The Rich Man's Ripple

(Courtesy Jack Fear

See, there's something you need to understand about me; I am not, to appearances, a refined gentleman. I'm a big guy, with a forceful physical presence. Though it's been a long time since I worked with my hands, my day-to-day uniform is still jeans, a T-shirt, and boots; about the only thing separating me from the guys on the roadgang are steel toe-caps and a couple of weeks in the sun. I'm neither a snob nor a oenophile, is the thing, and when I'm at the ballgame or slapping burgers on the grill, I usually stick to beer.

So it is both surprising and a little embarrassing for me to admit that many a winter's night finds me by the fire, with my feet up and a glass of port at hand.

Port? Isn't that stuff reserved for drawing rooms, exclusively for the consumption of elaborately-bewhiskered Victorian swells? Well, no - because port has a dirty little secret: for all that it's surrounded in ritual as dense as that of Freemasonry, port is essentially an upscale version of Night Train or Thunderbird. Port is - like sherry, which has its own niche in the history and culture of drinking as exclusively feminine as port's is masculine - a fortified wine. Starting with the makings of a fine Portuguese red, brandy is added to the wine casks before fermentation is entirely complete, killing the yeast before it's worked its way through all the natural sugars of the fruit mash. (As opposed to bum wines, where white spirit is added to cheap nasty wines after fermentation and the resultant concoction is pumped up with sweeteners and artificial coloring. This is why it's possible to get bombed on port-and believe me, it is-without spending two days afterwards in the throes of a hangover so savage that you pray for the merciful release of death.)

The resulting vintage is heavy, sweet, and dark; a glass of ruby port will stain your teeth and tongue like a grape Popsicle. And the stuff only gets better as it ages - not just in the cask, but in the bottle. A decent mid-priced bottle, like Cockburn's Fine Ruby Port, will sit around for at least four years; more expensive tawny ports and colheitas may be corked for twenty years or more before they're considered fit to drink.

A room-temperature port blooms as you sip, its flavors bold and yet mellow - the red-wine tannins softened by the aromas of the fruit, the pleasant burn of spirit suffusing the mouth-filling body of it. It's an ideal dessert wine. Hell, it's practically a dessert in itself; with a ruby port, you'll definitely want to brush your teeth afterwards.

Generally, the older the port, the more you'll pay. For the nuttier flavors of tawny ports, you'll pay $35-$55 a bottle for twenty-year old varieties, ranging into the hundreds of dollars for older wines. I like sweeter varieties, myself, like Cockburn's or Sandeman's Ruby Porto, both about $15 a bottle. Like I said, I'm not a snob. When the snow starts coming down and the winter wind is howling, it's any port in a storm.


The Bodine Value and You

Imagine a familiar scenario. It is 3:30 on a Saturday morning and you don't really know where you are. The last clear memory you have is thinking that the hot blonde you'd been flirting with was really into your shit before suddenly realizing you'd actually been talking to a potted house plant for 40 minutes. At some point in the evening you'd been engaged in a melee, possibly with the same house plant. You're standing in a bath tub, but it appears to be located in an alley, not a bathroom. Through the haze of inebriation you remember that bathtubs belong in bathrooms, not alleys. You throw up in it anyway.

Stepping gingerly over a hobo you emerge from the alley to discover that you still don't really know where you are. You may not even be in the same city anymore. What you do know is that things and stuff are getting clearer and more acute. This is a sure sign that you are sobering up, and may become dangerously lucid any moment.

Rifling through your pockets you discover an empty cigarette pack, three tickets to see the Bangles dated October 2005, two drivers licenses from different states with different names, and $6.78 in wadded bills and loose change. You think you can get back to deliciously numb drunk with that much money, but you're not sure.

