By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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Before you know it, the holiday season will shift into high hype, and booze makers, the free-spending advertisers they generally are, willing to pitch big bucks at whoever is willing to catch them, will supplement the editorial sections of publications of all types with eggnog recipes, careful-consumption caveats, and other libation explications. Rest assured, dear reader, New Times is no exception.
It is unlikely, however, that the concoctions discussed herein are being considered for full-color spreads in your local daily. No, once again New Times has gone that extra mile for you (or, in this case, that extra few feet to the dusty shelves in the back of the liquor store). Here then is the definitive slugs fest, not just another nose-in-the-air, pompous pondering of potations and potent potables. This is one critical catalogue of grog you'll surely want to clip and save for future festive-season shopping sprees. The elixirs examined here, each of them legally obtainable at local liquor emporiums, are, in a word, unforgettable.
Compiling such a dandy reference entailed hours of rigorous research, which consisted mainly of driving around to three or four of Greater Miami's roughly 250 liquor stores, asking the advice of clerks who had more important things to do - polishing the cash register, for instance - and assembling a panel of volunteers brave enough to consume the fruits of this wide-ranging labor.
Some general thoughts about booze and business
Inexplicably, a large-scale conspiracy is afoot in the liquor industry, its sole purpose to nip in the bud stories such as this one. Manufacturers, distributors, retailers, powerful advertising agencies, those whose livelihoods depend on the sale of Fletcher & Oakes Tropical Fruit Cordial and Soda Water, will resort to any measure in order to prevent that oxymoron they call "negative publicity."
This conspiracy theory (which, incidentally, was elucidated by a liquor-store clerk while he was polishing his cash register) was confirmed with a phone call to the Southern Beverage Journal, which publishes lists of every alcoholic beverage one could possibly imagine, to make life easier for wholesale buyers, and to make money for themselves. The editors and publisher of the Beverage Journal would, of course, extend the hand of fellowship to a fellow community-service-minded publication and provide a comprehensive list of all the booze available in South Florida. Yeah, right, and Schaefer really is a tasty beer.
Translated into the parlance of the common barfly, what the honchos at the Journal said was: "Go screwdriver yourself." Apparently they had no interest in helping any smart-aleck journalist to nibble like a cockroach at the sacred crust of a hallowed industry whose reputation is tarnished only by its connection to fatal accidents, wide-ranging health problems, and unproductive behaviors. That's what they implied, anyway.
Further discussion of the helpful folks at the Southern Beverage Journal notwithstanding, if liquor is sometimes maligned, it also has been endowed with supernatural characteristics. The dead philosopher Nietzsche once wrote, "Two great European narcotics, alcohol and Christianity." Jeez, Louise. In a more steady, eighteenth-century hand, the very dramatic Richard Sheridan put it this way: "A bumper of good liquor/Will end a contest quicker/Than justice, judge, or vicar." Cheers. (Sheridan, by the way, later became Britain's treasurer of the navy.)
For his part, journalist-humorist Irvin S. Cobb, despite dying in 1944, managed to write, "It smells like gangrene starting in a mildewed silo, it tastes like the wrath to come, and when you absorb a deep swig of it you have all the sensations of having swallowed a lighted kerosene lamp. A sudden, violent jolt of it has been known to stop the victim's watch, snap his suspenders and crack his glass eye right across." He was describing moonshine, but he may as well have been writing about, as you'll soon discover, Heublein Gold Rush.
The panel and the procedure
Pilar Gatto-Casero is a popular entertainer whose musical wit was captured on an album called Yellow Mango. She isn't a big drinker, she warned before the tasting began, a claim she then proved by departing after every two or three samples "to get some fresh air." Critic and traveler Rafael Navarro possesses a demanding palate, but he has been known to adapt to swilling beers (imports, natch) at the local pub. At heart he's really a blue-collar guy, as in sapphire-studded lapels. Glenn Garvin is a serious journalist who's traveled the world, fearlessly searching out his next free drink. Sue Mullin is New Times's own "Cafe" critic, but she's on the panel anyway. Tom White is this paper's editorial cartoonist, which makes him a well-qualified member of any bad-taste gathering. Rounding out the team is Tom Finkel, a former bartender and the poor slob who will edit this story. (And if he touches a word of it, he's liable to find his coffee has been spiked with strawberry-banana schnapps.)
Drop by drop the specimens were carefully measured into three-ounce Dixie bathroom cups. Saltless Saltines and an industrial-size jar of Cheez Whiz were provided to clear clogged palates and to ensure fairness of judgment. As the first bottle was opened, Pilar called out for mineral water; others requested beer. These connoisseurs, it should be confessed, had no previous training in the tasting of raunchy booze. In their evaluations, they went with gut instinct. The fact they'd drink this stuff at all proves they've got a lot of guts.