Drinking the Bottom Shelf »

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.

Drinking the Bottom Shelf: M.H. Gordon's Vodka vs. Gordon's Vodka

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If I could change anything about my past, I'd change everything about my past; I have a hard time trusting anyone who would do otherwise. It seems so natural to want to correct your mistakes, to undo your failures and uneat your baloney sandwiches. Even if you are one of those strange cases with positive memories of triumph and lamb, wouldn't you want to at least tweak your happy past? Why not wish for a world in which you hadn't looked all gross and sweaty on the Olympic medal stand, or your lamb sandwich had been a lamb and gorgonzola sandwich?

When it comes to my own past-fixing fantasies, right after I give my 9-year-old self braces and my 16-year-old self a savage beating, I attend a public university. I went to a private one and had a fine time and learned plenty, maybe even more than I would have at UMass, though of course maybe even less. Who knows? Bottom Shelf research coordinator Emily has been to college a hundred times and figures to go back at least a hundred more, but the rest of us normal people really don't have any frame of reference in evaluating our own school choices.

I went to one of those midlevel private colleges that exist only in the Northeast. In the rest of the country they're rational enough to send the geniuses to elite schools and everyone else to whatever perfectly good school their state happens to underfund, but up here we've created several barely distinct layers of private college to accommodate Long Island's endless supply of average students with above-average means.

So if I had it to do over again, I'd either be a genius or go to public school, because then my hatred for private college students would have a less bitter and hypocritical leg to stand on. The college I went to was just as expensive as the big ones in Cambridge; the chief distinction among them is that the ones here are actually worth the money. This frustrates me. So, with that confession out of the way, let's get on with the rich-kid bashing!

The not-quite-dive bar where I check IDs on the weekend isn't a college bar, but it is a cheap bar in metro Boston and therefore yes, it is a college bar. And most of the colleges in the area are stuffed with spoiled brats. I should note here that MIT students aren't nearly as irritating as the rest (they're just weird), which is nice because tolerating them makes me seem less jealous, right? I like some of the smart, rich kids. Just not the majority of them, whose sense of entitlement is every bit as powerful as you'd imagine.

These are kids who are not used to confronting misfortune. Take the guy who got puked on a couple weeks ago. There was a line out the door at midnight, so one thoughtful young man decided to leave and make more space for others. Decision made and beer chugged, he sprint-staggered to the door, pushed it open, and threw up. This was distressing, because I didn't want to have to mop vomit off the sidewalk. But when I went outside I saw that I wouldn't have to, because this pukey mensch had done me the favor of throwing up all over the pants of the guy at the front of the line.

The victim stood there stunned while the perpetrator wobbled away, and then he demanded that I give him $100 to compensate him for his pain, suffering, and dry cleaning. I declined. He said, "You're lucky I didn't kick that guy's ass!" I said, "Why am I lucky that you're a slow processor of information? You should have knocked him down, taken his pants, and bought yourself as many drinks as his wallet would bear. But alas, you did not. So now you're screwed, and your pants smell."

He continued to yell and gesticulate and I stopped listening, but the general gist of his ravings was that he was a very special person and bad things aren't allowed to happen to very special people. In all seriousness, of course I sympathized with this kid...until he opened his mouth. The fates had done him some dirt and I was willing to commiserate and even buy him a drink, but I was turned off by his refusal to accept that it isn't the universe's job to solve all of his problems.

There's one thing kind of endearing about these kids, though: They drink cheap vodka. With all the cocktail snobbery one encounters these days, it's easy to forget that tons of people still love lowly, uncrafty neutral grain spirits mixed with whatever's handy. I don't subscribe to this line of drinking myself, but I admire its forthrightness. And I find myself doing a lot of Bloody Mary research these days, so I figured it was time to revisit the question of whether all vodka's the same. I'm certain that the high-end stuff is all marketing and bottle design, but I wondered if the ultracheap plastic-jugged crap was any worse than the medium-cheap plastic-jugged crap.

I biked to Gordon's Liquors, a very good store a couple suburbs away, and bought a bottle of the widely distributed Gordon's vodka that you've heard of and a bottle of the house label M.H. Gordon's vodka that you haven't. The higher born stuff was $20 per 1.75 liters, the other was half that.

Good golly, is there a difference. The bottom-rung brand is nearly undrinkable. It smells very strongly of alcohol, and not delicious edible alcohol but more the sort of alcohol people use to remove stains and disinfect wounds and power efficient little cars. Local Gordon's isn't fit for a Bloody Mary, which means it isn't fit for your liquor cabinet. Whereas national Gordon's disappears meekly into the Bloody, as it should, the local disaster makes your breakfast taste like butane.

Of course this is just one generic brand, but it's not as if this liquor store has a still out back. One has to assume that the house label vodka at your local store comes from the same vat and therefore is to be avoided at all costs. Splurging on the national Gordon's costs you an extra 20 cents a drink; you're worth it, even if you went to state school.

About the author: Will Gordon loves life and hates mayonnaise. You can drink with him in Boston or follow him on twitter @WillGordonAgain.

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