Serious Eats: Drinks
Drinking the Bottom Shelf: MD 20/20
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After a month of suffering through the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's cavalcade of incompetence, Bottom Shelf research coordinator Emily announced last Thursday that she'd finally had enough of her 45-minute, 3-mile subway commute. I figured this meant one of two things: She'd either landed her dream job as a cookie-dispenser at Formaggio Kitchen, or she'd wised up to the fact that work is for suckers and was joining me in early retirement. I was OK with the cookie scenario, because most of the pay cut could be recouped with employee discounts on coffee and fancy ham, but I was a little less sanguine about the retirement option. Though I'm getting pretty cocky about the basil forest I've managed to grow on the balcony, it's still a couple growing seasons away from cash crop status. For the time being, the lady needs a paycheck.
Lucky for me and whoever's in charge of Formaggio's pork profits, Emily settled upon a third option. She now uses her bike—for years a hallway ornament prized exclusively for its redness and its shininess—to get to work in 15 minutes. This impressive decision actually saves us money, too. I have no idea what a subway pass goes for these days (this apartment's bigger than our last couple, but I still don't need public transit to commute twixt fridge and couch) but it's got to be more than the price of a bike ride.
So, crisis averted. I don't need to get an actual job or go hobo. This is of course a relief, but since I'm an optimist and a problem-solver, I did spend a few terrified minutes trying to imagine what my life would be like if Emily did indeed stop working. I quickly discarded the Will-gets-an-honest-job fantasy and focused instead on how I'd pay my tab without a steady income or a fermented-sugar mama.
I do actually take in the occasional dollar of my own, so I'm pretty sure I'd manage to hold onto the apartment, and I could live on oatmeal, English muffin pizzas (store brand), and basil. After paying all the essential bills—goodbye, cable; hello, neighbor's unsecured WiFi—I think I could scrounge up enough for, oh, $3.99 a day worth of booze. That's a pretty comfortable sum, as I could get by happily on a daily sixer from Trader Joe's. And I could mix it up a little every now and then and go with a can of Crunk Juce and a nip of whatever's in the discount fishbowl by the register. Or even skip the sauce for a couple days and treat myself to a bottle of Old Crow on the third. The possibilities are endless! Well, no. The possibilities are those; plus a few terrible ones including sobriety, crime, and vodka; plus MD 20/20.
MD 20/20 was at the vanguard of the bum wine industry that dominated the low-price, high-octane fruit juice market for decades until the premium malt beverage movement began to take hold in this century. MD (for Mogen David, the producer) and its peers such as Night Train and Thunderbird have receded in recent years due the marketing muscle of PMBs such as Four Loko and Crunk Juce, which is a shame, because MD 20/20 is actually wine! Kinda. The label calls it "grape wine with citrus spirits, natural flavorings, and certified color." Citrus spirits? Is that like the ghosts of dead lemons, or do they mean spirits-spirits, like distilled alcohol? If it's the latter, then I think it's safe to call MD 20/20 wino sangria. Deluxe!
There are several flavors available, and I went with the three coolest-colored ones that I didn't remember from high school. Banana Red and Strawberry Kiwi didn't do me right back then; I hoped Blue Raspberry, Dragon Fruit, and Kiwi-Lemon are more my speed.
This slick new trick replaces the hideous Hawaiian Blue of my youth. It's aimed at the more ostentatious Mad Dog drinker: The color is garish even by industry standards, and the label features a thick gold chain supporting a "BLING BLING" medallion. I don't mind the color, as it is, after all, certified, but the two-bling part made me nervous. My fears were unfounded, though, because if this is what bling tastes like, then I want to eat L'il Wayne for lunch. It's pleasingly fake-grapey (I didn't notice much by way of raspberry, blue or otherwise) and neither harsh nor cloying. That balance is a thing of rare beauty in this category.
The Kiwi Strawberry of yore was terrible, but this new kiwi'd bottling really shines. It looks and smells like green Gatorade, but thank heavens it doesn't taste like it. The lemon is pronounced and comes across as borderline real, and while this is a stagger below the Blue Raspberry, it's plenty fine. The only drawback is the slightly cottony mouthfeel, presumably from the kiwi skin.
The fire-breathing dragon on the label gave me medium-high hopes, but alas, this was the worst dog in this pretty good show. I've never had actual dragon meat, so I can't say if this is an authentic reproduction, but it tastes funky and slightly spoiled. It's still fairly smooth and I wouldn't turn a bottle down, but neither would I pay to pick one up.
All in all, MD 20/20 is better than I remembered it being, and it is now my recommended way to get buzzed on the run. At $3.99 per 750ml bottle, it costs a bit more than most PMBs, but it tastes much better and comes with an all-important resealable screw cap. The next time you're caught between paychecks and drinking out of your backpack, there's no need to surrender your palate and your dignity to the insidious flavored beers that have recently rushed the bum wine show. Grab an MD 20/20 and live to surrender another day.