What you need is the Bodine Value. The Bodine Value is an easy way to scientifically determine the usefulness of a given alcoholic beverage by leveraging the powerful forces of Math. The Bodine Value is equivalent to 1ml of alcohol per dollar and can be simply calculated using the following formula; (vol * %) / cost. Note that the formula uses the percentage of alcohol by volume, not the proof, don't confuse the two. In the US, the proof number is twice the alcohol content by volume at a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. US Federal Regulations (CFR 27 5.37) requires labels to state the percentage of of alcohol by volume so it should be easy to determine, unless you're already really messed. If you can't find the ABV value on the label though, simply reduce the proof number in half and move the decimal point two places to the left. 80 proof is therefore .40 ABV.

For example, a 750ml bottle of 80 proof alcohol that costs $15 yields 20 BV. (750 * .40) / 15.00 = 20. Lengthy research has revealed that Bodine Values can vary tremendously and often times present choices that would otherwise be, undesirable. High ABV content liquor, for instance Bookers Bourbon, would seem to offer a high Bodine Value, but given it's relatively high cost per bottle we find that the adverse is true. The market price for Bookers is around $60 a bottle rendering an average BV of around 7.5, which as you can clearly see is almost effete. Our example rendered a BV of 20, which is a very acceptable Bodine Value and in most instances will serve the contemporary drunk well, if you have $15.

You'll note that our hero the imaginary drunk, you, only has $6.78. (Don't look at me like that, you know you've accidentally flirted with a house plant before. I'd bet more than one of you has accidentally slept with a ficus.) In most markets, $5 will get you a 750ml bottle of Thunderbird. At 18% ABV that yields a very respectable 27 BV. That's the kind of math that will get you through the night.

Unfortunately, you may have already realized the single caveat of the Bodine Value, those beverages with the highest potential value, are almost always the least desirable from a perspective of flavor and not going blind. The Bodine Value is not a hard and fast rule, but a guideline that serves the drinker with a mission that has to live on a limited budget.

It should be noted, that all free booze has an infinite BV, and is therefore the most desirable.


Vodka Lemonade

Aside from Bombay Sapphire on the rocks, vodka lemonade is about the most perfect summer drink there is. And it's especially perfect because it's easy to make (you got your vodka, you got your lemonade) and easy to regulate your liquor intake (if it's lunchtime, you use a little more cup-for-five-cents; if it's late afternoon, you step up the Finlandia).

But here is my particular genius: I happened to have a creamy, gold-and-green Cucumis melo inodorus lyin' around, so I cut it up, let it saturate in the vodka lemonade for about an hour, and then drank it down like a man who'd just eaten a big hunk of the sun.

And that, my friends, is what summer tastes like.


California Zinfandel

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2004 - $13 ($10 on sale)
Barefoot Vineyards Zinfandel (NV) - $6 ($5 on sale)

Even tasting blind it's next to impossible to avoid your preconceived notions. I have always considered the Ravenswood Zinfandels to be reliable go-tos when I am in a rare mood to spend more than $8 for a bottle. Barefoot is relatively new on my radar and I'll admit that I've allowed the $6 price tag to cause me to question its drinkability, but recently some friends opened a bottle (well, three or four actually) for us (see: "My friends, you are lushes...") and I was pleasantly surprised. Still we wondered how it would fare against our old standby, and with both on sale and thereby in line with true cheapskate philosophy, Zin became the grape of the week.

Labels obscured in our fancy bottle tubes (manilla envelopes taped around the bottles) and labeled "A" and "B" (note: this only works if the glass is the same color and the bottle is the same shape, otherwise your best bet is the previously discussed Hobo Tasting with paper or black plastic liquor store bags, which allows you to cover the bottle all the way up to the top of the neck), we commenced the test.

We accompanied the tasting with several cheeses including fontina, mozzerella and aged gruyere.

Wine "A" had a nice deep ruby color and aromas of cherry, spice and oak (and, since nothing is stopping us from getting precious: fresh tobacco). It was medium bodied with a creamy texture and gentle tannins, indicating that it was ripe for the drinking. Cherry dominated the palate, with the tail end suggesting herbs and licorice. Our creamy and slightly pungent fontina tamed the acids and rounded it, while it collapsed under the aged gruyere. Overall we determined that it was the better food wine.

