Satan’s Vodka: Was Reagan Right About ‘The Evil Empire’?

Real men don’t drink vodka.

How do I know this?  Primarily from the score.  Cold War = We won.  Communism vs. Capitalism = We won.  Space Race = We won.  Any James Bond novel = We won.

I know, James Bond did drink the occasional Vesper containing vodka, but 007 wasn’t really American, and his Socialist slip tended to show when he was trying to diddle distressed damsels.

‘Wipe your forehead, Your Excellency. The pigeons are relentless.’

Back at the Rancho del Cielo, President Reagan’s favorite grog was scotch, followed closely by gin and orange juice, which is (granted) sort of a girly drink, but suffice it to say there was no Stoli on his wetbar.  And note that when the great Chivas-chugging Ronaldus Magnus told Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall’, he did not use any metrosexual obligeries like ‘please’.

And what did Birth-Mark-Head do?  He tore the sucker down and drowned his sorrow in multiple Moscow Mules.

Yuri Gagarin in a prototype space helmet

Oddly, prior to around 1960, not one American in a hundred had ever even tasted vodka.  All that started to change around the time that Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the earth, four years after Sputnik 1 became the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth, and the NASA poindexters began to glance skyward and say, ‘Whoa!  What are those goddamn Rooskie ratfinks eating for breakfast??’

Turned out it was vodka, followed by vodka for lunch and vodka for dinner, punctuated by frequent vodka breaks throughout the work day.  Americans found a sudden obsession to keep up with the Joneskys.

As a result, the Sixties saw vodka rise in the roster of what the swank Yank drank.   Whereas the 1950’s housewife may have had a single Commie cocktail in her arsenal—vodka and ginger-ale—the Mad Men era saw an explosion of designer ideas:  The Bloody Mary, the Screwdriver, the Vodka Gimlet and the irrepressible White Russian.

Still, it was more of a grudge match than a Russian Revolution, and Don Draper kept his bottle of vodka handy for Roger Sterling’s drop in and tune out meetings—Draper’s drink of choice was the all-American Old Fashioned: Angostura bitters, sweet Vermouth and Canadian Club.

Real Men Don’t Sup Spud Sap…

…But if we did, it would have to be something akin to 100,000 Scovilles Naga Chilli Vodka, a new fire water (literally) from Master of Malt.

Scovilles, you recall, are the ‘units’ used by organoleptomotrists to measure how hot a chili is, quantifying the heat-producing chemical capsaicin by measuring how many times a pepper must be diluted by its own mass of water until the heat settles down.  On the Scoville scale, green peppers come it at zero and pure capsaicin comes in at 15 million.  By contrast, Justin Bieber sits at a negative 10,000 Scovilles and Scarlett Johansson is 15,000,001.

However, since we are talking about blistery-tongue machismo, let me be perfectly clear: I have always considered the whole Scoville thing sort of wimpy.  Not the concept—that’s plenty butch for a testosterone-erupting wine critic like me—but the idea that the scale was invented by a pharmacist (crackerhonky profession) called Dr. (not—his degree was honorary) Wilbur (geeky name) Scoville (Rambo-ville would have been far, far better) never settled in with me as being sufficiently badass.

No matter, we’ll play the cards we’re dealt.

As measured by the mock doc, the world’s hottest pepper (as of 2007) was the naga jolokia, tipping the scales at over a million Scovilles.  For perspective, this twenty times hotter than Dave’s Insanity Sauce, 400 times hotter than Tabasco Sauce, and setting afire the distant heliopause compared to the almost embarrassingly mild-manner jalapeño, which scarcely charts at 5000 Scovilles.  The naga jolokia—also called bih jolokia, or ‘poison pepper’, was born in Bangladesh but developed to its most hellacious potential in Dorset, England by Michael and Joy Michaud.  The original version was rated at 855,000 S.U. by India’s Defense Research Laboratory (figure, if your pepper is being studied by a war department, you’re probably treading dangerous ground) and later at 1,041,427 S.U. by a company called Frontal Agritech, which is not, apparently, a company in search of alternate methods to performing frontal lobotomies.

$12,500 worth of barley and wood

There are probably plenty of reasons why Master of Malt—a Kent-based purveyor of single malt whiskeys—went into the business of marketing a vodka so stupidly hot that its logo is a skull and crossbones and carries a horrific warning label (which I will get to directly)—but I can’t think of one.  I’m equally flummoxed by their flagship portfolio product: A special-edition Speyside whiskey to commemorate the recent 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.  For just over $12,000 you’ll receive just under a fifth of 60-year old scotch from Glen Grant—but lest you feel this is a touch ‘extravagant’, consider that the bottle comes packaged in a  space-age container hand-crafted from an all-natural composite of xylem fiber, which is strong in tension, embedded in a matrix of lignin to resist compression.

My Glen Grant 60 Queen Elizabeth II discombobulation did not arise from the box, the bottle or the bounty—it was the tasting notes, which read, ‘Rich malt, an appley freshness which belies its age…’ and which I read as: ‘You just spent twelve thousand dollars on a sixty-year-old scotch that doesn’t taste like a sixty-year-old scotch…’

Danger, Will Robinson: This Ain’t Absolut

At 80 proof, 100,000 Scovilles Naga Chilli Vodka is standard strength for most vodkas sold in the United States, and as such, contains the usual governmental nonsense warning pregnant women about consumption of alcohol and the related dangers of birth defects—and nothing about consumption of alcohol and getting pregnant in the first place.  In addition, the Naga label offers a nonsensical (because it’s not legally binding) lists of ‘agreements’ that the purchaser acknowledges—including the understanding that the product is so hot that it will zap the capillaries in your papillaries; that should you light your face on fire with it, it’s your own, and not Malt’s fault; and my favorite—that you were neither blotto nor insane when you bought the bottle—when I can’t really imagine any other conditions that would cause you to do so.

Such an ominous, if obvious marketing ploy is cute; reminiscent of the ambulances they used to park in front of movie theaters in the Fifties when a horror film premiered—just in case somebody was frightened into requiring one.

Some Like It… 

“I’m the boss” …Oh, no, that’s the Judge Judy game.

So, how hot is it?  Certainly, you’re not going to do shooters with it, except that you probably will.  Of course, you won’t make bets with your soggy and shitfaced companions as to who can down the most—up until the time that you do.  And naturally, you will not invent silly drinking games involving chugging a shot every time you see Ally McBeal’s feet.  See, that show was canceled in 2002: Get with the current program and go with Kaley Cuoco’s feet.

Paul Rozin

In truth, the product is pure novelty, hot on the heels of what University of Pennsylvania food psychologist Paul Rozin calls ‘the benign masochism of the American palate’.  Whether it’s due to the endorphin-release that chili is said to promote, or the thrill-rush that heat-o-holics need, where (like roller-coasters), the level that’s best is just below what’s intolerable, chili is the second most craved flavor in the United States after chocolate.

I can’t say for sure if Naga Chilli Vodka measures up to the full 100,000 Scovilles, but however it weighs in, it’s a potent potable that proved its promise to pickle my pecker.


100,000 Scovilles Naga Chilli Vodka is available for around $50 a bottle at:

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