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Crème de Mouthwash
What price, enlightenmint?
My friends are degenerate pranksters, which means they spend a lot of time decanting drinkable alcohol into horrifying containers. Limoncello in a bottle of PineSol, crème de menthe in a handle of Scope. During one pandemic bike ride, a couple of ‘em thickened some vodka with agar and glorped it into an empty pump bottle of hand sanitizer. They offered a shot to every stranger we passed.
The joke, in every case, is ultimately on them—they’re the ones who have to drink the Thick Vodka, the Cream of Mint. But when the pseudo-Scope made an appearance again this year, I began to wonder: is mouthwash really that much more revolting than bargain-basement peppermint schnapps or crème de menthe? In a blind tasting, would I even be able to identify them?
I know what you squares are thinking: Don’t drink mouthwash, Liz.
And to that, I say: ~we can do hard things~
Growing up, I was led to believe that if I swallowed any mouthwash accidentally, I would keel over immediately from mint poisoning. But it turns out, mouthwash isn’t exponentially worse for you than other types of alcohol.
Before embarking on my hero’s gurney, I read through a study in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology titled “What Happens if People Start Drinking Mouthwash as Surrogate Alcohol? A Quantitative Risk Assessment.”
The Quantitative Risk Assessment offered far less discouragemint than I expected, concluding, “the occasional or even chronic ingestion of mouthwash may not cause health effects except the effects of ethanol alone.”
Here’s the gist: if I were to slam 11 full shots of Scope in a single day, I’d exceed my accepted daily intake levels of both ethanol and methyl salicylate.In the long run, I’d probably develop metabolic acidosis.
But is a small, incidental sip of spring mint going to kill me? No. And if it did, that would probably be a net positive for society.
It goes without saying that you should not drink mouthwash—it tastes bad. But then, this is also true of DeKuyper’s Crème de Menthe.
Peppermint schnapps (left). Grain alcohol infused with peppermint extract and sugar. A liqueur I’m familiar with mostly from doing laybacks with Hershey’s chocolate syrup at house parties circa 2010. The schnapps of choice back then was something called Thunder 101, which helpfully had the proof right there in the name. If they make a low-proof peppermint schnapps, I can’t find it—the lowest I could find at the liquor store was a 90-proof traveler of “Hiram Walker.” Perhaps for this reason, p-schnapps is still consumed primarily in shot form.
Crème de menthe (middle). French for “Cream of the Month.” Objectionably contains no cream, as mint is fickle and hates to be milked. Like schnapps, crème de menthe has a base of grain alcohol, but here, it’s diluted to a lower proof with a liter of food coloring. The standard-issue DeKuyper’s bottle has the appealing, verdant hue of a prehistoric bog. Still, crème de menthe has a slightly fancier pedigree; Sergei Rachmaninoff was said to drank a glass before each performance of a particularly difficult piece to calm his jitters (Note to bartenders: name a drink "Rachmaninoff's Jitters"). Today, crème de menthe is mostly used by Boomers to make Grasshoppers, a creamy, logy drink that answers the cursed question, “What if mint chocolate chip ice cream could get you drunk?”
Mouthwash (right). Theoretically comes in alcohol-free versions, but no one likes them. Consumed primarily by people who have just eaten a handful of chocolate chips and are too lazy to brush their teeth. Unlike the other two, it contains no sugar, as this would be counterproductive for all but the evilest dentists.
Given the veritable rainbow of mint hues, I knew I was going to need to taste the liqueurs blindfolded. I enlisted Tom to pour the shots and hand them to me one at a time. To try to minimize bias on his end, too, he decanted the liqueurs into the only opaque cups we had on hand.
First, I took a sip of each cup and tried to identify the liqueur. Then, I swished a small amount around my mouth, gargled with it, and spat it into a hedge.
Do not write me angry letters about how I am encouraging irresponsible behavior. This is always true and therefore unremarkable.
The good news: even tasting them blindfolded, I was able to correctly identify all three liqueurs. Discernmint!
The bad news: once I had rendered my judgmint, I felt that I needed to keep drinking them ~unblinded~ so I could take more detailed notes and marvel at their attractive hues. A reassessmint.
I share these notes with you now. I have ordered them below by preference, but please understand that I would prefer not to drink mint liqueur at all.
1. DeKuyper’s Crème de Menthe
Color: Pours a sinister dark green—a witch’s green—but looks black and opaque in the bottle. A vaguely threatening aura. The ingredients list suggests it contains “Certified Color.” The certifying body is not specified, but I assume it’s the What It Looks Like Inside of a Lava Lamp Foundation.
Texture: Legs for days.
ABV: 30% | 60 proof
Smells: Like your breath after eating a candy cane. It should be minty, but it’s mostly a stale and slightly sour sweetness.
Tastes: Better than it smells. Appreciably minty but with that same old-candy backbone. Notes of Certified Color™
Gargles: Like sugar water, which it is.
2. Up&Up Antiseptic Mouthwash in Spring Mint®
Color: A translucent oceanic green that screams “Ostensibly Spearmint.”
Texture: Watery and frothy.
ABV: 21.6% | 43 proof
Smells: Soft and sharp at the same time, like a Camel Crush cigarette coated in stevia. This was the most aromatic of the three, which doesn’t mean it was appetizing.
Tastes: Zesty. Despite being the lowest proof, it had the strongest burn on the way down—a function more of the menthol than the booze, I suspect.
Gargles: Like mouthwash, which it is.
3. Hiram Walker Peppermint-Flavored Schnapps
Color: Unpigminted. Clear as water, which feels somehow more in keeping with the mint ~aesthetic~. Refreshing! Invigorating! Doesn’t remind you of an eel!
Texture: Also uncannily watery. Slightly coats the glass as you tilt it, the only sign that sugar is involved.
ABV: 45% | 90 Proof
Smells: Like a vat of grain alcohol into which someone has dropped a single Starlight Mint.
Tastes: Like something that no man with a name as regnal as “Hiram” could enjoy. Astringent and slightly sugary, with the booziest nose and finish of all three.
Gargles: Like a mouthwash impostor, at first. But after that first minty blush faded, it felt like my teeth were wearing sweaters woven from simple sugars.
Final Verdict: The mouthwash has an undeniable edge on price per ounce. But it is also more likely make your tummy hurt, so it earns a narrow second place.
You can buy clear crème de menthe, and I’d recommend that route. But fundamintally, I don’t recommend that you buy any mint liqueur, at least for a home bar. It’s the kind of bottle you’ll probably use once to make grasshoppers and then forget about for a decade.
I suppose you could make a pitcher of grasshoppers and call it a party. But to be honest, I’d rather drink the mouthwash.
This is not an endorsemint, mind you—just documintation of my slow, torminted tumble down the escarpmint of freshness into lamintable alimintary languishmint. For entertainmint purposes only.
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Calculated by comparing the study’s thresholds to “standard drinks” using guidelines from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.