Sometimes, here at New Times headquarters, when we're not breaking stories or fielding calls from sexy admirers, we like to conduct experiments and gather a little data. Being compulsive, fire-breathing drunks, it's only natural that we'd direct our attention to liquor. Being journalists, we also look for ways to make cheap liquor taste better.
Maybe you've heard of it before: Terrible, rot-gut vodka, sent a few times through the charcoal and fairy dust of an $8 Brita filter, will become less terrible. Comparisons have been made to Grey Goose, Ketel One, Belvedere.
Vodka, it turns out, is ideally just alcohol and water. Much like regular water, the little bits of minerals and impurities in the liquid can impart a distinctive flavor -- that's why different brands of vodka have different tastes -- but by and large, the less crap is in there, the easier it is to drink.
So the $11 handle of Skol that I picked up at Publix Liquors had, it's safe to assume, some foreign material in it. "Is this the worst vodka you have?" I cheerfully asked the clerk at the counter. "Oh God, yes," he answered. "That'll give you a headache in the morning."
What good news. I headed back to the office.
We divided the vodka into four cups and sent them through the filter: one was filtered once, another was filtered twice, etc. We went through four rounds of filtering.
News blogger and notable teetotaler-except-on-Fridays Matthew Hendley brought in a bottle of Russian Standard, ostensibly a "good" vodka, for comparison.
Those present tasted the good vodka, then the Skol straight, then the four rounds of progressively filtered Skol. Here are some of their thoughts, in their own words.
"Burns going down, but nice aftertaste (sort of)." "Like warm rubbing alcohol." "Fruity, elegant, a little sweet aftertaste." (That was me, and yes, it was BS.) "Not too burny." "Tastes like the beauty of Mother Russia."
"What I drink with barbiturates when I want to sleep forever." "Isopropyl. Good if you have a wound in need of cleansing." "Rotten fruit from a shitty tree, to quote a phrase." "My chest hair is slowly falling off as it burns." "Reminds me of that one time, freshman year of college..."
"Good -- lacks metallic terroir." (Oh, come on.) "No burn. Less bite. But I might be drunk now." "Like a Grey Goose taking a crap on a Lexus."
The next round was interesting: It definitely became worse again. Maybe some impurities were being released by the filter?
"Burn is back. Ugh. So much grosser." "My heart hurts..." "Tastes like melting plastic." "Fuck you, vodka!" "Tastes like feces of the devil." "Disgusting -- loogie in the trash can. Triple-filter always."
Filtered three times.
"Rancid." "My mouth is numb, but not from anything fun." "I don't want to drink it anymore." "I want to weep." "Like Magic Markers and Glade."
Then it got slightly better again.
Filtered four times.
"I swallowed it; that's an improvement." "Science does not support the findings, but not horrible." "Better; it's like finding out your cancer will kill you in ten years instead of five."
"Filter my stomach." "Josef Stalin would be disappointed in what just happened in this office." "Nobody is getting lucky with this vodka tonight." "Why did this happen to us?" "PUT SOME FUCKING ICE IN IT! MOTHER RUSSIA IS FULL OF ICE."
At this point, my semidrunk colleagues were not too happy with me. I thought all the free vodka would make people happy, not sad. We also thought that filtering would be a progressive escalation to the high peaks of alcoholic perfection, like a trek up an icy mountain. All we got, however, was a headachy trip over a pothole.
In other words, if you factor in the cost of the filter and the number of rounds required to actually make the vodka taste better, just buy the expensive stuff. Or whiskey. Whiskey is good.