Taste Makes Waste

This exchange actually occurred between two members of the Burning Question crew after a night of research in which we visited The Meridian Room, The Old Monk, Candle Room and Sense:

"Did I do anything stupid at Sense last night?"

"We went to Sense last night?"

Later, after we completed our work on this week's topic and stumbled into the office with fists full of credit card receipts, another interesting--but one-sided--exchange occurred in which our editor lectured us on catastrophic moments in journalism when, as we interpreted it, thorough and professional journalists stretched the all-too-narrow expense limits set by rigid front-office types. That's what we remember.

To hear him tell it, exceeding our entire year's budget in six days just because some reader challenged us to find an alcohol we won't drink is a bad thing.

Yet few questions intrigued us as much as this one, and it deserved our utmost effort. The Burning Question crew downed everything from absinthe (which we enjoy) to cement mixers to chewing-tobacco residue--although that was more of a regrettable accident.

We quickly discovered that bar patrons order up some horrid concoctions, even without prompting. "There are things people ask for that I wouldn't drink," says Jeff Carter, bartender at Cool River, recounting some of his regulars' favorites, which include Kahlua and grapefruit juice. "We have a guy" (named Jake, by the way, which seems appropriate) "who comes in and orders Jagermeister and half & half," adds Brian Rudolph of The Old Monk. "If you're in this industry long enough, you'll see it all."

Now, just as a point of reference, the Burning Question crew typically orders bourbon neat or martinis when pursuing stories. We've been known, however, to sample just about everything. For example, we always keep a bottle of absinthe, the bitter and potent green liqueur that drove van Gogh to hack off his own ear and is illegal in this country, stashed away at our suburban headquarters. We also import a wicked ethanol-flavored drink called Samane, only half a step improved from Lithuanian moonshine. When we visit Arcodoro & Pomodoro, we always order grappa, an Italian product that also fuels Formula 1 race cars (although that's just a guess).

So, is there an alcohol we won't drink?

Bartenders at The Men's Club suggested a rare and none-too-pleasing mixture of vermouth and soda. It was dry enough to scorch the nasal cavity of a camel and packed a nasty, lingering aftertaste. As the drink penetrates your consciousness--in other words, as your mind figures out exactly what you've forced your taste buds to transmit--it retaliates by shutting down various vital functions, or at least those that make lap dances worthwhile.

On a whim, we spent a Sunday afternoon at Champps in Las Colinas sipping Jagermeister. The reason people gulp it becomes obvious when you try to savor the taste. Shooting eliminates the sharp, bitter zing at the end. Still, it's a relatively complex liqueur, smacking faintly of cola in the middle and a soothing sweetness overall. Soon we switched to Campari. Our bartender, Heather Wood, assured us that the stuff "tastes the way gasoline smells," which didn't really register until we emptied the first round. It's dry and very bitter. Initially sweet, it soon succumbs to a pinecone flavor. That's right, it tastes like the contents of one of those air freshener containers that plug into electrical outlets.

"Liqueurs like Campari are acquired tastes," Shawn Egerton, bartender at Candle Room, reassures us. "It's the worst thing I've ever tasted in my life" (he must not be a fan of Glade), "but I know people who sip it on the rocks."

Scott Lastowski of The Meridian Room served us another Italian favorite, Fernet Branca, a medicinal and utterly bitter thing that smells faintly of rubbing alcohol and some kind of cough drop the school nurse forced down your throat as a kid.

As we made our way through other disturbing drinks, from cocktails to shots to sipping liqueurs, others offered some useful tips. According to Matthew, poet laureate of Dallas nightlife and bartender at Passport, Hennessey and Dr Pepper ranks as the worst possible cocktail--"even just to hear people order it." He lists white zinfandel a close second, followed by anything mixed with Southern Comfort. "Avoid anything your granddad drank," suggests Brad Palmer, whom we encountered chugging beers at The Old Monk. "If it's in plastic, that's your first sign to avoid it," adds Emily Storer, considering a margarita at Mi Cocina.

For us, a scotch and Coke, sampled at The Old Monk, earned the ultimate title. "It's an amateur-night drink," Rudolph says, "but people order it." He mixed a whiskey from the well, and that, coupled with the cola's sweetness, ruined our entire Saturday. Scotch and Coke is instant hangover, a sweet and cloying drink. Good bourbon chased by several martinis failed to dislodge the flavor.

Thus, we headed over to Candle Room and then, apparently, to Sense. And now, we're off to sit quietly and consider our transgressions in our editor's "time out" room.


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