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The Booze That Came Before Today’s Crafty Booze

on 05/07/12 at 12:35 pm

Booze News

In this era of “small batch” and “artisanal” and “ultrapremium,” an appreciation of four stalwarts.

Walk into a liquor store these days and you’ll be presented with a blizzard of choices. You want a bottle of vodka. Do you want economy, premium, superpremium, or ultrapremium? Plain or flavored? If flavored, would that be citrus or blueberry or root beer or, God help us, cupcake or frosting or smoked salmon? Do you choose a national brand like Smirnoff or Skyy or Tito’s, or do you go with some small brand you’ve never heard of? If it’s one of the small ones, is it made from wheat or rye or potatoes or something weird, like milk or soy or beets?

Name any big spirits brand and most likely it will come adorned with upgrades and extensions and premixed cocktails and any other thing you can think of, as if it were so much Gatorade. Or you can go artisanal and get a locally produced version of the same spirit. You’ll pay twice the price, but they’ll throw in a cleverly designed bottle.

It wasn’t always thus. In 1979, I reached the legal drinking age of 18 and moved to New York City to go to college. That meant beer, of course, but New York has always been a hard-liquor town, and my friends and I drank a lot of that, too. When finances allowed, we’d invest an extra dollar or three on a better bottle. Things such as Jack Daniel’s (then sold at 90 proof), Beefeater gin rather than Fleischmann’s, genuine Soviet Stolichnaya (then just about the only imported vodka there was) for chilled shots and kamikazes (not one I drink anymore), Sauza Tres Generaciones for the tequila-lime-salt ritual. Occasionally there was even a bottle of single-malt Scotch. (The choices were Glenlivet, Laphroaig, or Glenfiddich.)