking shifted from social to necessary, the fun was over, mojito or no mojito.

One of the most annoying things people said to me when I got sober was, “Well, the party had to end some time.” Really? I would think. I don’t know what party you were at, but I haven’t had fun in years. All that was left at the end was compulsion, shame and misery.

The second thing I need to remember is not to fantasize about the taste of a drink I never tried. While I can easily picture a delicious explosion in my mouth when first tasting a French 75 (gin, Champagne, lemon juice and sugar), it’s not as if I ever would have sat there and sipped it or paused over the flavors. I would have swished it down as quickly as I was physically able.

What something tasted like was never relevant when I drank. The only questions I mulled over were: Cabernet or Merlot? Absolut Citron or Ketel One? Margarita on the rocks with salt or without? Sure, there was a casual nod to the specific taste of the drink I was about to have, but the important thing was just to get it in front of me.

And finally, I have to remember that the reason I never tried a mojito when I drank is that I just never ordered one. They aren’t a glamorous new libation. Mojitos were around back then. The truth is that I only ordered what I knew would give me the best buzz the fastest—straight up martinis and margaritas on the rocks with a floater shot were solid and reliable. Why would I have wasted a precious drink order on something that might be too sweet and possibly too weak to get the job done?

I don’t often mention my regret at not having tried a specific drink when someone else orders one, mostly because I bristle at the common response: “Ask the bartender to make it virgin!” It could be just me, but those words make me want to deposit my non-alcoholic drink over the head of the speaker. I drank virgin cocktails when I was eight years old and my parents took us to a “grown-up” restaurant for dinner. At this point in my life, I’d rather exchange the calories in a virgin banana daiquiri for a real dessert.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what rationale I use to get rid of my feelings about not having tried one drink or another, as long as I get rid of them. While my friend tossed out her plastic mojito cup, I straightened my head out:

No, I don’t get to try a mojito. I cannot drink safely. After one mojito, I would know what it tastes like, but one mojito would lead to two mojitos, then four mojitos and pretty soon I’d be asking the bartender if he knew where I could get some cocaine.

I have to remember that every day. If I do, I get to spend Saturdays like that one in Miami, feeling healthy, with someone I love. Just don’t offer me a Shirley Temple.