Serious Eats: Drinks
Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Seagram's Escapes
It's a bright and mild day here in Cambridge, where it hasn't snowed since the Halloween appearance of Slutty Mother Nature, but I can just tell the weather's going to turn on us at least once more before baseball season starts.
I know you're thinking, "No way, man, global warming, plus look at the sun. That thing's like a billion degrees and it's right outside your window. How could it ever possibly snow with that thing anywhere in the sky? Are you suggesting the sun is going to burn out and die at some point this winter?" But I won't get fooled again. My understanding of the tide charts, television schedules, and other relevant scriptures suggests that snow will next befall Massachusetts on Sunday, February 12, on which date I intend to be relaxing in a warm, southerly location.
I don't have the entire trip worked out yet. I'm leaning toward 20 hours in a midrange hotel in Connecticut with a late-model digital thermostat, but if it ends up being something even more magnificent—a weekend in whichever is the breezier but still not snow-prone Carolina, say—I won't brag about it here, because I'll remember my roots as one of the less beautiful people.
Because of my humble past and present, the Carolina fantasy version of me won't be corrupted by the entry-level opulence of room service grits and a 4-door rental car. Even if my circumstances improve so vastly as to make such a trip possible, I'll still be far short of the sort of lifestyle that compels one to call vacations "escapes."
"Escape" in the positive context of a warm-weather trip is a marketing term aimed at people whose daily existences are so far removed from the word's middling class roots of "to get out of prison or 1970s New York" that they aren't turned off by the desperate connotation. For regular ham-and-eggers like you and me, it's a word fraught with peril, which is why I wasn't sure what to make of the Seagram's Escapes that showed up in the mail last week.
Seagram's Escapes are a line of flavored malt beverages (what we used to call wine coolers) with names and colors that are clearly meant to evoke tropical relaxation. My first reaction to the combination of the words "escape" and "alcohol" were "Hmm, 3.2 percent alcohol hardly seems worth fermenting enough ketchup packets to produce a batch of prison wine," but when reviewable alcohol shows up in the mail, I drink it, because bus tickets to Connecticut hotels don't pay for themselves.
I had low hopes, because while I've never had the right connections to score a dose of pruno, I have had any army's fair share of "premium malt beverages" in the past year of Bottom Shelfing, and precious little of it has been any good. Plus, I hate to harp on the alcohol content, but 3.2 percent ABV isn't even as strong as an honest man's tears this time of year.
Well, I do declare that even though Seagram's Escapes retail for about $5 per four-pack, they taste like certifiable rich-guy stuff. Wait, no, that's not true. Rich people don't drink wine coolers with names like Jamiacan Me Happy. But still, these are the best wine coolerish things I can remember tasting. Let's break them on down silly-named flavor by silly-named flavor.
This is the best of the bunch. It has a strong orange smell backed up by a credibly wine-like taste. It lacks proper sangria's seriousness of purpose—which is to say, brandy—but it still tastes something like what it's supposed to.
The label says this bright green curiosity is flavored to resemble green melon, orange, lemon, and lime. What is green melon? I'm not sure what it is in nature, but in the fizzy beverage lab it may well be the secret ingredient in Mello Yellow. This smells like a good soda. It tastes a little sour; the citrus has a bit of bite and isn't demonstrably fake.
Apple Pomegranate Mimosa:
This smells like sweet-and-sour apple candy, which makes it the one most similar to a same-old wine cooler. There's no hint of pomegranate, let alone Champagne, but this tastes better than it smells and would be a passable option if only they called it Sweet Apple Cider.
What makes food and drink marketers think we're so drawn to wild berries? At best wild berries are sour, at middle they've been peed on by squirrels, and at worst they'll kill you. I prefer nice, safe grocery store berries. But anyhow, I like this one for its strong reliance on black and rasp, with no evidence of straw and just a smidge of blue.
Jamaican Me Happy:
This embarrassingly named number is allegedly flavored with lemon, strawberry, watermelon, and guava. The guava and watermelon come through nicely, with strawberry once again mercifully missing and the lemon acting as effective ballast against the sugar. This is my second favorite.
I heartily recommend Seagram's Escapes to the low-octane sweet-drinkers among you. For the rest of you, I pass along this recommendation from the manufacturer: Freeze these babies into ice cubes, then use them to doll up cheap white wine or vodka on the rocks.