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Strong alcholic beverage at an upscale party
foxinthestars wrote in little_details
I'm kind of a babe in the woods when it comes to alcohol and need some help.

My setting is the Capitol in the Hunger Games world. My viewpoint character is at a very upscale party, gets upset, wants something to drink, and grabs the "first safe glass" as they flee a room.

Now I'm trying to identify the drink. It's alcoholic, and stronger than the character is used to or would have chosen if they weren't panicking, but not enough to get them noticeably drunk in one serving. I would prefer a bracing taste and had initially described the drink as "bitter and stinging with a hint of vapor;" an advance reader said that sounded like a liquor or maybe brandy (and from my research, say, indiscriminately handing out setting-equivalent cognac could fit the whole conspicuous consumption theme).

What would you all suggest for a strong(ish) alcoholic beverage served at a party marked by over-the-top excess, and how would it taste to an inexperienced and ill-disposed palate?

Maybe Absinthe? It's ridiculously expensive and has a fancy rep,so definitely fits in with the over-the-top-ness of the party, and is is stronger than most alcohols. Wouldn't get you noticeably drunk in one serving unless it was a really, really big serving.

It also fits the description of the taste you've got there, but then so does most liquor. The issue you'll have, potentially, is that most liquor is pretty much the same strength, alcohol-wise, and has a similar bracing kick to it. If your character is generally inexperienced with liquors then any liquor will do the job, but if you want something that might be a tiny bit surprising to someone who has drunk liquor before, I'd go with Absinthe due to its strength, unique flavour and decadence.

Absinthe has a slight (once you get past the burning) taste of aniseed.


The character's previous experience with alcohol would be pretty much limited to wine and champagne.

My first thought was absinthe too. Perhaps the name could be altered a bit to keep the similarity, but to introduce a little ambiguity, in case some hardcore absinthe drinker is reading?

ha, absinthe was my first thought, too. It's associated with decadence and hedonism.

You'd need to decide if it was to be served the traditional way (with water and sugar, there are specific ways to do it), or just as-is. As-is, it definitely has an effect. The bottle I have has 70 percent alcohol. I occasionally take a small bit for medicinal purposes, and even though I'm somewhat used to alcohol, it always closes up my chest for a moment, in addition to the burning.


It's plentiful, it's upscale, it can be expensive, and to neophytes it tastes like moldy floor cleaner cut with some gasoline. Generally served as 'on the rocks', e.g. in a tumbler with a couple of ice cubes.

My favorite brand is Macallan.

Thanks! LOLed at your description of the taste.

(Reminded me of my own first and almost only experience with saké --- bread-dough scented aftershave.)

Personally, I think anyone who drinks good single malt on the rocks should be shot *care bear stare*

What about a bad one :D

Second this! Also your uses for bad whisky. Hmmm, I may have to use that someday.

My fave is Laphroiag. It's such fun watching people try to spell it.

(no subject) (Anonymous) Expand
Gin? The botanicals give it the bitter, stinging quality (well, the alcohol alone gives it the stinging quality!).

Toss in a cube of dry ice and you have a vapour effect?

You could also try pernod? It's an anise-based liqueur. VERY strong, but legal, unlike real absinthe in most US states.

Well, I'm writing about a post-apocalyptic future and people who are above petty laws, so I'm not too worried about that. ^_~ Thanks, though!

A good brandy? Absinthe is a bit student pretentious; tastes like toothpaste and a bit déclassé - it wouldn't be served in real world analogues. Whisky is a possibility, but for serious alcoholic kick + prestige, I'd say a decent brandy
Though I haven't read THG and may be being unduly British ;-)

Yeah, that's the other thing I would lean toward...

THG is a post-apocalyptic future so all bets are off to some extent, and the Capitol is over-the-top decadent but also shown as silly and tasteless.

