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Is there a scientifically detectable difference between high-price liquor and regular stuff?
The Straight Dope ^ | January 3, 2014 | Cecil Adams

Posted on 01/05/2014 12:24:09 AM PST by Slings and Arrows

Dear Cecil:

I was in the Costco liquor section when I happened upon a locked display case with three bottles inside (one whisky, one cognac, one I can’t remember), each priced upwards of $2,500. I imagine anyone who bought and drank one of these would be heavily influenced by "buyer's bias" regarding the actual taste of the product; still, I’d think the difference would be great enough that an average, uneducated drinker could pick out the ultra-expensive bottle from a $30 one in a blind test. What can science tell us about why an extremely high-quality and typically older alcohol would be so much more pleasant to drink, and thus much more valuable?

— Morton Christopher

Cecil replies:

Science can tell us plenty about booze, Mort. However, the relevant discipline shifts as we rise in the price scale. At the low end, where we’re talking about beverages commonly drunk from paper bags, chemistry can easily demonstrate what separates rotgut from the decent stuff. Above a certain point, however, we find more useful insight in psychology, if you take my meaning. The question is where that shift occurs. In bitter moments I tend to say it’s around ten bucks a bottle, although having had a tasty if somewhat pricey Chateauneuf-du-Pape the other night I can see where you might objectively demonstrate that $100 was money well spent. But $2,500? Sorry, this is prima facie evidence of the madness of crowds.

With the exception of pure ethanol, alcoholic beverages are complex mixtures of chemicals derived from the raw materials plus the containers they’re aged and stored in. Variations in taste generally arise from differences in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which readily vaporize at room temp when the container is opened and give the brew, vintage, or what have you its characteristic smell — not the common term, particularly among wine enthusiasts, but let’s call a spade a spade.

The VOCs potentially found in alcoholic beverages make for a long list. Most of the terms mean nothing to the nonspecialist, but since you asked, here are some things you might detect if your man cave is equipped with a mass spectrometer:

Still, while we know in a general way which VOCs are associated with what taste, that’s a long way from saying we can detail with any confidence the chemical differences separating an award-winning beverage from an OK one.

In many cases these differences are minute. For example, the subtle taste of “greenness” in a Sauvignon Blanc, an undesirable quality in other varieties of wine, arises from methoxypyrazine compounds, detectable by humans in the parts per trillion. It’s surely also true that taste is a result of the interplay between multiple VOCs, some of which chemists have yet to identify. The best means of judging quality, therefore, remains the human nose and palate.

These make for an imperfect instrument. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of wine tasting:

Does that mean alleged differences in alcoholic beverages are BS? Depends on what you consider differences. When nonprofessional tasters were trained to use a standardized whisky-tasting vocabulary and then given samples of 40 blended Scotch whiskies, their assessments generally corresponded with the four categories of whisky being tested (deluxe, standard, cheap, and West Highland). In a separate study, the four categories were themselves found to have distinctive chemical signatures. In other words, it was possible to sense broad variations in quality, and those variations had a chemical basis.

On the other hand, consistently distinguishing a presumably exquisite $2,500 bottle from a merely excellent $100 one … eh, maybe somebody with an unusually sensitive palate could do it. You or me? That I doubt.

Cecil Adams


TOPICS: Food; Science; Society
KEYWORDS: napl
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I'm sure that this issue couldn't possibly be controversial.
1 posted on 01/05/2014 12:24:09 AM PST by Slings and Arrows
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To: Slings and Arrows; MeekOneGOP; Conspiracy Guy; DocRock; King Prout; Darksheare; OSHA; ...

*shrug* Marketing.



2 posted on 01/05/2014 12:26:43 AM PST by Slings and Arrows (You can't have Ingsoc without an Emmanuel Goldstein.)
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To: Slings and Arrows

"...yeah,bout tree fitty"

3 posted on 01/05/2014 12:31:25 AM PST by Doogle (USAF.68-73..8th TFW Ubon Thailand..never store a threat you should have eliminated))
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To: Slings and Arrows

ChocoVine.

Mmmm mmmm mmm.


4 posted on 01/05/2014 12:32:56 AM PST by pax_et_bonum (Never Forget the Seals of Extortion 17 - and God Bless America)
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To: Slings and Arrows

Dunno about ‘scientifically detectable’ (although some differences would be bandied about for several years as to what makes a good liquor or what makes it rotgut), but speaking from experience: once you have tasted the truly fine ones... there really is no forgetting it. You will never mistake it for the cheap dregs ever again.


