May 11, 2006


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Got milk?

Drinking to the end
When the world seems to be driving you to booze
By Tim Protzman

About a year ago I saw a TV newsmagazine story on a vodka tasting. I took copious notes, filed it away and forgot about it.

Until this weekend, when one of the signs of the Apocalypse appeared.

I’ve always believed in the permanence of mankind. The turn of the millennium was way too convenient a date to have everything end. Nothing ever comes so neatly wrapped. If the end’s gonna come, it’ll be on a Thursday in a year like 2047. And it’ll never be on a Monday morning, so we don’t have to go to work — the Powers that Be have too good a sense of humor for that.

I believe that love and suffering and grief and joy exist side by side to clearly differentiate between each other. Otherwise life would be like a non-stop Club Med vacation. The Bible says it was like that once, but human nature being what it is, we were too curious or restless to enjoy it. I’ve seen it happen in real life. A friend of mine used to work at the Caneel Bay Resort in the Virgin Islands and almost went stark raving mad. She just couldn’t bear another tropical sunset. She ended up sneaking out late at night and setting the poolside trash cans on fire, just for some chaos to break up all that bucolic charm. When she got back to the States she wept with joy at the beauty of the first rainy day.

But things do seem scarier now. I blame it on our up-to-the-minute eyewitness coverage culture. We have global warming, porous borders, nuclear proliferation, rising energy prices and the bird flu to assail our sense of well being. This weekend when it seemed that one of the seven seals was broken, I panicked.

We were tasting a pinot and merlot. The TV was on. Higgs always insists on watching the weather. It was late. Saturday Night Live came on — and it was funny!!! Judgment Day was upon us. (I mean what else could you think, the show’s been a bomb for six seasons and suddenly I’m laughing at every skit?)

I ran to my file cabinet for my Homeland Security instruction pamphlet #1226, “What to do if it’s the End of the World.” I couldn’t find it, but I did find a lock of Anna Nicole Smith’s hair that I bought on eBay and the notes from the Vodka Tasting.

I settled down. There were no reports of the President boarding Looking Glass, the secret, nuclear-proof doomsday plane that’ll serve as an airborne command if the balloon ever goes up. And as Higgs and Crystal pointed out, the reason SNL was funny was that it was an all-cartoon episode, not the institutional comedy slop they usually serve.

But I was shaken. I realized how precious life was and I set out to banish the fears and accomplish the things I wanted to do before it was too late. One of them was the vodka tasting.

The premise of the newsmagazine show was a simple blind tasting of premium vodkas by sophisticated vodka drinkers. It was conducted in New York and included a diverse cast of young men and women. The two top vodkas were Belvedere and Grey Goose. Most of the Grey Goose drinkers chose the Belvedere. We tried several of what you’d call ultra premium and premium vodkas, chilled, about a quarter of a shot at a time. Our Vodka results were as follows:

Ketel One — 6.9, too fiery. Metallic finish.

Belvedere — 7.6, smoky with a hint of rubbing alcohol.

Tanqueray Sterling — 6.1, medicinal tasting.

Smirnoff (red label) — 5.6, it’s triple distilled, but some Saint Anselm’s students take Taaka Vodka and run it through a Brita Water Filter to get the same effect. Good for mixed drinks.

Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka — 8.3, great taste, but not made for a night of cocktails, just the occasional shot.

Grey Goose - 8.5, on the first taste we thought it was too sweet, but when we tasted it side by side with the other vodkas its “softness” came through. Some Keene State students claim it’s great in a bong.

And while we enjoyed the vodkas, we concurred that they were life drinks. Drinks that one has in the ups and down of living. Drinks to celebrate and commiserate with. Drinks that manifest the wonder and pain and beauty of life. Drinks that proclaim the sun will rise tomorrow.

And we thought if the big one hits, we’d want our last drink to be the perfect frozen margarita. Tequila, triple sec, lime juice and slushy, slushy ice. We could see ourselves awaiting a massive first strike nuclear attack, slathered in a 1,000,000 SPF sunscreen, on a lounge chair with a frosty. Crystal also thought a good beer like Sam Adams or Budweiser would be appropriate as a last libation, unless she were on a doomed ocean liner and then she’d want champagne. And we all want to know what Proof’s last drink was.

But the most important thing we discovered was that we liked to drink, not because we were afraid of death or the end of the world, but that a few cocktails with friends helped us to live in the moment, to celebrate the grace and beauty in the ordinary and tell those we’re with that we love them and that life is truly worth the effort.

This week we tried four wines along with the vodkas:

2001 Beaulieu Napa Merlot, $12.99 — Big fruit on first sip that morphed into a sinewy layered wine with structure and a bit of maturity. Buy a bunch and open one a year until it peaks in 2013 (if we’re still here).

2004 Ponzi Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, $32.29 —Tightly wound and tannic with a very heavy French accent and the promise of more maturity. I felt like a three-year-old asking his mom when his newborn baby brother would be old enough to play. Good, not great wine (or it would have shown even at this age) that needs three years to become classically Burgundian.

Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill Citrus Wine, $2.99 — The first sip was delicious, followed by a taste akin to drinking out of old lead plumbing. Not bad, would have had a full glass if I weren’t so averse to toxins and a hangover. Much better was the Boone’s Farm Blue Hawaii Apple Wine Product, $2.99, It’s the Cheez Whiz of wine, not wine, but a wine product. Tasted great, no aftertaste like the Strawberry Hill, but the Windex blue color put me off.

Looking for one of the wines or liquors mentioned here? If you can buy it in New Hampshire, you can find it on

Tell Tim your wine stories. You can reach him at

Comments? Thoughts? Discuss this article and more at

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