Atop the hierarchy of intoxicants, fine wines and Scotch Whiskeys typically hold sway over all other considerations. Their regal colors and scents, their depth of provenance, the nearly mythical back-story: all of these elements conspire to assure wine and Scotch Whiskey their deserved spots above the rivers of rotten libations we humans produce and consume in search of the perfect buzz.
But are they, these two kings of the drunk-dial, really so different, so far afield from their besotting brethren as to be truly separate?
If drunk, do they not give us hangovers?
If set to match, do they not aflame (not wine, but that's splitting hairs)?
If offered to alcoholics, are they not dispatched with verve and alacrity?
No, you can see, they are not any greater of themselves. It is we, the perpetually stinky bar people, who elevate and denigrate our drinks of choice and chide. We are all marketers, picking and choosing, aligning and re-aligning based on whimsy and want.
And, typically we want what we are told to want.
Take vodka. Perhaps the most popular potent potable in the pouring world. When done “right” it has no scent, no flavor and, theoretically leaves little to none in the way of a hangover. It can be drunk in a shot, as a fruit based cocktail, as a classic martini or a martini in Manolo Blahniks. It can be injected into melons and smuggled into concerts. It can be poured down an ice luge in Vegas and drunk with surprisingly little shame. It is the perfect vehicle for the alcoholic; the stereotypical Russian in his kitchen, listening as the compressor in his Stinol sputters to a stop, downing drop after drop of his last chilled Putinka, his own spirit rising on a current of evaporating memories.
Vodka sits not alone atop the trash heap of alcoholic marketing campaigns. All of them, in some way, cater to and create their very own dancing slice of the demographic booze-pie.
In one sentence or less (or more), a quick synopsis of where some popular alcoholic products and trends have taken us:
Bourbon – NASCAR – cars for running moonshine now run on moonshine. Rich.
Beer – Drunk Super-Nerds nattering on about esters and oily, piny residue sticking in a lattice to the glass. Blah.
Rum – Mojitoes.
Tequila – Sammy Hagar's goatee.
Cocktailing – The introduction of the celebrity bartender. Old, fat, loud and sybaritic these narcissistic belly-flops washed up onto our bars over the past decade and refuse to swim back to sea.
And that's the top end.
Equally aggressive but perhaps less vapid, the lower rungs of the booze ladder offer some insights into who we are, why we got where we are (if you're there, you know what I mean) and, are we really to blame?
Maybe by defining a portion of the low-end of the booze theory we can grasp how similar we really are, separated only by the slightest circumstance.
I offer you a tour of the lesser labels.
Listerine/Nyquil: ($6.00) Terrible. Absolutely abhorrent. Check the labels, though. Both products contain a fair amount of alcohol and can get you pretty juiced. Only for the absolutely desperate. Not even worth an experimental bender. Causes dizziness, the “jooglies” and run-on nonsensicating.
Robitussin: ($5.00-$7.00) Active ingredient Dectromethorphan (dmx). When used in normal doses the side effects include, nervousness, dizziness, sweating, nausea, vomiting and unusual paleness along with a litany of other complaints. When consumed in unhealthy doses, add hallucinations to the list. Only recommended for the compulsively efficient. If caught alone under the influence of this nuisance, remain calm, out of sight and in your kitchen cabinet (you're probably there already.) Attempting normal communications with other members of the species while “Robo-ing” is possible but ill-advised.
Ripple: (unavailable for purchase) The wine that made Gallo blush. Gallo Wineries of California produced this ultra affordable table wine through the 1970’s. Gallo discontinued making the product to coincide with their efforts at capturing a more upscale portion of the drinking market. All that remains of Ripple are the pop culture references from “Sanford & Son,” to the Grateful Dead to the inimitable Gordon Lightfoot’s thought of “Georgia pine and Ripple wine.” This wine has, thankfully, left the pantheon of American liquors. Only the dark cloud of Gallo’s cynicism remains to hang over an otherwise enjoyable pastime – gettin’ lit up.
MD 20/20: (about $3.00) A fortified wine produced by Mogen David Wineries. Originally, known as Mad Dog 20/20, Mogen David Wineries changed the name to MD 20/20 to better reflect the sophistication of its market. This poison is known for its ability to induce foaming mouth syndrome in heavy imbibers, and tends to color the tongue a lovely hue of either green or blue, depending on flavor. A prerequisite at all proms, fraternity Hell Weeks and Venice Beach barrel parties, Mad Dog’s phantasm of flavors has pushed MD 20/20 to the forefront of rotgut. Its alcohol content varies with flavor and color between 13% and 18%. Mango Lime, Orange Jubilee, Pacific Peach, Kiwi Lemon, Tangerine Dream, Key Lime Pie, Red Grape Wine and Strawberry Rose are all available. The stuff tastes like sugar water and can knock you on your tail with gusto. Should be paired with cheese and peanut butter crackers, or bread crust.
Boone’s Farm: (around $3.00) This puzzlement is made from apples. The flavors alone speak volumes about the quality of this product. Names like Strawberry Hill, Kiwi Strawberry, Wild Island, Mountain Berry, Sun Peak Peach and Kountry Kwencher evoke a calmness akin to the catatonia of a three day Boone’s hangover. Boone’s hails from Nevada where, apparently, apples grow wild in the desert: their vintners keeping a watchful eye for the best pink lady to distill into a bottle of Kiwi Strawberry.
Thunderbird: (about $6.00) Vinted and bottled by Gallo wineries, the color of this wine is disarmingly similar to urine. First marketed post prohibition, the Gallo brothers sought to corner the downtrodden market driving through ghettos, pushing the swill to the disaffected and disenchanted. “What’s the word? / Thunderbird!” So goes the jingle. A drink for hobos, bums and hard-core drunks, Thunderbird is available for sale at select stores of untold esteem.
NightTrain: (about $6.00) Another loop in Gallo’s extensive net of hobo wines, this wine is fuel enough to sustain a three thousand mile bender. The type of trip from which one never really returns. Keep this one in the bag for an added shot of credibility next time you’re mining the turmoil of your darkest mind. Once you’re on the train, it makes no stops.
So, c’mon, if you’ve got $6.00 and you’re staring at a bottle of Robitussin, or Thunderbird skip it. Walk up to the register and pick up a couple of nips. The crème de menthe nips go for a cool buck or less and they keep your mouth fresh and inviting. Or you could venture into a handle of Rubinoff for $10.00 or so. Soon enough you’ll be bleeding from the gut and conspiring with Rasputin on that long slow train out of St. Petersburg on your way to the bottom of the Neva.
And you won’t even know how you got there.