Absinthe in a fanfic causes me to start wondering which of the characters is a secret vampire. From experience, usually all of them.

liqueur and spirits (1 of 2)


2014-08-27 09:41 pm (UTC)

This may be TMI, but I hope it's at least partly of use:

Just FYI, you're using the term "liquor" when what you mean is "liqueur". Liqueur is a type of liquor: "an alcoholic beverage made from a distilled spirit that has been flavored with fruit, cream, herbs, spices, flowers or nuts and bottled with added sugar or other sweetener". All alcoholic drinks are liquor, the way that all the various things that your lawn grows out of (dust, soil, mulch, clay) are dirt, but not all alcoholic drinks are liqueurs.

To give you some clearer ideas (I hope):

Liquor includes: beer, wine, spirits, liqueurs.

Scotch, gin, whiskey, rum, vodka, brandy and tequila (for example) are all spirits, often called "hard liquors". They are distilled. For example, brandy is formed by distilling wine; cognac is a type of very fine brandy. Scotch is a type of whiskey (or whisky; both spellings are acceptable). Irish mist and drambuie are liqueurs made from whiskey. (confused yet?)

Liqueurs are made by starting with a spirit and adding other components, such as fruit or herbs. Some of these are called cordials. Absinthe is a liqueur; so are anisette (licorice), amaretto (almond), kahlua (coffee), Grand Marnier (orange), Midori (melon), triple sec (orange again), Frangelico (hazelnut), Galliano, chartreuse, Goldschläger, campari (all herbal, and there are many others), and on and on.

Some liqueurs are very expensive, expesially if they're made with rare ingredients. The most expensive drinks, however, are really fine spirits of particular vintage: the high prices are driven by, among other things, the rarity, the difficulty of making something really fine, and
the competition to own it when the resource is limited.
Most spirits, drunk neat (that is, unmixed with any non-alcoholic components and not cut with ice) pack a wallop, and can be harsh and/or burning on the mouth and throat.

Liqueurs run the gamut from syrupy and sweet to tangy to bitter to fiery. You can have a liqueur that fits pretty much any description you can come up with.

Here's the thing: most of the time, spirits aren't drunk neat; they're drunk over ice or mixed into cocktails. When they're drunk neat, they're usually served in small glasses, and drinking them can be cross between an indulgence and an ordeal. Some liqueurs really bite back. Absinthe was traditionally mixed with water poured over a sugar cube (the final drink is only 20% absinthe), which cut the bite a great deal.

Cognac is an exception to this: really good brandy is drunk neat (it's considered a waste to mix it with any lesser ingredient). The usual glass is large and rounded, with a relatively small amount of liquid in it. Really good single-malt scotch is similar (that is, drunk neat), but is drunk out of smaller glasses, often in larger amounts.

This can be really useful for what you want. The Capitol is crazy for excess, and has disgusting amounts of resources that are rare elsewhere. They have a culture based on consumption and waste. Glasses of the Really Special Stuff could be some kind of really nice crystal glass, set aside on a special tray, separate from the main bar with its more pedestrian drinks.

Your character can pass this display and grab a glass of single-malt scotch, or prized cognac, or a glass of absinthe that was standing ready to be louched (mixed with water and sugar), or schnapps (cinnamon), or some other liqueur of the stinging type. A regular serving might get him/her woozy from the smack of the alcohol, but not drunk; and would definitely be harsh on the inexperienced mouth, especially if he/she downed it in one gulp.

Re: liqueur and spirits (2 of 2)


2014-08-27 09:41 pm (UTC)

How these taste:

Single-malt scotch: very fiery and stinging. If it's a peaty scotch (Islay), your character will probably feel as if they've just drunk stagnant swamp water. It will be a golden color, ranging into dark golden-brown.

Absinthe: stinging, tickles the nose, overpowering taste of licorice. It's green -- naturally coloured absinthe ranges from sage green to grass green -- so the character might have mistaken it for some other, innocent fruit juice mix with a lime base.

Cognac: much less of a taste and less of a burn in the mouth, but more of an impact on the nose. Brandy and cognac give off strong fumes, which is why they're served in the round bulbous glasses. You're supposed to smell the bouquet before you drink. Gulped in a hurry, there will be a sensation like burning water going up the nose and into the eyes.

