Perhaps you think that Independent.com’s new Sip This column was only going to be dedicated to the finer liquors in life, like the previously featured chartreuse from France, pinot gris from Arroyo Grande, and garnacha from Spain. Fear not, dear reader, for we’ve got tastes of all classes and tolerances here at The Indy, from Dom Perignon bubbly on down to the nastiest malt liquor.
Before you go jumping to conclusions, I’m not about to label Mickey’s — today’s featured libation — as nasty. (That would go to such brands as Country Club and King Cobra.) I’m hear to say that, in general, malt liquor and its preferred 40 oz. container get bad raps. In fact, the 40 oz. bottle and its resident malt liquor has a lot more going for it than you might realize.
Malt liquor is a type of beer too strong to simply be labeled beer. Instead, because it contains more than six percent alcohol, it gets the fancier name. Yet fancy doesn’t mean tasty, so often the ale inside of a 40 oz. bottle is more pungent and less refined that the typical lagers you might be used to. In some cases, the yellow fermented liquid is plain awful.
As such, American marketers have targeted the “urban” market, which apparently is not valued for refined tastes, as a selling ground for malt liquor. Even better, the marketers decided, let’s make sure the downtrodden population can get really, really big beers to spend their time on. Hence the bottle that’s more than three times the size of normal. (If you’re sensing an undercurrent charge of racism, classism, and “the-man-is-keeping-us-down”-ism emanating like just-cracked-a-40-spray from these prior sentences, you’re a good reader!)
For my generation that grew up in the early 1990s, the 40 oz. bottle was first exalted by the gangster rappers and later by bands such as Sublime, whose breakthrough album was rightly entitled 40 Oz. to Freedom. (The title song aptly explains, “A 40 ounce to freedom was the only chance I had / to feel good even though I feel bad.”) As such, we middle-class suburbanites took to slugging 40 ozs whenever we could. (Inspired, for the record, by the rappers. Our lives dovetailed with Sublime later on.) Indeed, the first time my friends and I got drunk, there was three or four of us chugging two bottles of malt liquor. If I remember correctly, it was Crazy Horse and Mickey’s. (Since that was also our first night chewing tobacco, most of us involved either puked or spent the rest of the night on the toilet. Oh, the memories.)
From then on, I was a 40 oz. junky, picking up bottles every weekend for our nights on the town. We’d pick our malt liquor up from the Pakistani or Sikh guys who ran the 7-11 on White Road in East San Jose, where we went after the first spot we discovered got shut down. These guys didn’t seem to care that we were under 18, oftentimes even asking if we’d like a box when we were on a particularly large order. In those days, I’d jump around in my malt liquor choosing, usually settling on the 99 cent St. Ides, but very often finding myself drawn to Mickey’s. I was a proud part of my high school’s Irish club back then, and Mickey’s had some sort of Irish connection, I think. Or at least House of Pain drank it, right?
And that’s how I came to be friends with Mickey, a bitter-tasting chap who fancies the color green and likes to wear a hornet broach. Over the years, Mickey’s has been good to me, even though I went through quite an Old English phase in my later years of college. (And then there was that ridiculous 64 oz. fad, championed by Old English. But who needs another 24 ounces of malt liquor at that point anyway?) I would opt for the grenade-size widemouths from time-to-time, but I usually would settle on the 40 oz. (which also went through a silly widemouth phase) and be happy with the little Mickeysisms on the inside of the cap.
Just last week, I, a professional 29-year-old drinker of fine wines and rare ales, purchased a 40 oz. of Mickey’s for my poker night, and drank it happily with a side of Jim Beam. It brought back memories, and a groggy head the next morning.
But nostalgia aside, Mickey’s is still moving at full force and America’s 40 oz. culture is alive and well, for better and worse. For more info and a great website (where many of these photos came from), see www.Mickeys.com. And for all around 40 oz. fanfare and another site where I yanked photos, check out www.40ozmaltliquor.com.