Wine "B" was lighter in color and body, with spice and raspberry aromas in the nose and an earthy and less refined flavor on the tongue. Words we tossed around were "scrappy" and "gritty". It vanished when challenged by everything but the neutral mozzerella. A slight chill might have improved it. Little in the way of character, good for sipping but not necessarily for food. Not bad but it was agreed - this wine just didn't move us.

So which was which? I will tell you that we were 100% convinced that we were correct, and this my friends is where assumptions will steer you wrong. We had even decided that yeah, the $6 was worth the price tag but that there was clearly a difference between what $6 and $13 can get you.

And that is, in fact true. Only in this case, $6 will get you wine "A" - Barefoot Vineyards, bumping it from "moderate" to "excellent" value. The Ravenswood Vintners Blends are made in a similar way as the wines assembled by the negociants of France, which all of a sudden explained its lack of character. Individuality is not the goal of these wines.

My conclusion: You can't always judge a wine by its label. The question is do you have the nerve to show up at that dinner party with a bottle of $6 wine, no matter how many ways you have to justify it? You have to admit, the Ravenswood label is probably one of the coolest around and they are certainly known for making some reliably good wines. This one, though, unfortunately does not cut the mustard against the upstart Barefoot, so my advice is to show up brandishing your skinflint ways without shame.

Good match for: The Barefoot isn't special enough for a fancy meal, but grilled hamburgers, grilled anything with a little bit of spice, pizza and red sauces would be great. The Ravenswood doesn't have the heft you might expect from a zin and is a nice sipper that sort of grows on you but gets hit and can't hit back when faced with food. Stuffed mushrooms and mild cheeses might do ok.

Value: Barefoot: Excellent
Ravenswood: Fair

Impress your friends: Zinfandel was first marketed in the states by a nursery in Boston, Massachusetts, from there it making its way to California during the gold rush in 1849.



I've been deeply immersed in crime fiction this week, so it seemed like a natural fit that for tonight's entry, I'd make myself a Godfather.

Not that it's all that aptly named: fiction's most famous godfather, Don Vito Corleone, favored wine and overly fussy aperitifs over this lovely blended cocktail. He probably would have looked at it as either too lowbrow (with its foundation of whisky) or too girly (with the sweetener of Amaretto, however distinctly Italian). But there is something distinctly Mafioso about it, something redolent of oak-paneled rooms and deep corruption. You might not be able to see Michael drinking it before he orders his own brother killed, but you can see some second-tier South Jersey underboss having one while he's checking the union hall for listening devices.

Despite its extremely simple makeup -- one part whisky to one part Amaretto -- the Godfather is a perennial candidate for "Stump the Bartender" games, as most bar staff know the combination but not the name. (A variant made with vodka instead of whiskey is known as the "Godmother", or the "Just Drink Plain Amaretto", as I like to call it.) And how does it go down? Smooooooooooooooooth, is how. Despite the way the Amaretto undercuts the bitter bite of the whiskey, it's not a gulping drink; it should be attacked in short swallows, just enough to let the almond flavor get on your lips but not enough to let it get on top of you: it's all liquor and can deceive you as to its potency. I used Black Bush whiskey for this one (a highly recommended little blend put out by the good people at Bushmills) and Bols Amaretto (like most flavored liqueurs, brand doesn't much matter here, and you're just as well off with old reliable Bols as you are paying five bucks a bottle more for DiSaronno's marketing expenses). This one's handy, easy to make, reliable, and just fine for sipping in a jazz club, feeling swanky at home, or planning a tri-state cigarette truck hijacking spree. Godfathers: the cocktail you can't refuse!


Riding The Seahorse

My good pal D-Funk (proprietor of Grimey's, the best local indie record store in a five-state area surrounding Nashville) had my wife and I over for dinner and drinks one night. Our spouses went for the red wine. D-Funk & I went for the rum.

