Ninety-Nine Bottles Of Booze On The Wall
I know, the song is about beer, but a recent trip to our local warehouse liquor store got me to thinking. I was basking in the glow of having put a box of booze in the trunk and I thought, “I wonder how many bottles of booze I have on the wall.” Well, you know, on the wall, on the shelf, in the pantry, on the floor.
First, I had to decide what I would count as “booze.” I mean, it doesn’t seem fair to count beer or wine since having a lot of that is really no indication of anything except a recent trip to the grocery store. On the other hand, I did count vermouth (both sweet and dry) because I don’t know anyone who drinks that like wine. Vermouth is an ingredient for cocktails so it counts. I didn’t count port or sherry, but I did count my bottle of Lillet because I only use as part of a cocktail (Vesper). I also didn’t count mini bottles that I probably got as a stocking stuffer or as some gimmick. And no repeats. I’m of Irish descent and people think I must love Bailey’s Irish cream. Yet two unopened bottles sit in the cupboard while the third has been barely cracked. It only counts as one bottle. So, gathering focus here, how many different bottles of real booze are stashed away in the house?
The answer: 95. Not quite 99, but pretty damn close. Now, you’d probably say that’s a lot, but, for a professional bartender, not beyond the pale. I’m not a professional bartender. I’ve tended bar at events, but I only do it for friendship, not money. And I’m a member of a bar, but do not work at one. I’m a “cocktail enthusiast” as some would say. Others would say “a drunk.” I’m the guy who’s always making the drinks, and yes, sipping them too.
You’re thinking, “What the hell kind of booze does this guy have?” Here’s the breakdown in descending order: 38 Miscellaneous; 11 Scotch whisky (sic); 10 Vodka; two-way tie with 9 bottles each of Rum and Brandy/Cognac; 8 Gin; 4 Irish whiskey; 3 Rye whiskey; 2 Bourbon whiskey; and 1 Tequila. “Miscellaneous” is all those liqueurs, that “other” stuff, the Galliano, the Midori, the Cointreau, and the aforementioned Bailey’s. Basically, everything that isn’t Whiskey, Brandy, Gin, Rum, Tequila, or Vodka.
Aside from the miscellaneous, the biggest category would be Whiskey far and away if you bunched the Scotch with the Irish and the others, but I’m a bit of a Whiskey snob so I prefer to treat and keep them separate. And even then, Scotch wins among those. On the other hand, I’m not a Brandy snob, so I lumped it together with Cognac.
And what the hell is with one bottle of Tequila? I live in southern California after all, where margaritas are served like water. Babies are weaned on agave nectar. Well, I didn’t have a bad experience with tequila if that’s what you’re thinking—you were projecting there weren’t you? No, I have drank a small bathtub’s worth of margaritas, but I got sick of poorly made ones, which is usually what you get. I make an awesome one by the way.
Now, it would be too boring to list my 95 bottles of booze, so instead, here are some highlights, with some explanation of what I got them for:
Tallest bottle: Mextaca 5-star Greek brandy. For: Drinking neat, even in the summer, as when I visited Greece. However, I have fond memories of an absurdly tall bottle of Belvedere vodka that was a gift from friends. It was much taller than the Mextaca, but it was also a pain to fit in the freezer.
Shortest bottle: Chambord. For: Van Gogh’s Anti-Insanity Lemon Tonic, a great layered drink made with vodka, lemonade, and Chambord. Perfect for summer barbecues. But despite its name (Anti–Insanity), it can easily make you go crazy as it’s one of those drinks that catches up with you.
Best label: Ransom gin. For: Gin Crustas, Tom Collins, and more. It’s a cool old-timey label, and I’m really into the pre-prohibition cocktails right now, so that one strikes me as the most interesting.
Worst label: John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum. For: Taylor Made. Not a lot of bourbon fruit-punch drinks, and I wanted one for the Fourth of July and found this drink in Dale DeGroff’s Essential Cocktail. Now I also use the Falernum in hurricanes. But the label is so generic that I hesitated to buy it. Just proves the old maxim, you can’t judge a bottle by the label, or something like that.
