It's been almost a year since we've heard from highly opinionated spirits columnist Dan Dunn, whose column The Imbiber kept us entertained through Food Republic's earliest days. What got the emerging TV and radio star fired up enough to return to the written word? Read on to find out.
If you know me, you know I’m not a big fan of rules. And regulations? Regulations can eat a bowl of baby seal dicks, which is, as we all know, super against the rules. Still, whether I like it or not, it seems like everytime I turn around there’s someone telling me it’s not okay to turn around. Like at urinals. Fascists. There are signs everywhere, too, saying “do this,” “don’t do that” or “Dan, if you turn around again while using the urinal we’re going to beat you bloody.”
Face it, you can’t swing a dead cat without some uptight jerk pointing out that it’s illegal to murder the stupid cats that have sex under your apartment window. (Though it is legal to swing them around once they’re dead… I checked.)
All these rules are enough to drive you to drink. Problem is, you can’t even escape rules when you’re drowning them in booze. In fact, the regulations regarding the production and consumption of alcohol are some of the most stringent and brutally enforced of all. Twenty years covering the adult beverage beat has put the fear of the Distilled Spirits Council into me good and proper. It’s the main reason I never pursued my dream of launching my own spirits brand. Well, that and the fact that I also never pursued my dream of saving two nickels to rub together, or for that matter, my dream of following through on my dreams.
To be perfectly honest, I haven’t had much luck with the dreaming.
That’s all about to change, though, because last week I discovered a spirits category in which there are virtually no rules about how it’s made or marketed. And that spirit, my friends, is vodka.
Now, I know what you’re thinking — dude, 20 years writing about drinking and you’ve just now discovered vodka? The short answer is “blow me.” The long answer is “blow me for several hours.” But you’re not looking for answers. You’re looking for the ultimate low-hassle booze to bring to market.
Screwing with bourbon, on the other hand, is like two-timing your wife who happens to be the daughter of your state’s Governor.
It’s a crazy thing, vodka. Not only can you distill it from just about any fermentable substance on earth, but once it’s ready you can say practically anything you want about it on the label without fear of repercussions. Premium, ultra-premium and super-premium? These common descriptors aren’t government regulated. The industry encourages adherence to a set of pricing-based labeling guidelines, but they aren’t legally enforceable. Messing with vodka is like cheating on a one night stand. Screwing with bourbon, on the other hand, is like two-timing your wife who happens to be the daughter of your state’s Governor. Both are pretty shady, but only the latter will land your ass in the papers and cost you half of everything you own.
To be called Bourbon, a spirit must have a mash bill that is at least 51% corn and be aged in charred new white oak barrels. (It’s a common misconception that Bourbon must come from Kentucky or Bourbon County. You can make Bourbon outside of Kentucky, it just probably won’t taste very good.) You can’t call sparkling wine Champagne unless it was made in Champagne, France. To be labeled 100% agave, a tequila must be distilled entirely from blue agave plant. And just try labeling a whisky "Scotch" if it wasn’t produced in Scotland. They’ll stuff 3-day-old haggis down your throat. Or if you’re really unlucky, make you go to a Scottish dentist (who is just a guy behind the pub with a hammer and a white apron).
But Vodka? Most people think it’s made from potatoes, but it’s more often made from wheat. But guess what it would be called if you made it from grapes? Vodka. Apples? Vodka. Pig farts? Yep, still vodka. (Note: it’s hard to bottle pig farts, and even harder to extract the sugars, but if you manage to do it, the resulting hooch will make you grow a curly tail and root about in your own feces. Subnote: Vodka made from wheat will also make you do this.)
What I really love about vodka is the names on the “good stuff”: Absolut Elyx Handcrafted Single Estate Super-premium, Kauffman Vintage, Prairie Certified Organic Handcrafted, Winter Palace Premium Czar. Wow!
Because it turns out that if you distill anything for long enough, you can basically remove all the flavor and be left with pure alcohol. Water that shit down to 80 proof and put it in a fancy bottle and you’ve got yourself a new “branded experience product” (and, probably, a nasty case of gonorrhea from all the clubtastic women fighting for a spot at your VIP table).
But what I really love about vodka is the names on the “good stuff”: Absolut Elyx Handcrafted Single Estate Super-premium, Kauffman Vintage, Prairie Certified Organic Handcrafted, Winter Palace Premium Czar. Wow! As someone who dabbles in the linguistic arts (i.e. is a bullshitter), I have respect for the craftsmen who’ve formed these superlatives (i.e. they can sling hella bullshit).
“With vodka, you can pretty much do anything you’d like to do in terms of production and packaging,” said renowned spirits expert Aidan Demarest of Philadelphia Distilling. “Anything goes, really. You can make it with it whatever you want, and call it whatever you want, too.”
With that in mind, I’m thrilled to announce my latest dream, a Kickstarter project to fund the world’s first Mega-Ultra-Jeans-Creamium Vodka — PlatinuLuxEgant!
Once we reach our modest Kickstarter goal (by the way, does anyone have any idea how much you can get away with asking for on that site?), we will begin producing PlatinuLuxEgant from the fermented mash of hand-harvested caviar, which will be distilled 37 times in Lalique crystal pot stills before being filtered through the tiny toes and fingers of the newborn son of Kate Middleton and Prince William. From there, PlatinuLuxEgant will travel first class to Rome, for each individual bottle to be hand-numbered in gold and blessed by the Pope.
As for the taste, well, PlatinuLuxEgant Mega-Ultra-Jeans-Creamium Vodka will be the only vodka known to humankind that is guaranteed to make you cream in your jeans. Every time. You will be reminded of this by our designer label. And thanks to our unique relationship with
the truth one of the world’s leading distributors, we will be able to offer PlatinuLuxEgant for an incredibly low minimum donation of $100. But for that you also get a free limited edition t-shirt to go along with an empty bottle vodka that is so refined you can’t even see it.
All that’s standing between
me and my dream of retiring to Belize you and the next big “branded experience product” is a few hundred grand worth of donations. I’m planning to check out Kickstarter soon and get the campaign started. I just hope they don’t have any damn rules or regulations.
Stay tuned for details!
Check out Dan Dunn and Zane Lamprey’s podcast, Happy Hour with Zane & Dunn. Recent guests include actress Allison Janney, Time magazine columnist Joel Stein and Terri Nunn, lead singer of Berlin. You can follow Dan on Twitter and Facebook.