I had been expecting Mount Gay, which had come to mean "Rum," as in, "THE brand." We had shared a week in Turks and Caicos together, and an unspecified number of fifths of Mount Gay between us. Not that we didn't seek alternatives. Being the bargain hunters that we are, we'd asked the proprietor of a T&C liquor store if the local spirit, dubbed "Cave Rum" was "any good." In a thick Caribbean patois, she replied, "Well, we sell a lot of it." That sounded suspiciously like damning with faint praise, and quickly considering that best-selling-liquor-hangover time would be immediately deducted from the vacation experience, we shelled out an extra couple of cacti for the Mount Gay. So, between rum runners, mai tais, and ginger ale mixers, I had acquired quite the taste for the stuff.

But tonight, D-Funk confided to me, "You NEED to try THIS." He handed me a bottle bearing the oeuvre of the iconic tattoo artwork of Jerry Collins -- and sure enough, this rum was branded "Sailor Jerry." The grin on D's face was one I had seen before, but it took me a while to realize that his was the seductive, albeit menacing, glare that I'd come to identify with late-teen pushers featured on after-school specials and D.A.R.E. videos. (Think also of the "Windowlicker" look on the Aphex Twin Richard D. James release. That's close, but perhaps not quite, er... malevolent enough.)

For that matter, Sailor Jerry may well be a gateway liquor. Truly, it makes everything taste better. Coffee. Coke. Ginger ale. Piña coladas. Hurricanes. It's even good straight, which isn't something I would quite recommend of Bacardi Silver or Captain Morgan. This stuff is legal, liquid crack. You'll find that the more that you drink this stuff, the more you like it, and that this effect tends to reinforce itself over time.

It is this addicting, quasi-narcotic effect that had another friend of mine re-christen Sailor Jerry Rum as "The Seahorse" -- "Yo ho ho, and a bottle of smack."

I never quite got the appeal of rum before I had The Seahorse. "Rummy" characters have long filled pirate dramas, and the, there's the world's most famous small-town pharmacist, Old Man Gower (at least in his parallel life). This, friends, is what The Rum should taste like. It's creamy, spicy, and smooth - with well rounded caramel and vanilla flavors. It blends into traditional rum drinks like a whisper, which quite belies its "92 proof" Virgin Islands vintage. It has almost none of the astringent, antiseptic mouth-feel of other spiced rums surrounding it on the shelves.

Typical prices for Sailor Jerry are almost unspeakably low, which might lead you to believe that you should go for the Cruzan, Captain Morgan, or Bacardi. Don't be fooled. The Seahorse is a best buy, usually around $15 for a 750ml. I have seen handles for under $20 on special. 'Tis a good thing, too. Fifths go pretty fast. ("Did I just drink half a bottle? Wow.")

Try this rum, but tread carefully. Until you acquaint yourself with The Seahorse, you may find that your pouring hand gets a trifle heavier, as it is so deceptively smooth that you may not think you are getting quite the bang to the ounce. Rum and coke, rum and ginger ale, rum and tonic are all favorites among n00bs to the 'Horse.

For you experimenters, though, throw caution to the wind. However, if you wake up on your neighbor's roof wearing naught but a dog's sweater and a frazzled expression, don't say you weren't warned.


Superman and I damn near killed a man.

Ah, the halcyon days of youth (or, dast I say it, the al-anon days of youth), the college days when first we legally entreated to sup at the cups, as it were. When the state-issued, firmly-established-as-an-adult ID first fell into our hands, no longer fettered with condition upon condition of youth, allowing us for the first time ever to establish our own condition of youth, which is to say, we got blotto often and indiscriminately. And legally, one can never forget legally.

For those of us who - either from fear of parental reprisal or a general deserted island drought of draught in one's sneakable or shopliftable arc of influence - deigned not to tipple as a teenager, the day we turned legal-for-drinking was a grand day. A grand weekend, even. A grand, lost weekend.

It's tempting to describe the experience as a matter of quantity over quality, but it was more than that. Sure, in our state-supported enthusiasm and vintner's virginity, we may not have been able to distinguish between V.S.O.P. and Everclear without the label looking us in the mush, it was still more than chugging cheerfully - it was about the occasion.

We planned parties for every conceivable case, observable or contrived. And we drank. We planned parties for groundhog's day, for conveniently numbered dates, for months-late housewarmings, and oh, we drank, drank, drank.

