"We can make products that taste exactly the same as the originals," Donn Lux boasts of his knock-off boozes, with pride worthy of an impostor-perfume manufacturer. Because you can't copyright a recipe, David Sherman's scientists are free to fashion eerily similar versions of hot-selling products. Thus, they parry Captain Morgan with Admiral Nelson, Pucker with Smackers, Baileys with Saint Brendan's and Jack Daniel's with Ezra Brooks.
Do the knockoffs really measure up to the originals? Imbibing minds wanted to know.
Our blind taste test took place a few days after the Shermanathon. For some reason, we weren't able to persuade everyone to reconvene for further delectation. So we settled for Randall Roberts and the Sommelier Known Only As the Wino from the original tasting, plus an unsuspecting RFT editor, "Tom," whom we were hoping to render off-balance before requesting a raise.
Our methodology was simple: two plastic cups containing two similar liquors. Whichever of the two took us longer to banish to the spit bucket was the winner.
Bring on the blindfolds!
Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum ($11)
Admiral Nelson's Premium Spiced Rum ($10)
The lowdown: According to the pseudomythology pimped on the label, "Captain Morgan left the comfortable life for one which proved far more satisfying...that of a buccaneer on the Spanish Main. His feats were many, his exploits endless, and his thirst legendary." Admiral Nelson, on the other hand, was "a great leader whose courage and classical good looks quickly became the stuff of tabloids and tavern talk and, you guessed it, Legend. Horatio Nelson was his name: adventurer, true friend of the ladies, admiral of the greatest armada ever to set sail." Nelson uses a cannon. Morgan needs only a sword to do his worst.
Also according to their labels, Admiral Nelson's Virgin Islands rum uses caramel color in its mix, while Captain Morgan's Puerto Rican rum employs "spice and other natural flavors." The showdown: Though he may have been a stud in the sack, when it comes to taste Admiral Nelson is not much of a friend to anyone. "Tom" lambasted its "overpowering" vanilla flavor: "My lips are singed."
Roberts, meanwhile, showered praise upon Captain Morgan, which he found "much more subtle; not as 'whoa!'"
The winner: The original: Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum
Baileys Original Irish Cream ($17)
Saint Brendan's Irish Cream Liqueur ($13)
The lowdown: Saint Brendan's is cheaper and features a distinctive, Rubenesque brown-tinted bottle -- both important characteristics for the high schooler on a budget to keep in mind. Brendan's brags that it's made with aged Irish whiskey, while Baileys gives nothing away other than being colored with caramel.
The showdown: "Three seconds into drinking, you can feel the heat of the alcohol," the Wino said blindly of Brendan's, while he claimed to "get a bit of wood" from Baileys. We presume this was a compliment. "Tom" found Brendan's thicker, "more like a milk shake," while the Bailey's sounded vaguely medicinal notes at the end. Overall, Brendan's was deemed a worthy knockoff, but Baileys was more smoothly blended. Read: Less likely to turn off underage dates with too much yucky alcohol flava.
The winner: The original: Baileys Original Irish Cream
DeKuyper Original Sour Apple Pucker Sweet & Sour Schnapps ($10.50)
Arrow Sour Apple Smackers Liqueur ($7)
The lowdown: These neon-green intoxicants boast the same alcohol content (15 percent) and feature disturbingly similar cartoony green apples and kissy lips on their labels.
The showdown: The Wino -- unversed in the arena of Jolly Rancher-nosed liqueurs -- couldn't tell one from the other, but Roberts immediately declared the slightly darker of the two liquids "less worse." Meanwhile, "Tom" was mortified by the lighter of the two. "Sour apple? This smells like rotting apple," he said after relegating a sip to the spit bucket. The other, which turned out to be the Sherman knock-off, would "fill in nicely when you're out of Scope," he said.
We know a winner when we hear it. The winner: The knock-off: Arrow Sour Apple Smackers Liqueur
Jack Daniel's Old Time Quality Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey ($18)
Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($15)
The lowdown: Alpha Sigma Sigmas from sea to shining sea were no doubt dismayed to learn recently that "Old No. 7" had lowered its alcohol content to 80 proof from 86 proof. (This a mere fifteen years after it was lowered from 90 proof.) David Sherman president Donn Lux suggests disenchanted JD fans give Ezra Brooks, which continues to chug along at a brisk 90, a long look. Who were we to not oblige?
The showdown: Though "Tom" had two choice words for the drink that was later revealed to be Ezra Brooks -- "rubbing alcohol" -- the rest of the group actually preferred the bourbon's medicinal bouquet and flavor. More alcohol, less money -- that's a winner!
The winner: The knock-off: Ezra Brooks Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey