Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Smirnoff Black Ice

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

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


I've never been in a position to hire anyone, unless you count the temporary employees I occasionally contract to fetch my dinner or pour my beer. This is a shame, because I think I'd make a great job interviewer. Bottom Shelf Industries has no immediate plans for expansion, but I've compiled a list of questions for hypothetical applicants just in case the day comes.

"Where do you see yourself in five years that involves making me rich?" "What would you say is my greatest strength other than my all-encompassing charm? It's my eyes, isn't it? Well all right, but are you saying there's something wrong with my hair?"

Bottom Shelf research director Emily is an overachiever and as such has taken on a second career involving health care; in this capacity, she occasionally finds herself interviewing prospective employees. She has rejected most of my recommended lines of questioning, but I think I've sold her on this one: "What do you think of third-shift highway toll collectors?" She's usually hiring for service- and motion-based positions, so she needs to avoid the sane, rational people who envy toll collectors. If you ever find yourself being interviewed by Emily, tell her you'd rather mine coal than collect tolls. Pretend it would be too boring, even though we all know it would be awesome to just kick back and get paid to read on the side of the road.

I'm very content to have reached my full potential by becoming my midsized apartment building's foremost chronicler of cheap booze. I am not in the market for a new career. But let's say I somehow won life's lottery and became a late-night Massachusetts Turnpike toll collector. I would use the reading time to study law, and then I would become a judge, preferably a TV judge but just a regular one would be OK too.

I would be an excellent judge, because I am very good at deciding things and forcing compromises upon people. My courtroom would be a model of efficiency, because I would insist that every case be plea-bargained. This would be faster than allowing whole stupid trials to go on and on with lawyers and juries and evidence and everything else, and, more important, it would allow me to insert myself into the middle of things more than I suspect most real-life judges get to.

I realize that plea bargains, like all compromises, can be frustrating. It takes a realist-defeatist worldview to accept that the proper outcome to a murder trial could ever be a short prison sentence, because ideally the defendant would either be innocent and walk free or be guilty and go to jail forever. If Judge Will just sizes the guy up, examines his jib from all angles, and declares him "Somewhat guilty, let's say about eight years' worth," then you don't get true, absolute justice. But you do get a speedy trial, and I get to wear a robe and feel important.

Since I still haven't conned my way onto the toll-taker's path to telejudicial stardom, I have to settle for lesser compromises. My favorite recent one came after I accidentally smashed a sweaty bottle of expensive cider on the liquor store floor. After it slipped out of my hand and onto the linoleum, I yelled bad words at myself and went up to the counter to pay the man. He didn't want to accept my money, because apparently you get to smash cider bottles for free; I forced him to take the $13 he lost when I smashed his last bottle of good cider, and he thanked me with a free bottle of cheap cider.

Now that I type it all out, that feels less like a fair compromise than like a guy giving me free booze if I'll please just stop breaking things. But the real point of this story is that I have nice eyes and would make an excellent toll collector, and the subpoint is that I've been doing all my liquor shopping at this one little poorly stocked store ever since, which means it was only a matter of time before I bad-decisioned my way over to the flavored malt beverage cooler to check out the new Smirnoff Black Ice line. These 23.5 ounce cans of 8% ABV candyboozejuice come in Fruit Punch, Lemon Lime, and Watermelon.

The Fruit Punch is the worst. It's not as sweet as the others, which is usually a good sign, but in this case the corn syrup is replaced by an earthiness that one does not welcome in one's flavored malt beverage. This tastes like Hawaiian Punch and feet. The Watermelon smells too sweet and tastes too sour, which is a neat trick but not a pleasant one. It's drinkable, though. The Lemon Lime is the winner; it looks and smells like Mountain Dew, and it tastes like green Gatorade with a surprising and welcome fake-vanilla edge.

On balance, these are better than you think but worse than you deserve. They're too sweet, because these things always are, but at least the alcohol is well concealed. If you're looking to get drunk on $2.50 cans of devolutionary wine coolers, could do worse than Smirnoff Black Ice.