5 posted on 01/05/2014 12:34:13 AM PST by Utilizer (Bacon A'kbar! - In world today are only peaceful people, and the mooslimbs trying to kill them-)
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To: Slings and Arrows
Q: What's the difference between a $2,500 bottle of wine, and a $100 bottle?

A: $2,400

6 posted on 01/05/2014 12:38:39 AM PST by ken5050 (This space available cheap...)
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To: Doogle

So that’s why the Loch Ness Monster wanted the money!


7 posted on 01/05/2014 12:39:21 AM PST by Slings and Arrows (You can't have Ingsoc without an Emmanuel Goldstein.)
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To: Slings and Arrows

8 posted on 01/05/2014 12:40:43 AM PST by JoeProBono (SOME IMAGES MAY BE DISTURBING VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED;-{)
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To: Slings and Arrows

This is the advice I gave to my own child: you can drink cheap beer and wine, but if you are drinking the hard stuff, go high end.


9 posted on 01/05/2014 12:41:36 AM PST by jocon307
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To: ken5050
Q: What's the difference between a $100 bottle of wine, and a $2,500 bottle ?

A: The difference between spending the first part of the evening with a great lot of pissed mates at the sports bar, and a truly memorable night with a truly jaw-dropping sheila whose name you probably might not remember, nor ever see again, but for every moment you remember: it was worth it, s'truth! *smile* (note: I am not admitting to anything, right? *grin*)

10 posted on 01/05/2014 12:45:55 AM PST by Utilizer (Bacon A'kbar! - In world today are only peaceful people, and the mooslimbs trying to kill them-)
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To: jocon307

11 posted on 01/05/2014 12:45:56 AM PST by Slings and Arrows (You can't have Ingsoc without an Emmanuel Goldstein.)
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To: JoeProBono

I think that the graphic artist got to that bottle before Redd.


12 posted on 01/05/2014 12:46:55 AM PST by Slings and Arrows (You can't have Ingsoc without an Emmanuel Goldstein.)
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To: Slings and Arrows

I’m told that Trader Joe’s single malt scotch is comparable to many of the good (perhaps not the best) “label” single malts at about half the price. I’ve not confirmed this.


13 posted on 01/05/2014 12:47:12 AM PST by Attention Surplus Disorder (At no time was the Obama administration aware of what the Obama administration was doing)
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To: Slings and Arrows

14 posted on 01/05/2014 12:47:54 AM PST by JoeProBono (SOME IMAGES MAY BE DISTURBING VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED;-{)
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To: Slings and Arrows

LOL! I love that! That’s a wee Irish baby, I reckon.


15 posted on 01/05/2014 12:48:28 AM PST by jocon307
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To: JoeProBono

o/~ Well they call it that good old mountain dew... o/~


16 posted on 01/05/2014 12:49:09 AM PST by Slings and Arrows (You can't have Ingsoc without an Emmanuel Goldstein.)
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To: Slings and Arrows

Not after the first drink ... it’s ALL booze after that.


17 posted on 01/05/2014 12:50:13 AM PST by knarf (I say things that are true .. I have no proof .. but they're true.)
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To: jocon307
LOL! I love that! That’s a wee Irish baby, I reckon.

Faith and begorrah, 'tis true.

18 posted on 01/05/2014 12:50:21 AM PST by Slings and Arrows (You can't have Ingsoc without an Emmanuel Goldstein.)
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To: Slings and Arrows

"..you hear bout dat lot ness monter?...eyea, just tree fitty"

19 posted on 01/05/2014 12:50:37 AM PST by Doogle (USAF.68-73..8th TFW Ubon Thailand..never store a threat you should have eliminated))
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To: JoeProBono
Awwww God bless ya'

I f'get your name, but'cha' left a legacy other men are afraid to emulate.

20 posted on 01/05/2014 12:54:15 AM PST by knarf (I say things that are true .. I have no proof .. but they're true.)
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To: knarf

Just remembered ... Popcorn !


21 posted on 01/05/2014 12:55:25 AM PST by knarf (I say things that are true .. I have no proof .. but they're true.)
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To: Slings and Arrows

There is when I make it, versus buy it.

