Proof It!

A local bottler supplies the free booze, we supply the lushes -- er, tasting panel

"Perfect balance, sweet and sour," said the Wino, whereupon Buffett was forgiven for his musical transgressions.

Dos Tiranos Mezcal
80 proof Rating: glass glass glass

Juarez Tequila (Gold)
80 proof Rating: glass

Juarez Tequila (Silver)
80 proof Rating: glass

The bottle of non-shudder-causing Dos Tiranos features, count 'em, two Atkins-friendly worms. Not realizing at first that the worms were dead, one panelist tapped on the bottle as one might at the primate house at the zoo.

By the time the Juarez twins were cracked, the panel was nicely buzzed. Suddenly, however, it was as though we'd warped to the absolute-worst level in a computer game -- the one with the fire-breathing dragons scalding your ass with torrid flames.

"You put out a cigarette in this, didn't you?" Young accused Martelli, in reference to the Gold.

The Silver was even worse, causing the Wino to eject his mouthful into Roberts' tomato patch. "This tastes like Off!" he complained. "Don't spit in my garden!" countered Roberts.

Young, meanwhile, teetered into a bizarre reverie. "Once we took a family vacation to Hawaii," he said to no one in particular. "I was knocked over by a wave, and my mouth was flooded with ocean water."

Rebel Yell Straight Bourbon Whiskey
80 proof Rating: glass glass glass glass

David Nicholson 1843 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
100 proof Rating: glass glass glass half glass

We quickly got into the spirit of David Sherman's Kentucky-distilled whiskeys. Rebel Yell, after all, is said to be Keith Richards' drink of choice. Billy Idol named an album after the stuff. While the Wino likened it more to a finely tuned, hillbilly yodel than a yell, everyone agreed that this bourbon was smooth, complex and otherwise just right.

While Rebel Yell is "Especially for the Deep South," according to its label, David Nicholson 1843 is Especially for the Lower Midwest. It's distributed exclusively in Missouri and southern Illinois, explains Lux, because it's popular here; in other markets they concentrate on Rebel Yell and Ezra Brooks (see below). Weird!

But the panel liked the 1843 in a dry manhattan Renner whipped up. "Smoky, with an essence of cedar," quoth the Wino. "Clean as the ass of an eighteen-month-old boy," "Mike" put in. Actually it's seven years old.

Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
90 proof Rating: glass glass

Ezra B. Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
99 proof Rating: glass glass glass glass

Ezra Brooks appears to have been crafted to confuse hoosiers. Its black label suspiciously recalls Jack Daniel's (see sidebar), as does its otherwise inexplicable moniker. "Why, that's even more sophisty-kated than JD!" a DSC marketing genius must have envisioned south-side St. Louisans bellowing. "Let's buy us some!"

Unfortunately, our south-side panel panned it. "Smells like the corpse of Ezra Brooks," Young opined.

But where Ezra Brooks fell a bit flat, Ezra B. -- the upscale brand, twelve years old, 49.5 percent alcohol -- delivered. "More depth! More caramel taste!" Renner exclaimed. "It sort of smells like pickles," said a skeptical Young.

Admiral Nelson's Premium Spiced Rum
70 proof Rating: glass

Admiral Nelson's Premium Coconut Rum
42 proof Rating: half glass

Admiral Nelson's Premium Vanilla Rum
70 proof Rating: half glass

Admiral Nelson's Premium Raspberry Rum
40 proof Rating: half glass

The panel grudgingly tolerated Sherman's answer to Jack Daniel's because, you know, Ezra Pound was a cool fascist. But our tasters absolutely would not stand for Sherman's march on Captain Morgan. Perhaps Martelli put it best: "Admiral Nelson needs to walk the plank."

Though some of the infusions were worse than others, all lacked bite, and the panel speculated that they had been conceived specifically for binge drinking.

Roberts suggested that the good admiral was a little light in the loafers -- "I would call him more like Private First Class Gomer Pyle" -- while Renner detected the essence of suntan oil.

"It's what rum drinkers drink when they're not drinking rum," "Jordan" concluded.

Pearl Vodka
80 proof Rating: glass glass glass glass

Pearl LoCoco
70 proof Rating: glass glass glass half glass

By this stage of the evening, all pretense of pouring samples into individual cups had been abandoned in favor of simply passing the bottle. Panelists were, however, sufficiently sober to discern that Pearl is David Sherman's "Premium" vodka, and the Wino appreciated that this Canadian-made spirit is distilled five times.

The coconut version drew even more raves. "Better than the coconut rum!" declared Martelli. "It's not bracing! It tastes like church wine in Key West!"

But the Wino spoke for everyone when he admitted that, at this point, it was all starting to taste pretty good.

Inferno Pepper Flavored Vodka
78.6 proof Rating: glass glass glass

Inferno, another Canadian product, tore a deep schism within the group, a divide of the kind unseen since the "Tastes Great/Less Filling" debates of high school days gone by. While "Jordan" loved the potent, spicy flavor, Martelli detested it and Noble opined that it went down about as nicely as a noseful of freshly ground pepper. Young detected an essence of "recently burned-down yuppie Mexican restaurant" in what all speculated was an Absolut Peppar rip-off.

Still, everyone was impressed by the bottle, a mini-jug featuring a pair of three-inch cayenne peppers. Tvarscki Vodka
price varies by market
80 proof Rating: ?

Though this distilled-from-grain vodka's vaguely Eastern-European label looked appealing in a retro, Cold War-era way, we made the mistake of stashing it in the freezer at the beginning of the night and completely forgetting about it.

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