Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Christian Brothers VS Brandy

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Bottom Shelf research coordinator Emily and I just moved back to Cambridge after a couple of years on the lam, and we couldn't be happier. There's a place down the street where you can get a pitcher of Pabst and a fairly good, very large pizza for $11.95. The apartment itself is nice, too. It's got a little balcony and a huge window, and I think we have that futuristic space cable where you can watch shows when they aren't even on, though I've recently picked up a nasty hockey habit that's preventing me from fully exploring the remote's capabilities.

I've lived well in this town before, but my life was different then, and I look at this move as a fresh start. That means I'm a little short on friends, because the old ones fall into two categories. There are the ones who've moved on with their lives and refuse to allow me anywhere near their precious families and ceiling fans, and then there are the ones who are right where I left them when I was run out of town in 2009. I love that second group of guys even more than they hate their livers, but as a newly innocent upstander with a high-achieving girlfriend and exotic television options, I find it safest to stay out of the bar until after dinner.

This wouldn't be a problem if I had adequate daytime supervision, but Emily runs off to win bread first thing in the morning. I'm left behind to work at home, which most days means writing lies for whichever stranger's paying, except for Thursdays, when it means talking to all you livebeats. So what I'm saying is, want to come over for a drink? Emily doesn't get home till 5:30 and as long as we don't smudge the windows or eat the Special K bars, she'll never know.

Come on, it'll be fun! You can figure out how to work my TV, and I can make us brandy drinks. Do you not drink a lot of brandy? Well, then, we'll get along great, because neither do I (yet)! In fact, I don't know a single committed brandy drinker outside of a contingent of hardcore Hennessy heads, but that's a whole different, upper-middle shelf matter. For my intents and purposes, brandy is the most underappreciated hard liquor on the market, and we here in apartment 604 have set about to change that.

In New York, ours was a tequila family, and then we switched to bourbon in Amherst, and though we certainly haven't renounced either of those, for some reason the first decoration we got for the new place was a bottle of Christian Brothers VS. This Kentucky brandy turned out to be the best dozen dollars we spent all week—and remember, we began this adventure by scoring a large pizza and a pitcher of beer for $11.95!

I'm not sure why brandy is overlooked by honest, well-meaning boozers like you and me, but I suspect its bad reputation is due to the company that keeps it. The world's most famous kind of brandy, cognac, is for swells and poseurs; and at the other end of the spectrum you have flavored abominations such as Allen's Ginger Brandy and Leroux Blackberry Brandy, which are fit only for VFW shot specials and brown paper bags. What I'm going to serve you is regular American brandy, a basic distilled spirit born of grapes and raised in oak.

Christian Brothers has a reputation for being smoother and sweeter than its fellow bottom shelf grape stiffies, and though I didn't have Paul Masson or E&J handy to compare, I can confirm that the CB is indeed plenty smooth and sweet. It's nice enough to sip neat, but even better when mixed into a Handyman, the drink we invented to celebrate my triumphant debut as a home-repairer (put on a new toilet seat: don't worry, even though I was in a hurry to drink my reward, I took the time to disinfect the toilet after rubbing my grubby paws all over it).

Emily's mom warmed the house with unassembled strawberry shortcake ingredients that we never got around to rigging up as intended. We did, however, find useful repurposings for each element. My chicken-on-shortcake sandwich was excellent, let's not get into the whipped cream, and the strawberries are where the brandy comes in.

Do like this: Pour 3 ounces of brandy into an ice-filled shaker, then add a couple inches of strawberry parts and whatever juice you can wring out of the bottom of the container. Then squeeze in an orange and a lime, shake like hell, and dump the whole thing into a large rocks glass. It will be muddy pink and awesome. Come on over, I'll prove it.

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