Serious Eats: Drinks
Eyewitness Booze Investigation: Van Gogh PB&J Vodka
I tend to select my friends more for their entertainment value than their utility. When I filled out the "Meet the Will" questionnaire a couple months ago, the only question that stumped me was the one about which friend I rely on for restaurant recommendations. I had to invent a person, because I generally avoid counting on my friends for anything more taxing than drinking all my beer and over-hugging my fiancé.
I keep them around because they're a good time. But if being fun were the same thing as being useful, Slinkys could do laundry and waterslides could make dinner. A lot of times we're forced to choose between the greater of two goods, and I usually opt to hang out with ambitionless 30-something n'often-do-wells who only show up to work when they run out of Slinky money.
My friend Nils is a rare exception to both ends of this rule: He's an enormous pain in the ass but also pretty good at getting things done. His most recent act of usefulness was to buy a waterfront inn to where Bottom Shelf research director Emily and I can get married. How thoughtful! I'm not sure if he intends to keep it open for good after our wedding or if it's just going to be like one of those $400 million bike-racing arenas they build for the Olympics and then abandon to the squatters and the elements, but that's neither here nor there. I have it on good authority—his business partner, our shockingly competent friend Andrea—that the event will be on October Something I Don't Know It's Changed So Many Times I Can't Remember. See you there.
We went to Mattapoisett last weekend to make sure the place had the requisite amenities—beer and electricity, check and check—and while we were down there we stopped in at Nils' house to monitor the progress of his other recent major acquisition, a small person named Kai. It turns out that his new son is doing splendidly nearly four months after leaving the lot, thanks to his cool mom. We hung out with the family for a while, which was delightful but also reminded me how much I hated my childhood.
I need to make it clear that my childhood was fine by conventional standards; I just hated it because I would have hated anyone's childhood. I was never comfortable as a smaller, dumber, less empowered version of a human being. I like kids plenty, but I would never again want to be one of those poor chumps. Junior seemed happy enough for the hour we were there, but he would have momentary bouts of displeasure that broke my cold heart. He always got over it in a hurry—he likes his mom, and he likes to be bounced in place—but he looked so frustrated for those couple minutes when he was pissed off and couldn't explain why.
I can't remember a time before I could talk—I'm told there may not have been such a time—but even as I got older I found that my demands were rarely met. This may have been a rational response to the aforementioned stupidity of the young—in hindsight, my father was probably right about the pet dinosaur and the rocket ship—but I'm not trying to pick sides in the struggle between the children who cry and demand dinosaurs and the parents who bounce and ignore them. I'm just pointing out that childhood was a deeply dissatisfying experience for me.
But I know tons of people loved being children, and apparently the guy who runs Van Gogh's vodka flavoring lab is one of them, because the high-end Dutch booze house has just started pushing the ultimate in alco-nostolgia: 70 proof PB&J vodka. At $27 for a 750 mL bottle, they should be safe from accusations that they're trolling the high school market; there are plenty of kiddie-friendly flavors from other producers for half the price. No, I trust that this is an honest attempt to get legal adults with disposable income to drink PB&J juice, at least until the inevitable launch of mac 'n' cheese rum and baloney gin. But enough of my bitchery and mockery: They sent me a bottle, and if it's any good I'll say nice things about it no matter how silly the idea is.
The whole experience goes down just as their website claims: It smells like peanuts with a little raspberry, and it tastes like raspberry with a little peanut. My woefully uneducated guess is that the peanut hits you so hard at first because it's such an odd thing to encounter in a bottle of vodka. Once your nose gets over the surprise, it settles into a more typically fruity situation. Which food descriptor do you find less odious, "funky" or "earthy"? It's like a version of raspberry vodka, but weird, and I like it.
I don't know that the world needs more savory vodkas, but the peanuts aren't nearly as out of place here as I'd feared. It's less sticky than most flavored vodkas, and the quality of the base spirit makes it smooth enough to drink at full strength. If you buy this for the novelty factor, you'll be pleasantly surprised. If you buy it for any other reason ... well, why would you? Buy it for the novelty factor and enjoy it over ice.