Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Mike's Winter Grab Bag

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

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


On Sunday night I hosted the annual Will Gordon Industries holiday party. It was a gala affair full of good cheer, better beer, and the best meatballs, and on Monday morning I remembered every single detail. This has been happening more and more lately, and though the next-day total recall was disorienting when I first started experiencing it this summer, I've now come to welcome it as one of the trappings of success. It turns out that the main tradeoff to leading a decent, respectable life is that I rarely have the time to get completely obliterated anymore. Or rather, I rarely have the time to spend the next couple days easing in and out of the bender demanded by the following morning's headachy depression.

I could have gotten drunk Sunday night. The party was at the office, which is where I keep my bed, my toothbrush, and my wife, so I didn't have to drive. And once I was done presenting Bottom Shelf research director Emily with her third consecutive Employee of the Year trophy, I had no formal obligations. I wanted to keep somewhat sharp in case Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustav called to commend me on another year of meritorious service to the meatball, but it gets late early over there, so by about 9 p.m. my time I was fairly certain that the figurehead monarch had fallen out of touch with the international ground meat grapevine.

I managed to work up a light buzz over the course of the party by splitting beers with my thin yet medium-weight research director. We shared bottles of Delirium Noel, Zephyr Rising Tide IPA, Allagash Hugh Malone, Trader Joe's Belgian-Style Golden Ale, and Narragansett's excellent new Private Stock Imperial IPA. And there was the obligatory mini-shot of Don Julio when the Employee of the Year award was announced. So I was feeling pretty nice by the time all speeches had been delivered, all meatballs had been bobbed for, and all good Swedes had gone to bed. And I had plenty of bourbon to see me through the fuzzy part of the night, but I just couldn't bring myself to cap a successful Sunday by jeopardizing a productive Monday.

The restraint forced upon me by the demands of productive citizenship and domestic tranquility does come with a couple of perks. For one, fewer hangovers means fewer 11:00 cheeseburger lunches means fewer 3:00 falafel second lunches means fewer self-loathing punches to my fat, stupid face. And even better, under-indulgence means that when I do carve out an opportunity to drink, I can focus on quality over quantity. Now that I can only have a couple of pops on any given night, I can afford for said pops to be of a higher caliber than has been my custom.

And in addition to objectively better alcohol, I now find myself free to consider drinks that I had previously dismissed as too sweet or otherwise ill-suited for mass consumption. Whereas in the past I avoided fruity beers, I now look forward to a stretching a springtime six-pack of Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat out over two or three sittings. Hell, this Christmas I might even waste stomach space on eggnog. Now that I'm no longer concerned with drinking a dozen of a thing, I don't need that thing to have been built for the purpose.

With that in mind, I decided to reconsider the Mike's Hard line of sweetened malt beverages. I've never minded the flagship Mike's Hard Lemonade, but it's too sugary to chug by the bucket and therefore inappropriate for aggressive, purpose-driven drinking. Now that I'm messing around with this two-drink lifestyle, I'm willing to see if anything in the Mike's Winter Grab Bag deserves refrigerator space.

The Winter Grab Bag is a mixed 12-pack of 11.2-ounce bottles of Winter Blackberry, Cranberry Lemonade, and the new Chocolate Cherry. They're each 5% ABV, the same as Budweiser. Mike sent me some samples.

The Cranberry Lemonade seems to have been included for its festive dark-pinkness, and the Grab Bag is better off for it. Sugary fake lemon is at the forefront, but the cranberry adds tartness and balance that make this ideal for dessert. This is supersweet when you consider the titular ingredients, yet rather dry given the genre.

Winter Blackberry looks like grape soda (which I adore), with the sort of slow, intermittent bubbles I associate with yesterday's prosecco. It smells a bit medicinal, like black cherry cough syrup, but the taste definitely suggests blackberries, which is an impressive achievement in a malt beverage.

Chocolate Cherry tastes like milk chocolate soda, which doesn't appeal to me, but I respect the effort and concur with the Mike's publicist who said it reminds her of a cherry Tootsie pop. The chocolate dominates, but there's a distinct black cherry kick at the end.