Insufferable Product Reviews: Underberg

The second installment of the series, check out #1 here.

This week’s insufferable review was originally going to be about Miller High Life. You see, I had the house to myself this weekend. The girlfriend was in Nashville for a bachelorette party, so my plan was to sit on the couch, play Forza Horizon 4, and go to the store and get a 12-pack of Miller High Life, and not see a single soul. I was going to wax poetic about being a true beer snob, but that the champagne of beers simply scratches a different itch. How once at an Alamo Drafthouse I got scoffed at by the bartender for getting exciting about seeing it available.

Then I saw the weather report. It’s a rare occurrence for Oakland to get into the 80s. That coupled with the fact that I had an old friend coming into town meant a change of plans: Lake day. You can’t bring High Life to a picnic because of the glass bottles, so we had to go with something else.

Day turned into night and we ended up in a craft beer bar near closing. The bartender thought she had been rude to us and wanted to offer us a shot as penance. This shot was Underberg. I’ve never heard of this stuff before, but she described it as a digestif, somewhat herbal.  

While I appreciate the gesture from her, she played us. She reached below the bar into a fridge and brought out these little paper bags, with bottles inside. It looked like the travel size tabasco bottles that they serve at brunch with your omelet. And while that’s a welcome addition to my eggs, I would have rather gone without this shot. After taking the shot and seeing our faces, she surmised that we didn’t know what we were in for. She compared it to Fernet, which I thought was a tradition in the midwest, but doing one google search showed me that it’s a San Francisco tradition. Either way, her description didn’t help me decipher what I was in for. Wikipedia says it is made from herbs from 43 countries, but I think it’s made from 43 kinds of dirt. If you’ve never had it before, imagine taking a shot of spoiled, warm, Jagermeister after you’ve just had herbal tea and a stick of Doublemint gum. Truly one of the worst things I’ve ever had. We sat there with our next round, trying to get through the beers before the bar closed, but all that was in my mouth was Underberg. Like an exact memory of that one time I chewed wintergreen tobacco had crept back into my mouth and I couldn’t stomach it. I stared down at my hazy IPA knowing that I wouldn’t be able to finish. 0/10, would not recommend.

I didn’t even get the worst of it. A friend and I walked home, and we had to stop. I couldn’t look but I had to snicker at the sound of 28 dollars worth of Korean BBQ hit the Oakland streets. Did we do him any favors by trying to chug those beers before closing? Probably not. But, for something called a “digestif” it certainly didn’t do much digesting. I heard another horror story about a round served after a bottomless mimosa brunch, which seems so cruel. The poor guy didn’t even get a chance to put his head back down to keep the splash zone to a minimum. This stuff might as well be ipecac.

Why do things like this exist? Why can you order a disgusting shot to take with your friends at a bar? Why do people eat peppers that could make them go blind? I guess you could take a look at the camaraderie, a shared experience good or bad can bring people together. Memories of terrible tasting things seem to stick in a special part of our brains. This is what I imagine hazing is for. I wouldn’t know, even though I was in a fraternity, we were so nerdy that we had a no-hazing policy, and we stuck to it.

Like a near-death experience on a road trip or a shared episode of food poisoning from a sketchy restaurant, some things are so bad that they’re good. I’ve changed my position on this garbage beverage. Think of this stuff as the Fast and Furious series; we’re not in it for the contents, but rather the spectacle. And while I still think it’s garbage, I’d recommend that you buy your closest friends a round of whatever weird digestif you can get your hands on. Even if they hate you for a while, they’ll remember it fondly the next time you all get together. 7/10, it’s a terrible way to get a decent memory. Blame it on me if you need to.


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