Resolution #1: Embrace bartender’s choice.

Alcohol is, admittedly, an indulgence. But even—no, especially—if you’ve resolved to drink less in 2010 (last year was a tough one for all of us), there are a few things you can do to get more bang for your liver-processing buck.

Here, five ways to drink better this year.

1. Leave it up to the bartender.

When Tavern Law opened on Capitol Hill last year, people raved about the upstairs bar. (Needle and Thread, I think they call it?) Accessed through a discrete hidden stairway, the hideaway bar offered no menus—patrons described to the tender their favorite spirits and tastes (sweet, bitter, etc) and the bartender mixed them up a cocktail of his choice.

Thing is, “bartender’s choice” has been the convention at cocktail bars for years—and it’s pretty much standard policy for serious drinkers. There’s no need to study up on sidecars and pisco sours before sidling up to a bar stool, just walk in and ask the bartender what he feels like serving. You’ll get better drinks, and learn something new.

This is also an excellent test if you’re unsure about a drinking establishment: if a bartender ever gives you a funny look, shrug, or surly retort after you ask what he/she recommends, you’re in a bad bar.

Places to practice: Zig Zag, Vessel, and Sambar.

2. Buy better wine.

I know, I know. Spending more money is sort of an anti New Year’s resolution. But we’re not in college anymore, folks. Adult drinking should be all about quality over quantity.

Let’s say you drink two bottles a week of the same $10 oak chip-soaked cloying chard. That’s $80 a month you are spending on junky wine! Instead, take that $80 to your local wine merchant, and ask her to pick out four bottles of Washington wine around $20, then bring them home and sip through each one slowly, concentrating on its unique flavors. You’ll drink less, and really start to learn about the great wines of Washington.

Places to practice: Pike and Western, Grand Cru, Esquin Wine Merchants.

3. Find your beer.

If you have an allergy, that’s one thing. But if you think you don’t like beer just because you never found one that tingled your tastebuds, you need to keep trying. Because once you discover the beer you love, you’ll uncover the joys of one of humankind’s oldest pleasures. I’ll refrain from rhapsodizing about the perfect pint of pleasure that is a well-served ale at a neighborhood pub, but I won’t refrain from urging you to experiment: as a Northwesterner, you ought to embrace your brews.

Places to practice: local pubs and breweries.

4. Make time for wine tastings.

There’s something about the word “tasting” that makes people want to hide their wallets. But Seattle is full of generous and fun free wine tastings. You’ll get acquainted with new wines without spending a dime.

Places to practice: 12th and Olive Wine Co, Pike and Western, European Vine Selections.

5. Become a Locaboozer.

Recently, Washington State changed its laws, easing up on entrepreneurial local spirit makers looking to get in on the booze game. A short trip to Woodinville will bring you inside the tasting room at Soft Tail Spirits, while Sound Spirits hopes to open its Interbay tasting room early this year. You can try Dry Fly gin (and sometimes whiskey) at most good local cocktail bars.

Meanwhile, Oregon, a state with far more sensible booze legislation, is overflowing with excellent smallbatch suppliers. If you start getting seriously into local liquors, I strongly urge you to attend next year’s Great American Distilling Festival in Portland—it’s a chance to try all kinds of Northwest-made spirits, and it involves a mixology smackdown between the bartenders of Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. I was lucky enough to be a judge in 2009, and I had an absolute blast.

Bonus resolution: Read Sauced
Okay, sorry for the tacky self promoting plug, but I wanted to let you know that my number one New Year’s Resolution is to keep trying to make this blog the best it can be. Look out for new features (including more wine and beer coverage), more people—there are a bunch of great boozeworld characters I want to introduce you to—more at-home cocktail experimentation, more, more, more.

We’ll drink, we’ll learn, we’ll have a great time. I can’t wait to get started.

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