Most publications' drinks issue contains lots of hipster-crafty cocktail recipes with a variety of fancy liquor brands. I would like to pipe in at this time to say, "Don't. Don't. Don't believe the hype."
It is frankly a waste of money to order (most) cocktails with a premium liquor upgrade. Oh the thousands of customers I've served, in my 30 years of bartending, who paid two or three more dollars for, say, a Sapphire and tonic when the well gin tastes the same. Seriously, who can tell the difference when you got all that quinine carpet bombing your mouth with its radioactive bitterness? Who can taste the Crown Royal beneath the fizz and fructose of a cola mixer? Does anyone really believe they can taste the Grey Goose in a screwdriver, the Patron in a Margarita, the premiums in a premium Long Island which, by the way, is made with four top-shelf white liquors, sweet-and-sour mix and a splash of cola all shaken into a muddy mishmash that more closely resembles the water in a wading pool after a prepubescent's birthday party than a select cocktail that cost 10 bucks.
I remember when Ketel One vodka first burst onto the bar scene. Before Ketel there wasn't a whole lot of top-shelf potato milk to choose from; only calls such as Stoli, Absolut and Smirnoff. Then came Ketel and it was the must-have vodka of the yuppie set. Customers beamed with pride when they got to say out loud, "Bartender, I'll take a Ketel screwdriver," or Ketel and Seven, or Ketel sex on the beach, which—aside from vodka—has peach schnapps, cranberry, OJ and, well, it just seemed that the more unlikely the person would be able to taste the Ketel, the prouder they were to order it—like a rich man peeling off hundred-dollar bills and tossing them into the fire.
One day, I decided I'd had enough. It was early on a weeknight when this fellow walked in with three of his friends. He ordered four Ketel kamikazes and, just as I was about to grab the bottle, turned to him and said, "You should get Stoli. It's a lot cheaper and you'll never know the difference."
"Yes I will," he said with a slight hint of smug in his voice.
"Really? Even when it's mixed with sugar and lime juice?"
"How about a bet then?" I said. "I will pour five kamikazes, one with Ketel and the others with Stoli. If you correctly identify the Ketel, the round is on the house. If you can't, then you pay for the five drinks, one of which is for me, and you must promise never to order a Ketel kazi again."
He lost. He paid. We drank. And such was the beginning of a decade's long study I called The Premium Liquor Upgrade Experiment and Taste Test.
Naturally, I didn't do it every time somebody ordered an expensive drink. But, when the situation was right, I proposed the bet. I did it to see if I was right about my theory and to educate my customers. Because everyone who got it wrong was shocked to learn they couldn't tell the difference. And the percentage of people who got it wrong over the years—despite the fact that a mouth-less baboon has a one-in-five chance of guessing correctly—was easily around 95 percent.
Not that this is breaking news. There are myriad studies that suggest people enjoy food and beverages more if they are priced higher. So why do we equate price with quality? Because we're all morons of course—slaves to the gullible whims of our prehistoric lizard brains.
Now, there is evidence that consuming inexpensive spirits can contribute to hangovers. This is because expensive liquors tend to be distilled more often, which removes unwanted fermentation particles known as congeners. However, congeners are on the bottom of the list of reasons you get hangovers. The Mayo Clinic puts them last of seven, the first being dehydration, followed by low blood sugar, swollen blood vessels and genetics—to name a few—and it is my belief that the dark overlords who control the beverage industry—The Liquorati—have exaggerated the congener effect in order to justify the cost of premium brands.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, But Ed, how is it going to look if I order bottom-dollar booze? I have a reputation to uphold!
Of course you do. But is it not better to be regarded as a no-frills manly man (or she-beast boozer babe) than a prissy little Foofy von Poofy-puss? You gotta own that shit, man! Just walk up to the bartender and say, loud enough for all to hear, "I'll take a shot of tequila please."
When the bartender asks what kind of tequila, say, "Just give me the rotgut."
Yes, it's true, most people think that well tequila tastes like the water inside a hotel hot tub after a conference of eczema suffers. But you will impress nonetheless. Because nobody doesn't love the word, "rotgut." And when she asks if you want training wheels (salt and lime), do not say something smart-ass like "Training wheels are for mama's boys." Doing so will make you look a douche. Instead say, "No thanks. I prefer the burn," and count the seconds before a cutie slips you her number.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Edwin Decker blogs at www.edwindecker.com. Follow him on Twitter @edwindecker or find him on Facebook.
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