For instance, we - that being my roommate and I - held a party for Superman Day. June 19 (according to a 1976 comics-oriented calendar I'd owned since childhood, and which, besides sharing with us the exact date on which the city of Metropolis extended its thanks to its super-powered protector, also informed us of the exact date of the Joker's birthday and, saddest of saddest, the day Robin's parents were murdered, which was my birthday. I carried that terrible happenstance in my heart for a long time).

We went all out, hanging decorations and buying party favors. I made a cake in the shape of the legendary Fortress of Solitude, but misunderstanding the distinction between baking soda and baking powder, it ended up a density capable of deflecting bullets itself. So we ate the frosting. We arranged episodes of the classic George Reeves-headlined Adventures of Superman television program on the VCR, and mostly, we crafted a custom drink.

We called it the Kryptonite Kooler, and in our exuberance, we built a super-powered monster to rival any of the Man of Steel's rogues' gallery.

We were inexperienced in mixology, and played it by ear. To begin with, in a display of crass bolshevikism which my currently refined palate (and ruined liver) shudder to recall, we chose as the foundation of the drink the Safeway store-brand vodka. We decanted the tank-sized jugs into an enormous glass jar which I believe previously may've held the annual rainfail of Boston, MA. Very large, it was large.

To this we added green glow-sticks. Toxicity uncatalogued, it still was not the most poisonous of the ingredients. No, that honor falls to the mint extract. I added it, a drop at a time, tasting with a spoon as I went. One drop, no change in flavor, two drops, no change in flavor, three drops, good christ, am I getting drunk on this or what, four drops, OH THERE IT IS! Mint, like a Stalinist purge of overwhelming flavor, like four fat, belligerent bouncers sitting on you until the cops arrive, it was pretty goddamn awful.

The Kryptonite Kooler was mixed specifically for a drinking game. I wrote tropes and conceits of the Adventures of Superman television program on index cards, then handed them out randomly to guests. Drinkers had to drink when their card came into play. Mine was "When Jimmy Olsen says 'golly.'" I felt fear, knowing how often the televised twerp uttered that particular, pale-bodied profanity.

Other cards are faint in my memory. My roommate pulled something like "Clark touches his glasses," or something suitably fatal like that. Others drew seemingly equally ominous alternatives. Our friend Jon Swan, he picked luckily, I remember. He chose a rarity, which surfaced once or rarely twice in an episode: "Someone calls Perry White 'Chief'"

I loaded a deceptively ominous episode - "The Monkey Mystery" - into the VCR, and we watched.

Jimmy spoke: "Gosh, Mister Kent!" "Gee Whiz, Mister Kent!" "Christ Wept, Mister Kent!" Nary a golly. I began to resent my sobriety.

Clark Kent also refrained from touching often his spectacles, once only to transform into his costumed alter-ego. Josh, my roommate, drank almost angrily. He may have muttered "About time."

But Jon Swann, poor Jon Swann. None of us expected that this, of all episodes, would be one where salutations to Perry White would be in abundance. "Right away Chief, by the way Chief, say Chief, Chief, can you hear me Chief, is the Chief there? Chief? Chief, there you are!"

"I can't do any more!" he yelled suddenly, lifting his linebacker frame hurriedly but heavily from the couch, "It's like drinking toothpaste."

We learn lessons from insults like that. Jon Swann learned, as a for instance, not to imbibe of apocalyptically mint-flavored concoctions, lest one die. All six-feet and four inches of him learned while this arched over our toilet, barking out the names of Avengers. Waaaaaaaaaaasp. Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuulk. Haaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwk-eye.

I learned to leave the mixology to more practiced hands and more powerful intellects. Clearly, it was a dangerous ground I trod in those days of allowance and exuberance, and I tread blindly, heavily, and carrying others on my back. The rest of my fortunes were spent conservatively, on screwdrivers, or training myself to drink my vodka straight, so that suffering was direct and immediate, and hesitated not for the Adventures of Superman to catch up to it.

