It doesn’t always happen the same way for every person. But it happens for all of us. Maybe you’re talking about how light your new vacuum cleaner is. Maybe you’re discussing the outrageous sodium content in soup. Maybe you make your first economical bulk toilet paper purchase. However it happens, something shifts in the wind, and you know—you’ve grown up.

Not entirely, of course (there’ll always be room to store that old SNES), but growing up to the point of reconfiguring your life and spending habits to include car payments, maybe a mortgage, all too regular trips to IKEA. You’re basically an adult now, and while your haircuts and wardrobe grow up, your drink choices ought to grow up right beside them.

Since most of us first established our drinking habits in our 20s, the platform you have to build on is a bit questionable. Most of what’s been intoxicating you for the past decade has probably included sugar, Red Bull, a variety of low-shelf liquors, or “ironic” bad reputations (we’re lookin’ at you, Natty Ice). How do you advance your drinking tastes as you enter the noble, highly taxed realm of adulthood? No fear, we’ve got a few recommendations for some college-era standbys. Meanwhile you can figure out why your health insurance doesn’t cover tattoo removal (there are some aspects of youth we just can’t erase).

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The Jager Bomb:

Oh drink of ill repute. Whoever thought to mix a spicy German digestif with Red Bull was either a genius or a sociopath, likely both.

Adulthood Upgrade:

The Hanky Panky, invented by Ada Coleman (we’ll get to her in a future post). You’ll get spicy complexity from Fernet Branca and even more complexity from vermouth, with gin to knock you into alertness (save the Taurine for exxxtreme ice fishing, or whatever it is.)

Fireball Shots:

These have not only a direct link to our respective Roaring 20s, but our childhoods—Fireball cinnamon liqueuer tastes weirdly (too much) like the candy. But dammit, you floss now. You’re years beyond penny candy.

Adulthood Upgrade:

A cinnamon fix is hard to find in cocktails unless you’re using tinctures, but if you want something to make you feel warm and fuzzy, some spicy mulled wine should do the trick. Since it’s typically made with a cinnamon stick, you’ll get some of that nice heat without any of the weird consequences of drinking alcoholic nostalgia.

Lemon Drop Shots:

Tangy, refreshing, easier to knock back than vodka itself. A favorite of bachelorette parties on their way to shameless debauchery.

Adulthood Upgrade:

Limoncello, an Italian lemon-peel liqueur you can actually make at home. No, it’s not something you’ve seen a lot of college (or work) friends sipping on, which means you’ll be even cooler for ordering it. The best part about adulthood, after all, is the constant conversational one upsmanship. “Oh, you’ve never heard of this???”


The cheapest of the cheap in the world of sparkling wine. What you brought to the party when $6 celebration was in order. And yes, probably mixed with Sunny D.

Adulthood Upgrade:

This one’s easy. Any decent Cava or Prosecco—which is affordable based on production methods, but a huge upgrade in quality.

Jungle Juice:

Anything that mixes Everclear, vodka, a variety of fruity schnapps, Sunny D, and Sprite is something to bury deep in our collective subconscious. Don’t even let your therapist (whom you’re seeing because you’re an adult, dealing with emotional issues head-on) know about your Jungle Juice days. He can’t handle that kind of truth.

Adulthood Upgrade:

By god, anything. You could mix low-shelf tequila, orange juice, and Sprite and it would be the Rolls Royce of cocktails compared to this stuff. If you are looking for a punch, however, you’re in luck, because punches are one of the oldest and most respected (read: classy) ways of imbibing. A simple rum punch would do just fine, and leave your dignity in tact.

Jack and Coke:

The way to drink whiskey without drinking the whiskey, quite. And nothing we outright condemn (Jungle Juice, on the other hand, can go straight to hell). But a bit of a shame to be ordering into your 30s on the regular.

Adulthood Upgrade:

If you want a whiskey vehicle that isn’t all sugar and bubbles, go for a classic whiskey sour (which should contain no sour mix whatsoever) or a whiskey-based Old Fashioned. Angostura bitters will actually provide a bit of cola-like depth, with a sugar cube giving you a hint—rather than an avalanche—of sweetness.

Red Bull and Vodka:

The requisite “pre-game” drink, supposedly powering and loosening you up at the same time so you have enough energy to tackle your social anxieties with ferocity, and more booze.

Adulthood Upgrade:

The Coffee Cocktail. Really. Seems counterintuitive, because you’re not trying to stay up all night? Well then maybe don’t jack yourself up with Red Bull. Not to mention, a coffee-based cocktail (from a classic Irish Coffee to something a bit more complex, like these) has a lot more flavor and a lot fewer chemical additives. You buy organic produce now, so that’ll matter to you.

Long Island Iced Tea:

Not a drop of tea—or its healthful flavonoids—in it. Just a bunch of booze, sour mix, and Sprite. Sometimes not sprite, sometimes real citrus. Always a mishmash of vodka, tequila, rum, and whiskey.

Adulthood Upgrade:

The Zombie. If you’re looking for a power-packing cocktail, look no further than this Tiki favorite. Made with three kinds of rum (including 151-proof, or “overproof,” rum), falernum, Herbsaint, citrus, spice, and grenadine, it’s a Tiki classic that’ll knock you on your 401K-ed ass. Most places will actually only serve you one, it’s that strong. So skip the LIT. This one’s got more fun garnishes anyway.

Sh*tty Beer:

We all love, and can afford, “bad” beer in our 20s. Especially when the bar close to our dorm sells them by the bucket, or boot, or wheelbarrow. But unless you’re super cash-strapped, there’s no need to keep pounding Keystone Light or Natty Bo.

Adulthood Upgrade:

Well, Natty Premium, for one. Or any of the more affordable canned craft beers out there. Beer, fortunately for those of us who love it, doesn’t have an incredibly steep price increase as quality increases. Only once you go experimental, Imperial, or bomber (don’t) do prices really go up.

Jello Shots:

OK, this is a hard one to replicate. Jello Shots, the sweet jiggly temptress that bridges childhood, when we actually wanted non-alcoholic “fruity” gelatin, and adulthood, when we leave foolish things behind and pick a major 24 hour news outlet to yell at after dinner. Jell-O has no place in our parties.

Adulthood Upgrade:

A stretch, but we’re going for it—the cordial. Usually a digestive or sweet liqueur, the cordial gives you that warm little alcoholic bloom, sans jiggle, and lets you show off the tiny glasses you got for your wedding registry. So serve your guests a cordial and pass out monocles and baby asprin as party favors. It’s adulthood time.