Strangest thing in bottle that isn’t booze: Vanilla bean in Avatea rum. For: Drinking in any old rum drink. I got this in the Caribbean on some trip there, and it has a full vanilla bean in the bottle, which gives the rum a great flavor.
Bottle that traveled the furthest: Amarula. For: Drinking on the rocks. We brought this back from our trip to Africa. It’s kind of the African version of Bailey’s, and it’s made with fruit from the African Marula tree. The fruit falls to the ground, it ferments, the elephants eat it, and get drunk. How great is that? I don’t even care if it’s true. It became my wife’s drink of choice for our “sundowners.” I stuck with gin and tonic because the quinine in the tonic is supposed to help ward against mosquitos. Hey, I didn’t get any bites.
Bottle that traveled the least: Roth vodka. For: A gift from a friend to make Martinis. It’s a grape based vodka from a winery in northern California. I’m more of a grain vodka man, but I’ve occasionally enjoyed Ciroc, another grape based vodka. As for the Roth, I think they should probably stick to wines.
Oldest: tie between Creme de Cacao and Creme de Menthe. For: Grasshoppers. These were my parents’ bottles, and somewhere along the way I ended up with them. And yes, I have made grasshoppers with them, and they turned out good. Still, it’s not something you drink a lot, or get a lot of call for.
Newest: Technically, this would be like an eight-way tie, but I’m arbitrarily picking the Laird’s Applejack because it’s the most unusual thing I got in my last shopping spree that I hadn’t bought before. For: Jack Rose and Widow’s Kiss. It’s the only domestic apple brandy that I know of and essential to the Jack Rose, which also has grenadine and lime juice. Surprisingly good cocktail. I haven’t tried the Widow’s Kiss yet because it calls for something I don’t have, yellow chartreuse (yes, there are things I don’t have Mr. Sarcasm). A close second for newest is the bottle of Cruzan Black Strap rum that I just bought for hot milk punches.
Most expensive: Johnny Walker Scotch Whisky Blue Label. For: Drinking neat, or with a touch of water. It was a well-appreciated birthday gift from a cousin. I wouldn’t spend that much on a bottle for myself, so it’s nice when someone else does.
Least expensive: Gordon’s gin. For: Martinis. Sometimes I just want a plain Martini with something inexpensive that isn’t so cheap it will give me a hangover. Gordon’s fits the bill.
Bottle that was illegal when I got it but isn’t now: Absinthe. For: Drinking with sugar and water in the traditional manner. I got this in Paris when it was illegal to have in the U.S. and somehow it made it home with me. It turns out I don’t like absinthe all that much though. I use it now to coat the glass when I make a sazerac. It’s perfect for that. With absinthe, a little goes a long way.
Bottle that is probably still illegal: Havana Club 7-year gold rum. For: All rum drinks or neat. It’s illegal to import Cuban rum, so you can’t buy this in the states. Some friends brought it back from Mexico for me. It’s one reason to end the embargo. I’m just saying.
Worst bottle: Dekuypers Sour Apple Pucker. For: Sour Apple Martinis. Something green for the non-drinker’s to drink at a St. Paddy’s Day party. I didn’t have any of those martinis, and it still makes me shudder.
Best bottle: 94-way tie, everything except the Apple Pucker. Asking for a favorite is like asking which child is your favorite. They all have a time and place when they shine. They all have a special place in my heart (and, I suspect, a time-share in my liver). Seriously though, they remind me of my travels and the great times spent with family and friends. For that, they are each treasured. Except for that Pucker—that stuff is nasty.
Lance Winters spends his days as a criminal prosecutor on the mean streets of Los Angeles and his nights as an cocktail enthusiast and amateur mixologist with his wife and friends at the beach. He occasionally regales his drinking adventures in 140-character tweets as @devilsbartender.