The events continued to be scheduled, the imibing done with great enthusiasm as always, but I decided to veer not towards custom concoctions of any sort, fearing the holy heck I'd visited on one poor head could be repeated a thousand times over in someone's overcrowded studio apartment, the vomit flowing over the second-story railing like magically parting waterfalls in fantasy films.

Oh, but I did often mix Peach flavored Boone's Farm with Smirnoff. I called it a "Peach Politburo." No one has yet died, but the looks on their faces when I describe it may be considered death masks in some primitive cultures.

Haffenreffer Private Stock (40oz)

In the late 1980s, I spent a short happy sabbatical in Dorchester, Boston. There I was introduced to the sport of urban canoing, and Haffenreffer, the official beverage of the sport.

To stave off the ennui of those sweat-laden summer evenings, my landlord/roommate and I would strap the canoe to the vehicle that ran best that day. After a short detour to the package store, we'd be putting the canoe in at some random body of water. While shooting the sewage laden rapids of mighty Dot, or wrestling the mutated carp on the Mystic as it burbled through Medford, we slaked our thirst on the crisp malty pleasures of Haffenreffer.

There were no substitutes, and one Haffenreffer (or "Haffen reffen derffen dooffen reffen reffer" as it was regionally known) was plenty. The green bottle if wrapped in a brown bag generally kept the contents at acceptable gulping temperature for an evening's escapade. It does have "the import taste" and none will confuse its pungent nose with sweeter Bull or Olde English. Maximum enjoyment of Haffenreffer will always be in the out of doors, and canoing offered us greater scenic variety and equivalent opportunities for mayhem as sitting on the front steps on Burt St.

One evening, perched on an abandoned barge in the bay overlooking Squantum, draining the 4oth ounce from our Heffies, we realized that Haffenreffer was a clear, discernible unit of intoxication. Though measured in ounces, it represented a metric drunk. We also realized that rowing in against the tide was going to suck rhino ass.

Serving suggestion: Place well chilled Heffenreffer in paper bag, or have your convenience store/packy clerk do the honors. Step outside. Twist top off, aiming away from your face. Enjoy.


Blue Star Beer King William Ale

It's hot as fuck tonight and, with a thirst enhanced by zombie-killing on the ol' XBox and watching two goddamn hours of Lost, I decided to celebrate my victory over the legions of the living dead the same way Sawyer celebrated his shooting a guy in the chest: with a nice frosty-cool beer.

San Antonio's most noteworthy brewery is Pearl, but it's owned by Pabst, and that's German for "no thank you". Instead, I tootled on over after work to the Blue Star Brewpub, where, due to some rather nefarious wrangling by the Texas lege, you cannot actually purchase beer to take home except in an unwieldy 2-gallon bottle called a "growler" or in a pig-shaped keg. (It also can't be sold in stores due to this same bizarre regulation.) I picked up a growler of their King William MMVII ale, billed as a "barleywine"-style brew; it's mega-hoppy and powerfully malty with a high alcohol content, sort of like a super-IPA. It wasn't as smooth as I was hoping, and had a bit of an aftertaste, but it's quite intoxicating for a beer and very, very flavorful. Not great, but pretty good for what it is, and certainly hit the spot with my meal of chiles rellenos North-Carolina-style. I'd say try it yourself, but the only way to do so is to visit San Antonio, and why in the world would you wanna do that?

An Ode to Sangria

I love sangria so much I can’t even begin to explain it. I mean, it’s fruit, it’s wine, it’s hard liquor, it’s delicious, and it gets you wasted. Can anyone find anything wrong with that? Didn’t think so.

The joy of sangria is the joy of many leftover items creating something fresh tasting. Take 5 dollar wine, fruit that’s seen better days, and some less than ideal hard liquor someone brought to your last party… and somehow end up with an impressive and delicious carafe of seriously mind-altering booze.

