I've always been an Olde English (OE) guy. At the ripe age of eighteen, I popped my malt-liquor cherry while sitting with a high-school buddy on the stained shag carpet of my first, still furniture-less college apartment. We had just driven a borrowed Suburban the four hours from our home town in northern Illinois to a Slumberland Furniture store in Des Moines so that we could use his employee discount on a futon bunk bed for my new place. Road-weary and not in the mood for Iowa City's minor-admitting bars, we sprawled out on the floor, smoked cigarettes and drank fake-ID-purchased OE FLO-Js — a crippling concoction created by drinking a forty down to the label and adding orange juice, a combination more commonly referred to as a Brass Monkey. From that point on, whenever my friends played Edward Fortyhands — a drinking game that involves duct-taping forties to each hand and not being able to smoke or pee until they're both empty — I opted for OE. Whenever we had to trek across town for a party and didn't want to carry cases, I grabbed fistfuls of OE. In fact, for the past seven years, any time forties have been called for, I've reached for OE.
Thanks to Steuben's (523 East 17th Avenue), those days are now over.
A few weeks ago, at a late-afternoon lunch with two high-country friends in town to fight a collection agency threatening a credit-score smackdown because of an unpaid apartment deposit, I was having trouble deciding on a beer to go with my Steuben's Philly cheesesteak. Then my eyes landed on a listing too peculiar to be true: Mickey's Big Mouth bottle. "Is this what I think it is?" I asked the waitress. She confirmed, and suddenly I was drinking malt liquor with lunch.
The forty is a cumbersome container. It's awkward to hold, too big for pockets and conventional cup holders, heavy on the arms. Plus, by the time you get to the bottom, the beer's always room temperature or warmer. By contrast, the twelve-ounce Mickey's "green grenade" is the perfect little vessel for the Miller Brewing Company's artificially induced, super-strength lager — the small, waffled bottle design isn't unwieldy or uncomfortable, the wide mouth helps the goodness go down without fear of warming, and the caps contain pictographic riddles perfect for passing around the table.
Which is exactly what we do tonight — Maggie and I, my sister and her boyfriend visiting from Chicago, our friends Ken and Jane, back at Steuben's for dinner and drinks. When we finally get seated at the tail end of the rush and I order my second grenade, I become the unsuspecting target of a shit-talking onslaught: "Are you homeless now?" someone mutters in my direction. "What is this, high school?" another says with a laugh. "When did everyone go and get so civilized?" I shoot back. Then my beer comes, and I pass the cap, an activity everyone gets behind. For two-plus hours, I put back big-mouths as fast as our waitress can bring 'em while scarfing down spaghetti and meatballs like mom used to make. We pass the caps clockwise, keeping our guesses quiet until everyone has had a chance to see. Once the cap comes full circle, the yelling begins. A sample:
The letter 'n' + a melting cube + a baseball glove with a ball in it = "Knock gloves!" "N-square baseball thing!" "Nice catch!"
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A black nocturnal bird + a chess piece in the shape of a horse + the letter 'r' = "Bird chester!" "Owl rooker!" "All nighter!"
A picture of a bus + the letter 't' + a stack of athletic balls = "T-ball!" "Bust her stack!" "Bust balls!"
Or so we guess. None of the caps we get are included on the sixty puzzles/solutions listed at Mickeys.com. Which means there could be more than a hundred — nay, a thousand! — different riddle caps. Which means I have a lot of work to do if I want to see them all.
Which means I'm a Mickey's man now.