The hardy, barrel-chested settlers of the Olde American West struggled against mighty odds, all right: grizzlies, blizzards, outlaws, fallow deserts, impassable mountain ranges--and a horrific, mind-shattering lack of convenient alcohol stockpiles. One imagines these Jeremiah Johnsons gladly sucking down anything that even sniffed of a fermented beverage.

Yet somehow I doubt Wild Spirit would've made their Top 10 list.

Which is not to say this self-labeled "drink of the frontier" doesn't have more kick than a drowning horse. It's a hearty
90 proof--plenty strong enough to keep
the Donner party warm for a night or two.

But despite all the hackneyed homespun maxims scattered across the bottle's label ("Pride & Integrity," "Paddle Your Own Canoe," "Worthy of the Brave"), Wild Spirit liqueur reeks of the sharp tang of good old-fashioned consumer manipulation. For starters, it's bottled in Philadelphia--a dangerous place in its own right, but far from the misty pioneer lands promised us by Manifest Destiny. There's also the fact that, when the transparent, cocoa-touched liqueur is mixed with cola, you get a chocolatey concoction that tastes much like a Tootsie Roll. Envision Josey Wales, moments after he'd calmly ventilated half the saloon with slugs from his still-smoking Colt, asking for one of these candied treats: "Barkeep." Glare. "Mix me up one o' them Wild Spirit and Tootsie whatchamacallits." Squint. "And gimme extra Coke.... I gotta ride later."

Shot straight, however, Wild Spirit fires up with enough throat-burning heat to put hair on your chest. And though the slight aftertaste of chocolate lingers like an ember in a prairie fire, Wild Spirit's closest neighbor is actually vodka. Of course, that neighbor lives halfway across the valley and would probably rather eat a bullet than pretend to know who Wild Spirit was. But the drink resembles a swaggering liquor more than a sweet liqueur--Cadbury and Godiva won't be hanging around this homestead anytime soon--and consumers are warned to treat it as such.

In the end, though, such differences matter little. Wild Spirit is an obviously contrived product with the same hyperbolic promises as some snake-oil restorative tonic. The label speaks of great things, while the bottle's contents themselves whisper of small--almost nonexistent--miracles. But there is one significant difference between Wild Spirit and snake oil: This stuff actually works, provided your highest desire is to blast your brain like a cliff standing in the way of Union Pacific track layers.

Then again, there are cheaper, better ways of achieving that goal. I heard a guy in the Oregon Territory--name of Henry Weinhard--has got this beer or something...

Wild Spirit Liqueur

750 mL$19.95