So here is my recipe for guaranteed crowd-pleasing sangria:

1. Any wine, really. Some wine guidelines: cheap or low-brow enough to be your last resort, but not so bad you spit it out. I prefer to use slightly sweeter, smoother wines, like Burgundy. Magnums or jugs of wine are fine here-- really, don’t be afraid to reach for the Carlo Rossi on this one, friends. Carlo was there for you in college, he’s there for you now. Also, you can be daring and make a white sangria. For whites, again with the slightly sweeter, smooth wines- I normally despise Chardonnay (yick) but it works well in a sangria.

2. Juice and fruit. I tend to go light on the juice and heavy on the fruit. I’ll mash the fruit a little to release more flavor. As for the juice, frozen cans of concentrate work well with a little water added. Just like I like my ice cream chunky, and I like my juice pulpy, I like my sangria filled with interesting textures. So I like to puree or mince a fruit, and thus opening the surface area and fibres of the fruit to become more a part of the liquid. I use a food processor or blender. For a white sangria, you might want to stick to lighter and crisper fruits like pears, apple, or melon.

3. Hard liquor. One of the best things about sangria is that it works with just about any hard liquor, and each liquor gives it distinct character. Personally, I like using vodka or rum, but I’ve been known to use the ends of an old bottle of Hennesey. Go heavier on the hard liquor than you would think- the interplay of flavors mask the harshness of cheap liquor.

Some additional sangria tips:

*Be creative with your fruit choice. I once made a white wine sangria with kiwi, cucumber and cilantro. I honestly can’t remember if it was good or not (well, because I can’t remember, I’m guessing it was at least drinkable!), but your guests will always be impressed with your audacity.

*Once I made ice cubes out of juice and a little wine to keep the flavor from weakening as the ice melted.

*I’m not one for measuring- I prefer the “have a sip and adjust” method (even if I end up hammered before my party starts). But as a guideline, I would say I use around 5 parts wine to 3 parts fruit & juice to 2 parts hard liquor. This is just a guess—honestly, the best route is to taste and see how you like your sangria.

I hope these guidelines help you make one of my favorite beverages ever!


Bourbon and You

Try this little trick the next time you're dusting off a bar stool with your softening posterior. Ask the bartender, real nice like, "What kind of bourbon do you have?" If the answer starts with "Jack Daniels..." just get up and leave. Don't even bother waiting to hear the rest. Now, if the bartender lists something like Crown Royal, Seagram's Seven or, god forbid, Canadian Mist, consider stronger action. I'm not going to coach you on your social skills, but where I'm from, a man that thinks a blended Canadian Whiskey is the same as bourbon, is just asking for an ass whupping.

While mistaking a blended Canadian for bourbon is a gross display of willful ignorance, the differences between a Tennessee sipping whiskey and bourbon, aren't as apparent and it's something of a widely held misunderstanding that the two are the same. The error, I presume, arises from both whiskeys being crafted in the same general geographical region, and sharing a very similar rich amber color. Any bar(wo)man or imbiber worth their salt knows that the two aren't the same though, and while it may be perfectly acceptable for a honky with a backwards hat to swill both in the back room of his frat house while listening to Matchbox 20, those of us with taste and dignity should really be appraised of the differences.

Bourbon, by an act of Congress in 1964, is "America's native spirit," and later legislation restricted the labeling of spirits as Bourbon, to those produced in the United States. It is not, however, restricted by law to production in Kentucky; although by tradition most bourbons are produced there, and since Bourbon County itself has gone through some considerable rearrangement in the last hundred years or more, no bourbon is currently distilled in Bourbon County.

By law, bourbon is a whiskey consisting of at least 51% corn, with the remainder wheat and or rye, and malted barley. Bourbon is distilled to no more than 160 proof and aged in charred new oak barrels no less than 2 years to earn the label "Straight Bourbon." All the details thereafter are subtle twists to increase flavor and color. The corn content can be higher, or the bourbon aged in the barrel longer. A surprising number of American markets still have legislation about the amount of alcohol per volume that can be sold legally. This is stupid puritanical horse shit and for one reason or another 80 proof is about the standard for this nincompoopery. In order to reduce alcohol content to the appropriate level, water is added.

