Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Metaxa Ouzo

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

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


The worst thing about self-employment is paying for your own air conditioning. For the past couple of days the temperature in Boston has been fluctuating between 95 and 400 degrees, and since I have no frozen pizza to heat on the counter and no desire to spontaneously combust into a glorious ball of sweat and rage, I've been forced to condition the air on my own dime. I don't mind raising the electric bill a couple bucks a day for recreational comfort, but I hate having to shell out for a comfortable workplace.

But don't cry for me, because I am brave and strong and now that I think of it I'm pretty sure Emily pays the electric bill anyway. And furthermore you are probably reading this in an office so cruelly overcooled that your tears would freeze to your face (the one upside to conditioning your own air is being able to control just how silky and luxurious it is; I don't miss being at the mercy of a cold-blooded office manager). Besides, it's not as if I have to sit in my apartment all day: I could get just as little work done at a library or one of those half-assed bars that put coffee and croissants where the beer and onion rings are supposed to go. But I like those places, so I avoid them when on the clock.

I do almost all of my writing, editing, and online gambling at home because I try not to contaminate recreational spaces with the stink of work. It's bad enough that I work weekends at my favorite bar; the last thing I want to do is introduce my laptop to other heretofore happy places. My home has remained a predominantly peaceful one because I insist on doing all my work in one designated Hate Chair.

I wish I could apply this tactic to bars. If only I could pick one otherwise worthless beering hole to work at every day, earning a living while soaking up other peoples' broken lives and cooled air, then I would have the system well and truly beaten. But that brings us to the real hurdle to doing brain-based labor at a bar: I can't drink and work at the same time.

This is in part because I don't want to debase alcohol by shackling it to common wage slavery, but it's also true in the more literal sense that I simply can not get shit done when I've got a beer in front of me, or even when I've got one too recently behind me. Oh how I wish this weren't so. People who drink during lunch seem so much happier than the rest of us, and believe me I've tried to join their party, but I'm just not capable of having a few pops in the middle of the day and then settling back into an afternoon of lie-writing and comma-shuffling.

The guy who cuts my hair does not have this problem. He's a pleasantly deranged man of a certain age who has surely been drinking on the job for twice as long as I've had hair. He opens his shop at about sunrise, which would be convenient for a morning person with a high tolerance for pain and a low regard for ears. The rest of us do better to wait until John's shakes subside; he's at his best between about 8 and noon, after which time he's usually made the transition from loose to lethal.

I don't know what's in his Dunkin' Donuts cup, because a gentleman doesn't ask, nor is a gentleman naïve enough to assume it's more than 50 percent coffee and cream. I like to think it's ouzo, because John's given name is Yiannis and a disproportionate number of the 70s-era nudie postcards he passes around feature Greek women. I was wary of trying ouzo myself, because I tend not to like the licorice boozes, but I have so much respect for John's lifestyle that I picked up a bottle on the way home from my most recent scalping.

I got Metaxa, because it comes in a nice blue-tinted bottle, and at $15 a fifth it left me flush enough to turn on the AC while I tried to figure out how to drink it. There aren't a lot of ouzo recipes out there. It seems popular as a chilled shot, which is fair enough since it's 80 proof, but I don't do a lot of shots around the house. Some people drink it with orange juice or in cocktails with cherry brandy and other unlikely things. For now let's just deal with the straight stuff.

Ouzo is made from grapes and whatever herbs and spices the manufacturer decides to blend in. Metaxa's 15 additives seem to lean heavily toward anise and coriander, with a nut of some sort likely thrown in too. I'm not fully qualified to judge it, because I don't care for liquid anise and I don't have any frame of ouzo reference, but that said: I like Metaxa ouzo more than I expected to. I still can't imagine mixing it with anything, and it does indeed taste more licoricish than I prefer, but it's very smooth and intricate for a budget liqueur. Any bright ideas for how to finish this bottle?