Schnapps: incredibly stingy in the mouth and on the nose. One form of schnapps, Goldschläger, has little flakes of actual gold foil floating in it, which don't do anything except make it sparkly. This gives a definite conspicuous-consumption edge to it.

You can have fruit schnapps as well, or fruit brandy (such as peach schnapps or peach brandy). These will be much sweeter and more syrupy, and your character will probably get a major disconnect between the smell (more like strong fruit juice with a hint of wine) and the impact of the strong spirits. The physical response to this can include a suddenly lurching stomach -- which is another stressor for this scenario, since the people from the Districts don't want to waste food by being sick.

Okay, enough nattering. I hope some of this helps, and that I haven't sounded too pedantic here!

Re: liqueur and spirits (1 of 2)


2014-08-28 05:46 pm (UTC)

When they're drunk neat, they're usually served in small glasses, and drinking them can be cross between an indulgence and an ordeal.

HA. This is the best description of "You have to try $famous.national.alcohol" I've ever heard, whether it's Brennivín or pálinka...although in my case I always come down on the "ordeal" side of it (that said, as someone who drinks but not neat high-proof stuff, every time I've tried one of those "here is a shot-glass with about 1cm of booze in it" famous national alcohols, I have not been able to finish them by the cautious sip method--and I knew what I was getting and was trying to learn to like it).

I feel like you could go with almost anything here, besides a "girly" mixed drink (and beer would not be the best choice either). For inexperienced drinkers, everything from vodka to red wine to scotch is going to have a bitter, stinging taste, and it seems like every alcohol has a broad range, from the plastic-jug low end to the multi-hundred dollar fancy stuff. There are people that do tequila tastings and get really into high-end tequilas, for example. I think as long as you describe it right, most liquors will fit into your story nicely.

I note that you could have them invent their own cocktail and so invent a name for it.

When I went to college, I knew people who invented what they called the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, or the Jovian Sunrise. though that particular drink would not be suitable for your case not only because it was too powerful -- I never drank one, but I smelled one once, you could tell -- but because it was a bright yellow with some green stuff dribbled into it to form a column.

Well, you went to college with people with geeky tendencies, who actually invented neither of the drinks. Jovian Sunspot is from Babylon 5 and Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. ^^

Yup, that was part of my college experience also -- not the Jovian Sunspot, since mine was back in the 80s; but everyone was coming up with their own variation on the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster or the Sonic Screwdriver. Most of the recipes combined hard liquor and champagne, which is a horrible, horrible thing to do.

Something you might also want to consider is that virtually all spirits naturally distil out to a much higher strength than they are sold at, and they are diluted with water to a standard strength for bottling and selling. I don't know about the USA but here in the UK 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) is standard strength (cheap own-brand stuff is often diluted as low as 37% on the 'why sell liquor when you can sell water?' principle).

Scotch whisky, for example, typically distils at between 60-65%, though sometimes stronger, and is matured in cask undiluted (takes up less storage space). Occasionally it is actually bottled and sold - much more expensively - at 'cask strength'. This is not just so that p*ssheads can get drunk on it - it's a very expensive way to get drunk - but so that connoisseurs can taste it in its original state, and let it down exactly as much as they want. This is important to spirits buffs (I am one - you probably spotted that already) because it's a fact that every good liquor has its individual ideal strength; one producer's rum, say, might be at its best at 42%, another at 44%. I once got to taste Bacardi white rum at its optimum strength, at which it was originally sold - can't remember the exact ABV, but it was only in the low 40s - and it really was rather good. I had never understood before how Bacardi had ever become popular, but now all became clear - it was a good rum once, but after they had established themselves in the market as the universal white rum, they watered it down to 40%, at which strength its flavour is simply killed.

All this waffling is to suggest that what's on this table could easily be a fine spirit at cask strength. Even if your character was familiar with whisky or rum, say, s/he would naturally be expecting a standard 40%, and be knocked backwards if it turned out to be 57 or 60. The more so as a fine spirit at that strength is still smooth in the mouth - if you took a gulp it would only be after it went down that you would,start to gasp 'WTF is this?'.