Wednesday, September 02, 2009

SBR Public Service Announcement

As part of our ongoing commitment to community safety, the staff here at Fraters Libertas would like to take this opportunity to remind our readers about the importance of being prepared in the event of an emergency. That emergency could be severe weather in the form of tornado, hurricane, flood, or snow storm. It could be a ragging wildfire or electrical blackout. It could even be the outbreak of a pandemic, such as H1N1 or Favre fever (which thankfully seems to have been localized and contained).

In order to survive such an emergency it's necessary to ensure that you are prepared with critical supplies on hand. Flashlights? Check. Water? Check. Food? Check. Medical supplies? Check. Emergency radio? Check. Booze? BOOZE?

Yes, booze. Now is as good a time as ever to review your SBR (Strategic Booze Reserve) and ensure that you have the minimum supplies on hand in the event that you're not able to get to a liquor store for an extended period of time (like two days). The SBR isn't a list of what you should have for a well-stocked bar. It's the bare drinking essentials that you should never be without.

BEER: The March/April issue of DRAFT Magazine had a piece called "Subterranean Bottleshop Blues" which talked about how to properly stockpile beer for a disaster. It also asked a few experts to choose which beers they would want to have on hand. To keeps thing simple, I'm not going to get into that level of detail.

When it comes to beer, you should always have the equivalent of a case (24 12 oz cans or bottles) on hand. If you're intensely loyal to one particular beer, this means keeping a reserve case. If you're like me and you enjoy a variety of beers, it means that all your assorted single bottles and cans add up to a case. Right now, I would guess I've got about thirty beers in the house from ten or twelve different brewers.

WINE: If you're lucky enough to have a formal wine cellar, you're well prepared in the event of an interruption in supply. If not, I would suggest that you have at least three bottles of vino on hand. My preference would two reds and a white, but that's your call. One of the most important reasons to have wine is that it will give your wife something to drink and keep her out of your beer stocks.

WHISKEY: Contrary to what you may have heard, whiskey is not a seasonal drink. You should ALWAYS have some on hand. A good rule of thumb to remember is Two of Three. You should have some combination of two bottles of Rye, Bourbon, or Scotch. For example; one Bourbon and one Scotch or one Scotch and one Rye or one Rye and one Bourbon. If you really favor one style, you could go with two bottles of it, but you really shouldn't limit yourself. Ideally, you'd have at least one bottle of each.

GIN: Gin too is a year round staple. Personally, I think one bottle is sufficient. However, if you're more of a gin fiend like Atomizer you may opt for a more generous reserve.

And that's it. Wait just a second here mister, you say. What do you mean, that's it? What about my rum, my tequila, my vodka, my brandy, my eau-de-vie, my root beer schnapps? Sorry Charlie. This is a list of what you must have around, not what's nice to have. I suppose I could make an allowance and allow substitutions of brandy, rum, and tequila for those who regard those spirits as critical to their survival needs. Happy now?

So in summary...Hold on. I'm hearing some mewling out there from the vodka crowd. Mostly women who enjoy cosmos and other sweet vodka-based cocktails, but also from a few "connoisseurs" of the clear, odorless, tasteless, utterly neutral spirit. Despite their ardor for the alcoholic beverage, the reality is that vodka should play be more of ancillary role in your drinking life. It just so happens that I usually do have vodka on hand, not because I can't do without it, but because I rarely find myself in a situation where I would choose to drink it. If I have beer, wine, whiskey, and gin available, why in the world would I waste my time with vodka?

Vodka's like celery. Saying you have the best vodka in the world is like saying you have the best celery. Okay, that's not an apt comparison as celery does little to actually provide sustenance. For all of vodka's shortcomings when it comes to pleasing the palate, it does deliver the alcohol content. So maybe it's more like gruel or porridge. Pretty bland and tasteless, but eat enough and if will fill you up. Or drink enough vodka and you will get drunk. Which seems to be the only reason to ever touch the stuff.

Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that. Back in my college days--after we reached the point where drinking enough beer to really get good and blottoed was not only expensive, but very time consuming--we discovered that vodka was a much more affordable, efficient, and sure-fire way to reach the depths of an alcoholic stupor. It was the rocket fuel that got many a drunken escapade off the ground and--considering the rot gut crap we were buying at the time--it's composition was probably similar. Brands like Kamchatka, Siberian Ice, Popov, Wolfschmidt's, and McCormick's (some of which seem to be making a comeback).But when you diluted the five dollar a liter poison with enough SunnyD (poured into plastic cups from fast food joints) you could just manage to get it down without gagging. And after a couple of cups of these potent potables, the real fun would begin. The next day would not be so pleasant, but when you're young, drunk, and stupid you're willing to pay that price.

But now when I drink, it's a rare occasion when I actually set out to get drunk. Yes, I still drink for the alcohol and the effects that come with it. But those effects are usually fairly moderate. A good part of the enjoyment of drinking now is to savor the flavor of the beer, wine, whiskey, or gin that I'm consuming. Which would again lead me to ask again why I ever would choose to drink vodka.

And it's not as if I haven't tried the "good stuff" when it comes to vodka either. I've had the premium brands from Russia, Poland, France, the United States, and even Iceland. While they certainly are better than what we used to choke down it college, they still offer nothing special for me. If I'm going to mix up a vodka-based cocktail would I prefer using Belvedere over Popov? Of course. But as a stand alone spirit or even one that dominates a mixed drink (like a Martini), vodka simply does not compare to whiskey and gin. It also falls fall short of the varieties of character and complexities that you find in brandy, rum, and tequila. Of all of these spirits, vodka has the least distinction between the high and low ends.

Again, if you want to drink vodka because it's an easy spirit to disguise in cocktails or you think it doesn't bring as bad a hangover or if you just want to get good and hammered , then more power to you. There's a reason that vodka is so popular in Russia and it's not because the people have a natural affinity for its fine flavor. My Russian vodka drinking experiences--albeit very limited--were very much about the more the merrier. We were drinking decent stuff--some version of Russian Standard--but we weren't too concerned with the taste. In fact, we were encouraged to chase our shots down with mushrooms and pickles to help smooth the journey (and supposedly to ease the next day's pain--a claim I found dubious).

So vodka does have its place. But that place should not be part of your Strategic Booze Reserve.

Things may seem calm now. But you never know when disaster might strike. It's a good time to review your current SBR and replenish your saftey stocks if necessary. As all former Boy Scouts know it's always a good idea to be prepared.

SISYPHUS ADDS: There was a time when a Strategic Booze Reserve was more than just precautionary. Here is how H. L. Mencken responded to prohibition (from Terry Teachout's biography, "The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken").

Mencken responded to Prohibition by selling his car and using the proceeds to purchase a large stock of "the best wines and liquors I could find," stored in a homemade basement vault whose door bore a custom-painted sign emblazoned with a skull and crossbones: "This vault is protected by a device releasing Chlorine Gas under 200 pounds pressure. Enter it at your own risk."

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