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Monday, April 2, 2012

Choose Your Poison

The 70’s were a reckless, unfortunate time in America. I seem to remember that the minimum drinking age in Florida was changed to 18 as a result of a campaign that insisted that if you were old enough to go to Viet Nam and smoke dope and maybe die for your country, then you should be old enough to consume alcohol responsibly.

What a joke. A lot of the people I went to high school with still don’t know how to consume alcohol responsibly. Of course, in 1973 when the law was changed, there was no Mothers Against Drunk Drivers organization. Back then MADD’s acronym stood for Mothers Are Drunk Drivers. Drinking and driving among youngsters was not taken seriously, either. A lot of us who got pulled over and had booze on our breath were just dismissed by cops. I know I was, anyway. I even had an open quart of rum under my Volkswagen seat at the time.

Having started drinking at the age of 14, I was delighted when the law was changed. That meant a less than two-year wait for me until I could drink with government approval. Unfortunately, my mother (a platinum member of Mothers Are Drunk Drivers) would then start insisting that I buy my own alcohol and stop diluting her bourbon with water to make it look like I hadn’t stolen any. (When bourbon starts to look like gin, you know something is up.)

On my eighteenth birthday, I left school at lunch time with a couple of friends, because you could actually go off campus to eat back then (again, the 70’s). I drove us to the nearest liquor store (a block away from my high school) and bought a bottle of cold duck. The clerk rang it up ($1.99, as I recall, plus tax), bagged it and gave me a receipt.

“Aren’t you even going to card me?” I asked.

He shrugged, lit a cigarette and said, “Okay.”

I pulled out my driver’s license and handed it to him. “Happy fuckin’ birthday then,” he said and went back to studying his racing form. We went to my house to use my mother’s fancy champagne glasses and returned late to English class to slur aloud our essays on Canterbury Tales.

Here’s another reason why the 70’s were a decade rife with irresponsibility: Our driver’s licenses were typed up on a small, rose-colored piece of card stock. If you had a safety pin and a pica-fonted typewriter, you could easily pick out the black ink and make yourself older with just a peck of a typewriter key. The licenses were not laminated; they didn’t have our pictures on them, and holograms hadn’t been invented yet. Several people could use one forged license to get into discos and bars in one evening.

For those of us under 18, it was easy to find an older sibling or friend who would buy you the stuff as long as you gave them a buck or two.

Where I grew up, there was a liquor store that was lit up like a theme park. Enormous in size, Liquorama had actual grocery carts in the front of the store to simplify your case hauling.

When you were 18, you didn’t really have a refined enough palette to know good liquor from bad liquor. The only requirement we had of our alcohol was that it give you a nice buzz. Instead of paying a big price for Bacardi rum, we always bought Jose Gaspar rum, which was distilled and bottled in Auburndale, Florida. This is only funny if you’ve ever been to Auburndale. Who needs smooth Puerto Rican rum when for less money you can get alcohol named after a local pirate? A quart, I believe, ran 2.99, but Liquorama published coupons in the newspaper, so you never had to pay full price. And rum was the preferred booze at the time, because it naturally complimented any kid-friendly beverage, such as Coke, Hawaiian Punch, Kool-Aid, Yoo-hoo, or milk None of us drank Mad Men-style highballs at that age. My friend Richard’s favorite cocktail was Scotch and root beer. Whenever I think of that, my face wrinkles up as if I am chewing up spoiled seafood.

All of this came flashing back to me the other day when I walked in front of a liquor store window and saw a sign for cotton candy-flavored vodka. GACK! The last time I bought anything in a liquor store was 25 years ago, and I found the concept of this flavored vodka to be appalling. As far as I know, the ingredients of cotton candy are a) sugar, and b) dye. So in the interest of full disclosure, shouldn’t it be called “colored sugar flavored vodka?” Talk about younger generation appeal! I wonder if it comes in pink and blue. I can’t wait until I go to Chuck E Cheese and order up some cotton candy dipped in cotton candy flavored vodka. Oh, hey, and can I get a glass of Gerber’s strained-peas-flavored vodka for my infant here?

If they had that cotton candy vodka back when I was a teenager, I would have been their best customer, assuming, of course, that it was distilled and bottled in Auburndale and cost three bucks or less.

Take a look at the following list. Does it sound like something an ice cream parlor would serve?

Apple, Atomic Hots, Banana, Berry, Blueberry, Butterscotch, Cake, Cherry, Cherry Lemonade, Cherry Whipped, Chocolate, Chocolate Whipped, Citrus, Coconut, Cookie Dough, Grape, Gummy, Kiwi-Strawberry, Le Double Espresso, Mango, Marshmallow, Orange, Orange Whipped, Pineapple, Pomegranate, Raspberry, Tropical Punch, Vanilla, Whipped Cream, and Whipped Key Lime.

Oddly enough, this is not the lineup at your local Baskin-Robbins, but in reality they are all flavors of vodka offered by French distiller Pinnacle. So many flavors they have to alphabetize them. This brings up a few questions. What kind of Cookie Dough? What kind of cake? What kind of berry is Berry? What exactly is Gummy vodka? Something you chew? Do they even have cotton candy in France? Did someone have to fly over and go to a state fair to do research? With what beverage would you mix “Atomic Hots” vodka? Don’t say root beer, or I’ll make that face again.

I used to work for a beer company, and from time to time we would be fighting off charges that we were directing our advertising at underage drinkers. It was true that our target market was at the toddler end of the legal drinking age scale, but we never offered Rootin’ Tootin’ Raspberry infused beer. So what does this say about Pinnacle Vodka? Coming soon: Pinnacle Breast Milk Flavored Vodka. In a bottle with a nipple.

Maybe I sound like a founding member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (which, oddly enough, is still an active organization. Check out their Facebook page!) I am not a prude or a stuck-up judgmental recovering alcoholic who turns his nose up at anyone enjoying their libations. I believe that anyone should be able to drink themselves under the table, as long as they stay home and don’t drive or have children, spouses, siblings, parents or friends.

And I’m not singling out Pinnacle. Stoli and Smirnoff and other vodka makers offer Lemonhead, Sugar Babies, Blow-Pop, Necco Wafer, Pop Rock, Goober, Raisinette, Butterfinger, Teaberry, and Zagnut flavored vodkas. Or something like that. I tried looking them up, but my employer has disabled Internet access to liquor websites. And I forgot to check when I got home.

All I’m saying is this whole thing is out of control, but it’ll never be regulated, because the freedom to market dangerous things to children is guaranteed under the Constitution. That’s why we have Flintstone and gummy vitamins and Dimetapp Get Better Bears sore throat pops. Not to mention Coricidin that can easily be mistaken for M&M’s and Tums that look like Sweet Tarts.

You never see spirits flavored with things that the elderly would like. There is no vodka infused with Interferon, Viagra, prune, chewing tobacco, estrogen, testosterone, liver and onion, Botox or Just for Men. We have wants and needs too. We should start a letter-writing campaign to distilleries. And I know my friend Richard would support this. He has already written to, or someone demanded from Pinnacle root beer flavored vodka, which I did not include in list above. Now all he has to do is convince Glenfiddich or Johnny Walker to do the same thing. There goes my face again.

Luckily, I consumed my lifetime allotment of alcohol at age 30. That was also probably the last time I had cotton candy, too. Some things were just meant to be.

Photos: Women's Christian Temperance Union (
and Pinnacle (

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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