"Clear. Cream, toasted hazelnut, and wispy anise aromas. A soft, gentle entry leads to a very smooth and supple dryish light-to-medium body of anise cookie, fig, and wet mineral flavors. Finishes with a breezy sweet spice, dried fruit, cream and granola like fade. Tasty."

Pop quiz: What substance inspired these ethereal musings?

Answer: Vodka!

Specifically, Pinnacle vodka, a French (!) import that's being touted (and sold at the low, low price of $17 per 1.5-liter jug) by the Wine Merchant, Ltd.

Unreal was struck by the description when we encountered it in a recent Wine Merchant e-newsletter, whose creators plucked it from the Beverage Testing Institute, a no-doubt eminent center of higher potable analysis that late last year (October 5, to be precise) assigned Pinnacle a rating of 91 on a 100-point scale and designated it as a "Best Buy."

Unreal can't resist a bargain. Nor can we resist vodka that tastes like fennel granola. So we hied to the Merch's Clayton location and picked up a bottle. While we were hieing, we scored a bottle apiece of Smirnoff blue-label and red-label "Triple Distilled" vodka and a bag of Dixie cups.

Having delegated our recent K-Y lube test to our burgeoning cougar entourage, we were damned if we were gonna let the vodka slip through our fingers. We assembled a panel of four fellow boozehounds experts. (The red-label Smirnoff is like Pinnacle, 80 proof. The blue-label is 100 proof. We included it because we wanted to make sure we got drunk as a control.)

After studious cogitation (a minute's worth, at the very least), we opted for a blind tasting and stashed the bottles in the freezer till cocktail hour. Then we poured, we swished, we swallowed.

Our notes, sadly, are woefully unpoetic next to those of the Beverage Testing folks':

Vodka 1: "Medicinal." "Mineral." "I'd use it to sterilize a wound." One of our colleagues declares that this one is "definitely not the 100-proof sample." Unreal is equally certain that it is the strong stuff.

Vodka 2: "Smooth," says one panel member. "Harsh," says another. "Band-Aid," pronounces a third (whose wound, presumably, has been sterilized). "Peppery!" A vague consensus begins to form around the observation that this particular vodka tastes milder than the first. "Like it's got ice melted in it," a panelist observes. The verdict: "This one's the one to buy if you're planning to drink and drive."

Intermezzo: Just a heads-up. Our panel is by no means drunk after two sips' worth apiece. But it has become apparent that it's nigh impossible to come up with anything colorful to say about the flavor of vodka. Maybe the Beverage Testing Institute has set the bar too high.

Vodka 3: "Bitter." "Herbal." "Fuck this. They all taste the same."

So which was which? Vodka 1 was the 100-proof Smirnoff. Vodka 2 was Pinnacle. Unreal will leave you with the words of the Beverage Testing Institute, which gave Vodka 3, a.k.a. Smirnoff red-label, an 88: "Clear. Creamy powdered sugar and talc aromas. Supple and delicate on the palate with a lightly glycerous texture and dusty minerality with hints of sweet anise and citrus. Finishes soft and clean." 

The Tao of Swayze
St. Louis author Marcus Eder was returning to his novel Rorschach's Ribs last February when he stumbled upon the idea for another book. The actor Patrick Swayze had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At the same time, one of Eder's good friends was fighting her own battle against the disease. Eder's new book, Nobody Puts Swayze in the Corner: The Tao of Swayze, is the author's way of paying tribute both to his friend and his favorite actor. The work is penned under the name Phillip Callaway, a character in Eder's Rorschach's Ribs, and is available online at Amazon.com. All proceeds from the book benefit the American Cancer Society.

Unreal: Taoism and Swayze? A natural fit, you say?

Marcus Eder: It might seem difficult to pair sixth-century Chinese philosophy with Patrick Swayze movies, but you'd be amazed how well some of them come together.

We're particularly fond of Swayze's Dalton character from the film Road House. He was part prophet, part ass kicker.

Oh, yes. That's a great film. My poor wife has had to watch it with me seven times. She recently found a great quote that I never noticed. Dalton says, "You're too stupid to have a good time."

Sage advice, indeed. Do you have any other favorite quotes?

There are so many, from Point Break to Outsiders to Ghost to Dirty Dancing. One of the best — in relation to Taoism — is from Road House. Swayze's character says, "Nobody ever wins a fight." Taoism teaches a similar lesson: "So slaughters must be mourned, and conquest celebrated with a funeral."

Does Swayze know you've written a book comparing his movie lines to philosophy and religion?

Not that I know of. But I've researched laws on fair use. I think I'm pretty safe. I assume if he wanted to come after me he could, but I'd hope he'd realize that this book is for charity. It's a way of helping people.

It also pokes a bit of fun at Swayze, doesn't it?

Initially, perhaps. Once I started researching the book, I developed a deep respect for him. You don't realize how good some of these bad movies are until you re-watch them several times. You get hooked.

The title of the book is from Dirty Dancing, no?

That's right. Swayze tells Jennifer Grey, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner." I changed it to: Nobody puts Swayze in the corner. And I think that's true. The guy is a warrior. If anyone is going to beat cancer, I say it's him. He's not going to back down. 

Ask A Cougar and a Fundamentalist Pastor
How are the Cheetah Girls related to cougars?
Inquiring Minds Wanna Know

Pastor Chris replies:
Good question! There are some obvious similarities:

1) Both wear more makeup and stay up later than is age appropriate.

2) Both are considering trips to Florida (Disney World/Leisure World).

3) Both need calcium now more than ever.

4) Both compete for the same male demographic.

5) Cheetahs are fast, too.

6) Cougars, like cheetahs, have spots on their skin.

7) Both sincerely wonder how Madonna does it all.

8) Add the three Cheetah Girls' ages, subtract the average cougar's age, get the price of an RFT.

9) Hot lights on the Cheetah Girls stage; hot flashes at a cougar's age.

Then there's a less obvious connection that I hope I'm wrong about.  What if cougars and cheetahs are on opposite frontiers of an ever-expanding adolescence?  Do little girls in big-girl dresses and big girls in pigtails symbolize a new fascination with a girl/woman hybrid?  Are little girls being hurried into adolescence? Are older women returning to an age with fewer responsibilities and a higher tolerance for self-absorption?  Is the whole world reverting to Ridgemont High?

Teenage sprawl might prove to be a bigger problem than the urban variety we hear so much about. It could be that cougars and cheetahs have become the St. Charles County/Edwardsville equivalents of a simultaneous flight from innocence and responsibility. Who would have thought these cats had so much in common?  Including...

10) ...an increasing reliance on a good bra.

Unreal's quest for a cougar advice columnist continues! To see the responses of eight wannabes and vote for your fave, head to http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/stlog and look for our Cougar Poll. In the meantime, have you got a question for a pastor? A question for a cougar? A question for a cougar and a pastor? Address one and all to unreal@riverfronttimes.com.

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