Serious Eats: Drinks
Worst of the Bottom Shelf 2012: Cheap Booze To Avoid
I figured my problem in compiling this roundup of the year's most repulsive liquorstuffs would be challenging, and it was, but for the exact opposite reason as expected. It turns out I didn't hate enough things in 2012. Whereas I thought I'd have to grudgingly exclude dozens of crappy things I'd described as "not quite downright atrocious, in a certain context, if you were desperate," I found instead that I went pretty easy on some pretty dubious drinks last year. I promise to crack a much stiffer whip in 2013. Until then, here's a reminder of the worst things I drank for the first and last time over the past 12 months.
I try to avoid the cliche that this or that cheap hooch tastes like cough syrup, but I can think of no better description of Mr. Boston Wild Cherry Brandy. This stuff is rough. It tastes simultaneously sweet and sour, but not in the good soup way. It's more as if a cherry Pop Tart were dissolved in a vat of vinegar. The only reason I didn't immediately demand an FDA recall is that it has the decency to be 70 proof, so you only need a couple swallows to quiet your cough long enough to crawl back to the medicine man for a different prescription.
Rheingold Lager (let's assume its adherents call it Rheiny) has a cool name, a cool label, a cool back story, and a terrible flavor. It smells like sweet musty corn, and the flavor is so sweet as to be almost fruity. Rheingold is one of the least hoppy beers I can remember tasting, and the nicest thing I can say about it is that the lack of balance makes it distinct. This doesn't taste like "just another crappy macro-lager," but in my opinion it tastes worse.
Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue fared well in the Canadian edition of the Bottom Shelf Beer Olympics, but Moosehead was even worse than anticipated. My buddy Pavlov likens it to cat piss, to which I can only say he must be hanging around with the wrong kind of cats, because my Moosehead sample was so nasty it could only have come from the darkest parts of a dog who'd eaten a skunk.
Smirnoff Whipped Cream vodka wasn't as terrible as I had feared, but the Fluffed Marshmallow's pretty bad. I will concede that there's more stale marshmallow flavor than I expected, but it's not a nice flavor. The taste is heavy-handed and ultrachemical, and while it manages to mask the vodka, it's in that defeatist way that too much ketchup can mask a burned hamburger.
Southern Comfort Fiery Pepper. The smell is fascinating, with waves of real Tabasco and fake orange taking turns to alternately inflate and deflate my expectations. The taste, however, is more of a straight disappointment. The most common complaint about Tabasco is that it provides more pucker than flavor, and that is the case here. SoCo Pepper is by no means too spicy to drink, but all the Tabasco does is provide a hot vinegar cover for the lackluster underlying alcohol. I don't like Southern Comfort and I do like Tabasco, so I figured I had a 50-50 shot of enjoying their marriage, but it turns out that the Tabasco makes for too flimsy a band-aid to cover up the bad booze.
Arbor Mist introduced a new line of frozen wine cocktail silliness. The Blackberry Merlot and White Pear Pinot Grigio weren't anything close to good, but at least they did betray some narrow undercurrent of wine beneath the expected hard-candy fruit flavors. The Strawberry White Zinfandel was predictably messy, as it matched the sweetest fake-fruit with the trashiest fake wine.