Really good bourbon is unfiltered, unblended, and cask strength, which means it has no water added to it, is not blended with other barrels, and more or less is poured straight from the barrel into a bottle. As one might imagine, the flavor and aroma of these cask strength bourbons are exceptional, as is their alcohol content. Bookers, available from Jim Beam, is an excellent example of this type of bourbon.

So what's the difference between Tennessee sipping whiskeys and bourbon? The sole difference is that Tennessee whiskey goes through an additional filtering process called the Lincoln County Process. This process employs a filtering column of charcoal chips made from charred sugar maple that has been primed with the unfiltered whiskey, prior to being aged in the barrel. It's a small change that introduces a significant change in flavor, color and aroma. Named for Lincoln County, Tennessee where the process was first developed by the Daniel's distillery, another redrawing of county lines has left the only two distilleries to use the process outside of Lincoln County.

Now, there's nothing wrong with Tennessee sipping whiskey, don't get me wrong. It makes for a good drink, whether neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, but brother, it ain't bourbon and if the bartender doesn't know the difference between these two staples of American booze history, do you really want to accept a drink from him? Now, if all you're after is $5 pitchers of PBR, then go ahead, trust the guy, but I won't.

Pétit Bistro Pinot Noir - $11

I like an icy vodka gimlet or a crazy fruity tiki drink as much as the next girl, but let's switch gears for a minute and talk wine.

Myriad choices face the cheapskate wine drinker in this golden age of mass produced mediocrity. Nothing announces "I don't really like you that much" quite like a bottle of Two (or Three, depending on your location) Buck Chuck presented to the host of the party where you're about to consume three plates of shrimp cocktail and meatballs and all of his microbrewed ales. Conversely, the host who offers the same proclaims "My friends you are lushes, and I'm not hocking the title to my car to get you drunk".

So what's a responsible cheapskate to do? When faced with row upon row of off-the-rack $8 cabernets and all you know is that you need one, what do you grab? My goal is to guide you through the Yellow Tails and the Jacob's Creeks and the Red Bicyclettes of the supermarket aisle and help you avoid plunking your money down on disappointment. We'll also look at some wines to seek out when you need something less generic but still cheap. The bottle will never cost you more than $15 (come on, we all have to splurge a little sometimes!).

First up on the hit list is Pétit Bistro's Pinot Noir. You might not be seeing this yet in your market, but they're coming for you. The French have apparently caught on to the idea of marketing their wines under the name of the varietal. Labouré-Roi is a Burgundy-based French négociant, which essentially is someone who takes grapes or juice from several vineyards and blends them together with the goal of creating a trademark "style" (Louis Jadot and Georges DuBoeuf are two other familiar examples of négociants). The Burgundy region of France is well known for the exquisite pinot noirs it produces. Many of them are very expensive, and there is generally a good reason (or a somewhat reasonable explanation for) why.

The vintage is 2005. The label is...sigh...whimsical. The copy on the back of the bottle is cringe inducing:

"...Miles may be gone, lost in the vineyards of France...but I remain faithful to my own true love -- Pinot Noir: smooth, seductive, sophisticated..." Maya reflected. At that moment, her eyes locked with those of a handsome stranger who casually sauntered into the Petit Bistro. "Mind if I join you?" he asked. Maya gestured to the empty seat beside her and motioned to Louis, the resident bartender-philosopher. "Maya certainly has a thing for guys who like Pinot Noir..." Louis mused as he poured a glass for her new friend.

And the wine is - there is no better way to put this - ham-handed. Brutish and unlovely. Medium-bodied and not entirely undrinkable, it sports something like a generic deep berry flavor and not much else. Indistinct. None tasting would have pegged it as a pinot, but never came to a conclusion about what it was more akin to (a mediocre merlot blend of some kind?). It absolutely refused to interact with the food and left behind the distinct aftertaste of marketing.

My conclusion: If your gut says don't trust the $11 Burgundy*, don't fall for the friendly label.

Good match for: Eh, crack this one open at 3 a.m. when the Two Buck Chuck runs out.

Value: Poor

*Impress your friends: A red Burgundy is always a Pinot Noir.

Drained away...