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.
Man you guys have cheap booze down there. A twenty six ounce bottle of anything starts at about 20 bucks in Canada. We need that shit to keep warm.
Anyway there's a whiskey called Black Velvet, it costs about a buck less than the regulars and is pretty good.
Posted by: Dan | February 7, 2007 7:53 AM
I always thought Smirnoff was considered 'the good stuff'. Hmmmmm.
Posted by: Ernie | February 7, 2007 9:48 AM
Oh, Ernie. You poor guy.
There's a Vodka that blows the pants off of Smirnoff and tastes much closer to Svedka or the like -- and it costs $3 less than Smirnoff!
It's called Monopolowa, and it is YUMMY.
Posted by: Ian | February 7, 2007 10:57 AM
Still have yet to try the Black Velvet, Dan, but one of these days I'll give it a whirl.
And I think you should see about having the government up there subsidize your booze. Can't you work a hot toddy argument into the universal health care you guys have up there? Whiskey supplied by the hospitals. Works for me.
Ernie, some people do consider Smirnoff the good stuff, but I'm not a big fan of it. Especially if I'm drinking it straight. The two vodkas I've most enjoyed straight up have been Grey Goose and Belvedere, particularly right out of the freezer. Actually, I seem to recall having some Stoli and enjoying that quite a bit, as well, but I've never had a full bottle of it to really explore.
Ian, thanks for the tip. I think I'm going to check that out.
Posted by: Joel | February 7, 2007 12:15 PM
Gotta go with Luksosova, Polish Vodka that's actual potato vodka, not that grain crap.
Pretty reasonable, too.
Add Famous Grouse scotch, which will do when the Single malts run out.
Posted by: Zarba | February 7, 2007 4:55 PM
Posted by: Zarba | February 7, 2007 4:56 PM
And thanks for finally setting people straight about Jagarmeister.
Posted by: Zarba | February 7, 2007 4:57 PM
When I was 18 the drinking age was 18. I drank crap back then. I've probably said "Mug of Bud" about 8 billion times.
I mean, I drank some swill.
Narraganset (sp?) Beer. It was like $2.40 for a 10-pack in 1981. I'll give you a hint, it was Stewart's house brand. Stewart's is an upstate NY 7-11-type chain.
Ernesto y Hulio Gallo jugs of burgundy.
But our favorite drink of all time, and the cheapest high in the world, was Stonehouse Vodka (makes fist) "myeaaaahhhhhhhhh". It was refined from crude Stonehouse from wells drilled in NJ (seriously, it was from Jersey) and aged on the truck ride up.
To call it swill was to insult drinks with cigarette butts floating in them.
Man, once you finished with a bottle of Stonehouse (makes fist) "myeahhhhhh", you could chug Absolut like water.
Fleishman's was a step up, a big step up.
Now? Foster's (sorry Australia, but it doesn't suck in America), Amstel Light or something good, Crown Royal, Hennessy and NO VODKA!!!! MNy problem is that I got sick on just about everything I used to do shots of. Except tequila.
My favorite drink for the last few months has been Hennessy and Baileys. I was at a party with a bunch of drunken Irishmen, my nephew in law owns a bar in Nanuet, and we started that at about 12 am (after starting drinking at 1pm). That's a fine drink.
I did find out one thing from liking that drink, dipping cigars in brandy makes me ill.
Posted by: Veeshir | February 8, 2007 4:04 PM
I've drunk many things in my life, nothing gets a good bender started like a 5 litre box of wine. "To call it swill was to insult drinks with cigarette butts floating in them." I friggin' love that!
Posted by: Richard | February 8, 2007 7:17 PM
Black Velvet is a Telly Savalas approved whiskey.
Posted by: dorkafork | February 8, 2007 9:10 PM
You've had Black Velvet before. I brought it over. It was in your days when you only drank Henry's, Goldschlager, Crown Royal, and an Absolut screwdriver. I think it was too flavorful for you at the time. Wuss.
Posted by: Nathan | February 13, 2007 4:47 AM