Doesn’t even take analytical equipment to tell them apart; just pouring through a coffee filter, then sniffing will tell the tale.

Somewhere, I have a 30 year old jug of apricot wine. First five years, it tasted like raw gasoline. A few years later, it had mellowed to #2 diesel, sitting in the tank 6 months.

Last time I checked, about 10 years ago, it could pass for mild kerosene, with a hint of fruit-flavored lamp-oil.


22 posted on 01/05/2014 1:04:15 AM PST by ApplegateRanch (Love me, love my guns!©)
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To: knarf

Popcorn Sutton was well known throughout the South and the world for making the best damn “likker” anyone had ever tasted.


23 posted on 01/05/2014 1:12:01 AM PST by JoeProBono (SOME IMAGES MAY BE DISTURBING VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED;-{)
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To: Slings and Arrows
Old WalMart

24 posted on 01/05/2014 1:16:20 AM PST by Bobalu (The true secret to genius is in creativity, not in technical mechanics)
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To: ApplegateRanch

Mmmm, petroleum products.


25 posted on 01/05/2014 1:16:33 AM PST by Slings and Arrows (You can't have Ingsoc without an Emmanuel Goldstein.)
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To: Slings and Arrows

There is a taste difference for sure but bargains to be had

I think Evan Williams tastes great for the money....my pistol packing Mississippi ginger granny drank it...nightly in her knock you dead toddies

Sobieski vodka too....plain Pinnacle as well

Cognac Chatelier VSOP....only 18 bucks....amazing value

Piper Heidsieck Monopole brut champagne....top shelf...30 bucks..half that of Vieve Cliquot

Cazadores tequila....not cheap but as good as 100 dollar a bottle stuff

Red wines....Mascarelli...cheap but good

Villa Puccini gold label ditto

Fred McMurray pinot...yep that Fred

Barbancourt black star rum.....as good as those twice the price......rhum Martinique...white...raw....dirt cheap...great stuff.......pampero anniversaro..20 bucks and worth twice that....brandy style rum

Sam Adams lager...excellent beer...PC douchebag owners

Lots a bargains in booze...I buy a lot and pay attention

Meomi pinot.....AtoZ pinot.....

Early times whiskey....dewars scotch....beefeaters gin

All Better than their price.... my opinion

I don’t drink anything but shine.....that’s it....apple pie shine made a few miles from my TN home...untaxed....cut down to 120 proof.or so.....just a few shots....goes down like sauterne but aint cheap....20/quart.....ball or mason jar...its addictive....like dope

Damn that Lawless movie....


26 posted on 01/05/2014 1:18:42 AM PST by wardaddy (wifey instructed me today to grow chapter president beard back again....i wonder why?)
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To: Slings and Arrows
There's a big difference between cheap vodka and filtered vodka, both the flavor and the next day aftereffects. Least expensive “clean” filtered vodkas would be Absolut, Pinnacle, Svedka, maybe Sky. Not going to be nearly as smooth as Grey Goose, Belvidere or more expensive boutique vodkas, but passable. There's one from Texas, I forget the name but it's distilled in Austin, that is a comparative bargain among the better vodkas, too. Scotch just about has to be single malt, very few blends that are decent, maybe Pinch. An affordable decent single malts is Glenlivet or Glenfiddich and it goes up from there.
27 posted on 01/05/2014 1:31:58 AM PST by RegulatorCountry
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To: RegulatorCountry

“Does filtering cheap vodka through a Brita filter really work?”

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/474541


28 posted on 01/05/2014 1:41:36 AM PST by JoeProBono (SOME IMAGES MAY BE DISTURBING VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED;-{)
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To: JoeProBono

Sobieski is mentioned in the comments and mentioned here, too. I don’t drink much anymore but I’ll have a vodka tonic with lime every now and then, I’ll have to try it if it’s even available in the state run liquor stores here.


29 posted on 01/05/2014 1:49:01 AM PST by RegulatorCountry
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To: Slings and Arrows

As noted here, discussions about the best beer or liquor are mostly ego trips by those trying to outdo the others with exotic brands. I have had good and very good, but who can judge someone’s taste?
I drink a lot of wine, but I am happy with my one ltr. red wines that come from Spain. They come in a sealed box, and cost only 140 pesos, a little over three bucks. Even better, I can carry 20 ltrs with no problem. For hard stuff, I like a lite Scotch over ice, but I buy cheap brands. I do not need Lafleur. I am drinking a San Miguel beer as I type this, but I have some delightful Carlo Rossi California red to have with dinner.... Yes, I can see the expressions on many faces here, haha.


