Breaking The Standards
by Joel Caris
I'm going to admit something that probably no one who has read my Imbibe columns will be surprised to learn: I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to alcohol. This is true with all forms of alcohol, though probably most true with beer, simply because that's what I have the most experience with drinking. It's not that I think I'm a dick about it, but I definitely prefer to hold a certain standard and, for the most part, to not compromise on that standard. You're not going to find me drinking Pabst or Coors Light or Milwaukee's Best, and so on. Similarly, you aren't going to find me knocking back some shitty, cheap tequila or sucking off a bottle of Smirnoff. I'm not going to be drinking Jager, either, though that has less to do with the quality and more to do with the fact that it tastes like motherfucking black licorice. Give me a goddamn break.
Wine I'm a little more flexible on, if only because I'm poor and because I haven't gained as sophisticated a taste when it comes to wine. However, you're not really going to see me picking up a bottle of two buck Chuck, either. I'll pass.
So I'm kind of a snob. However, what I want to talk about today is that moment when you find a cheap bit of liquor or beer that—somehow, someway—is actually pretty damn good. Sure, it's not top quality by any means, but it's far better than its price would suggest.
For me, this happened a few weeks back when I went to a house warming party for a friend. I was hanging out in the kitchen, talking with some friends and knocking back some Snow Plow, which is a fantastic winter seasonal made by Widmer. It's a milk stout and I know I've mentioned it before, but it really is a beer that cannot be mentioned too often, especially considering the relatively timid price. If you have a chance to indulge in some Snow Plow, I heartily recommend it.
Anyway, I was in the kitchen and a couple bottles of stout into the evening when suddenly I was being offered a bottle of Old Crow, a Kentucky bourbon. I eyed the bottle with a certain disdain. For starters, the bottle was plastic, which really isn't a good sign. Furthermore, I was informed that the bottle had cost about eight dollars, which set off about as many warnings as my head can hold.
I grabbed the bottle and knocked back a bit, just waiting for the disaster that would surely be Old Crow. Yet, amazingly, the drink was actually pretty good. It took me a few minutes to realize it, but it was pretty damn smooth for an eight dollar whiskey housed in a plastic bottle. It made no sense to me and for a few minutes, I was honestly confused. Then I was a bit amazed and eager to exclaim my sheer wonderment at the fact that Old Crow didn't completely suck ass. By all rights, considering the circumstances surrounding its existence, it should have been terrible. Yet it wasn't at all. It was completely decent. Sure, I would never choose it over Jameson, but it wasn't a whiskey to completely dismiss out of hand, either.
Such experiences make me realize that it's good to at least experiment, because you never know when something is going to take you by surprise. Maybe that shitty-sounding beer is actually sort of okay. Maybe that cheap rum or tequila is serviceable. Maybe the price is not always a final indicator of the quality. It's worth at least giving it a try to find out. You may just find a nice surprise in the next plastic bottle that comes your way.
What's your favorite, surprisingly good, cheap alcohol?
Joel may drink Old Crow, but he still won't touch Old Grandad. Take that as you will.