It started a few years ago when breweries in the United States began to offer “hard cider” or, as it’s known in the rest of the world, “cider”. It caught on. People liked having an alcoholic fruit beverage made with a fruit other than grapes, and the convenience of having alcohol in their apple juice without having to go to prison or add their own alcohol since the combination of apple juice and vodka has the taste, smell, and many other attributes of butane. Soon pear cider followed, and although cider from other pomaceous fruits hasn’t caught on yet someone out there is cultivating medlars right now.
What did follow was “hard” versions of other beverages. “Hard lemonade” was soon offered, and then “hard orange soda”, quickly followed by “hard grape soda”, which caused red wine producers around the world to say, “Why didn’t we think of that?” until they tried it and realized they hadn’t tried it because it was terrible. There was “hard ginger ale”, and “hard iced tea” for people who wanted all the Southern charm of a mint julep without the mint or the julep or anything else except the alcohol. There was “hard cream soda” and “hard fruit punch” for people who wanted to combine all the joys of childhood nostalgia with a DUI. At some point someone started making “hard root beer”, or, as it’s known in the rest of the world, “what is wrong with you?”
Maybe it started earlier than that. The flavors of amaretto and Irish cream had been added to coffee for decades by people who wanted to combine the taste of liqueurs with being able to stay jittery all night. In the early ‘90’s a brewery west of the Rockies started making a beverage called “Zima”. It was very popular with a previously untapped demographic, guys who wore turtlenecks all the time, even though it was really just a combination of Sprite and vodka and had all the taste, smell, and many other attributes of sparkling butane. In chain restaurants glazes and barbecue sauces infused with bourbon and other whiskies became a staple and were slathered on steak, chicken, fish, and pork, which meant some nine-year olds who ordered the all-you-can-eat rib platter were able to combine all the joys of childhood with a DUI without the nostalgia.
As history has shown there is no idea so terrible that it can’t be made worse by marketing. Not content with “hard” sodas, teas, juices, sparkling waters, and milk, as well as milk substitutes made from soy, almonds, oats, rice, and eggplant, the industry started offering “hard” versions of other items. Salad dressings, pretzels, breads, peanut butter, mashed potatoes, garden gnomes, and pies had new labels indicating proof. “Hard cheese” took on a whole new meaning. Candy bars couldn’t be purchased without ID. Editorials suggested the Eighteenth Amendment hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.
Still the trend continued. It wasn’t until one morning in the shower when we opened a bottle of shampoo and were hit by the fragrance of aquavit that we looked at our shelves and admitted we had a problem.