30 posted on 01/05/2014 1:49:51 AM PST by AlexW
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To: Slings and Arrows

Depends on if you are drinking to get drunk or to enjoy.


31 posted on 01/05/2014 2:04:44 AM PST by driftdiver (I could eat it raw, but why do that when I have a fire.)
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To: JoeProBono

I can’t believe I just spent about 45 minutes reading this link. Great information on it.


32 posted on 01/05/2014 2:12:56 AM PST by verga (Poor spiritual health oftern leads to poor physical and mental health)
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To: verga

;-{)


33 posted on 01/05/2014 2:21:29 AM PST by JoeProBono (SOME IMAGES MAY BE DISTURBING VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED;-{)
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To: Slings and Arrows
I can definitely tell the difference between a bottle of this:

and this:

34 posted on 01/05/2014 2:26:47 AM PST by markomalley (Nothing emboldens the wicked so greatly as the lack of courage on the part of the good -- Leo XIII)
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To: JoeProBono
And as staunch an anti-reven-oo-er as ever was.

There's a youtube about him .. (you'll need an hour and a half ... WELL worth it!) that follows his last brew from start to finish.

Would'a LOVED him to be a neighbor and friend

35 posted on 01/05/2014 2:28:01 AM PST by knarf (I say things that are true .. I have no proof .. but they're true.)
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To: markomalley

36 posted on 01/05/2014 2:37:05 AM PST by JoeProBono (SOME IMAGES MAY BE DISTURBING VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED;-{)
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To: markomalley

Absolutely, blindfolded with a stuffed up nose and after eating a dill pickle. Makers is one of the best.


37 posted on 01/05/2014 2:42:44 AM PST by verga (Poor spiritual health oftern leads to poor physical and mental health)
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To: Slings and Arrows
While I mostly agree with the article, the difference between vodkas has become blurred in recent years. Vodka is mostly 40% ethyl alcohol and 60% water, but there are very small quantities of other organic compounds that can carry over in distillation. These compounds can give vodka a harsh taste. Some vodka makers have moved from traditional pot stills to column distillation ... look for distilled three, four or even five times on the label. These multi distilled vodkas have a higher degree of purity and often lack the harsh taste that can be found in similarly low priced vodkas. Some vodka purists claim this multi distillation removes the subtle flavors of vodkas, but I believe most people would not notice.

An exception is Tito's vodka (made in Austin, TX) which is still made with a pot still, but has a quality that rivals or exceeds imported Grey Goose at about half the price. I have also recently discovered Mark One vodka which I find exceptionally smooth despite its bargain price.

Over the recent holidays my brother-in-law brought a bottle of bargain vodka made by a well recognized gin maker. That vodka had a harshness that reminded me of drinking gasoline and not even spicy Bloody Mary mix could mask the terrible taste. I was forced to make a Christmas eve trip to the local wine & spirits store to get a vodka that was drinkable in my holiday Bloody Mary.

38 posted on 01/05/2014 2:46:29 AM PST by The Great RJ
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To: Attention Surplus Disorder

I’ve also heard that the what is it?, Kirkland vodka from Costco is almost exactly the same as Grey Goose...

Personally, I judge a spirit by more than just taste. One of my main considerations is “Am I gonna feel like crap for two days?”

Different booze, different hangovers.


39 posted on 01/05/2014 2:53:57 AM PST by djf (Global warming is a bunch of hot air!!)
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To: Slings and Arrows

I suppose if you are an oenophile you could tell the difference. I’ve met many in my life who could.

As for me, I can’t tell the difference with wine. So I buy Two Buck Chuck. I really do like it.


40 posted on 01/05/2014 2:58:18 AM PST by Gefn (RIP Holly, April 1999-December 31, 2013 the best cat ever)
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To: Slings and Arrows

To the real Commonsewer of Booze waking up laying face down in the front yard when the sprinklers come on the only controversial question is ‘What happened last night?’.


41 posted on 01/05/2014 3:24:58 AM PST by count-your-change (you don't have to be brilliant, not being stupid is enough)
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To: Attention Surplus Disorder

It indeed used to be. Since I’ve not been to TJ’s in many years, I can’t verify this any more, but when I was drinking more single malt than I am now, it was certainly the case and I’d pick up many a bottle of good, “end of run” or similar odd-lot whisky at TJ’s.


42 posted on 01/05/2014 3:33:56 AM PST by NVDave
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To: Slings and Arrows
When my dad passed on, I ended up with some old, unopened bottles. One was an old, old Haig Pinch. The other was a ceramic jug of Red Hackle. Talked to the experts. The Hackle was low end stuff but prewar. They said the best thing to do, according to them was to just drink both bottles. When the occasion arises, I will.
Also, a few years ago, an old soldier ran a bar in Pacific during WW 2, posted here on FR that he would pour cheap, Red Hackle and the like, booze into empty bottles of more expensive stuff and put it on the shelf. Then sit back and watch the mucky-mucks do taste comparisons not knowing it was all the same stuff. A great story!
43 posted on 01/05/2014 3:38:16 AM PST by ArtDodger
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To: Utilizer

That’s what I tell people too.

The ultra-expensive stuff, tho, usually isn’t worth the delta above the top-shelf $50 to $150/bottle stuff.

For example, I’ve found in single malt whisky that aging the spirit more than 18 years really adds nothing in terms of taste or nose. Somewhere between 12 and 18 seems to be the optimum aging time. 25 year single malts cost substantially more, but IMO aren’t worth it.

Now, is single malt better than blended whisky, or stuff like Chivas? Oh yes.

That said, there are some very good American whiskeys (bourbons, mostly) which are very good for very reasonable prices. I’ve recently discovered Buffalo Trace, and I find it very drinkable neat. Only about $25/bottle. I’d put it up there against any $60/bottle single malt.


44 posted on 01/05/2014 3:38:22 AM PST by NVDave
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To: Slings and Arrows

A bunch of years ago while vacationing in Honduras, we ran out of the Tanqueray gin we had brought with us so we were forced to purchase the only gin available down there. It was an “import” from Holland I believe and the most foul tasting gin I had ever had in my life........It likely would have dissolved the bristles on a paint brush if used as a paint thinner.


45 posted on 01/05/2014 3:47:26 AM PST by Hot Tabasco (Miss Muffit suffered from arachnophobia.....)
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To: Gefn

There are wines that make Two-Buck Chuck look like grand cru.

http://bumwine.com/


46 posted on 01/05/2014 4:05:07 AM PST by Slings and Arrows (You can't have Ingsoc without an Emmanuel Goldstein.)
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To: JoeProBono

Oh my God, Old Crow!! I was a young lad of 25 over so tending bar in an American Legion on the East Coast. After my shift I had time to have one beer in the back bar before going to pick up my other half at the metro station.

Well, all the big shots were there in the members only bar, buying shots and when it came to many turn, I said “Old Crow!” (cause that’s what all the cool guys were drinking.)One round turned into several, and at one point all the guys kind of backed away from me, leaving me to feel this “presence” behind me. You know., the mother of my child I was supposed to pick up hours ago..!

She smiled and said hello to all, before jerking me off that barstool, drunk as a hoot owl and dragged me home yelling about the two mile walk she had endured. I made it to the parking lot before that Old Crow started coming back up. I puked in the car, parking lot, steps of our apartment, and for the next two days I dry-heaved.I can’t even look at a crow these days.
True Story..


47 posted on 01/05/2014 4:20:36 AM PST by cardinal4
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To: Slings and Arrows

Once, I had this wicked—and stupid—idea of sending out invitations to our small circle of friends, inviting them to a wine-and-cheese party. Once they arrived we would serve Thunderbird wine and Velveeta cheese.

We likely would have been killed right there on the spot, too.


48 posted on 01/05/2014 4:25:27 AM PST by OldPossum ("It's" is the contraction of "it" and "is"; think about ITS implications.)
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To: Bobalu

Produced in the next town over from where I grew up. LOL


49 posted on 01/05/2014 4:56:27 AM PST by Sherman Logan
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To: Slings and Arrows

The guy asked a question about spirits and got an answer about wine.

Great for the money:
Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Jamison Gold
Pinch Scotch Single Malt
George Dickel Tennessee Whskey
Ancient Ancient Age Bourbon


50 posted on 01/05/2014 4:57:26 AM PST by SC_Pete
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