To quote the eloquent “Joliet” Jake Blues from the 1980s classic “Blues Brothers,” “That Night Train’s a mean wine.” You can snub your nose all you want, at a bum wine, but we have all drunk the fermented Kool-Aid at least once in our lives. These liquid staples of urban America are bound to treat you right until you treat them wrong. Hydrate all you want, but the twist-top she-devil in the swanky brown paper dress is in charge now. So take a trip down memory lane with our five favorite hobo wines, fit for a ghetto king with three bucks to his name.
Thunderbird – 750 ml $4.99 17.5 percent Alcohol by Volume
The American Classic (it says so right on the label)
What’s the word? Thunderbird!
How’s it sold? Good and cold.
What’s the jive? Bird’s alive.
What’s the price? A dolla twice.
This radio spot from back in the day quickly became the battle cry for fans of wine on a dime. Back when your parents were kids, E. & J. Gallo Winery created a 21-proof, twist-cap bottle of sweetness that looked like piss and turned your tongue black. Brothers Ernesto and Julio Gallo wanted to corner the market on cheap wine in the ghetto. Rumor has it they picked up a homeless man and drove through the inner city. When he rolled down the window and yelled out, “What’s the word?” the homeless cheered back, “Thunderbird!” The drink is fortified and undignified but DAMN that eagle on the label makes you feel special when cradled in your arms. Best served when face down in the gutter.
Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill – 750 ml $2.99 7 percent Alcohol by Volume
If you were 14 and wanted to get wasted back in the 80s, you know of the light-pink nectar known as Boone’s Farm. The hangover and bad decisions would pale in comparison to the memories made with a bottle of Strawberry Hill. Back in the day it was 99 cents and it knew how to party. It tasted like a strawberry Slurpee from 7-11 that was left in the sun for a few days. Add a can of flat sprite and rubbing alcohol and that pretty much sums it up. Boone’s Farm is yet another gem from the Gallo family and can be found really low on the shelves at your favorite liquor store.
Night Train – 750 ml $5.56 17.5 percent Alcohol by Volume
All aboard the Night Train Express! Stocked in your “stop and rob” by Lucifer himself and priced to move at $2.99. Tell the conductor you want to take a ride, especially if you’re an old school Guns N’ Roses fan. Night Train goes down smooth as sandpaper and is reminiscent of its big brother, Thunderbird. Night Train is another prize originating with the Gallo company. It might be fair to say they’ve truly defined what boozers and hobos want in a brown bag wine.
Mad Dog 20/20 – 750 ml $4.49 18 percent Alcohol by Volume
This dog has some bite! Back in high school, when you purchased a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 you got 20 ounces of regret mixed with 20 percent alcohol. What you see is what you get with this endearing treat. Label says, “Red Grape Wine” and there are red grapes on the label. The marketing team wasn’t pulling any punches with this one. This wine is sweet as vinegar and as smooth a wino’s face. As you delicately unscrew the top and take a sip, your inner voice begs you to stop but no one likes a quitter. With 10 different flavors to choose from, you will be running with the big dogs in no time. Ruff! Ruff!
Cisco – 750 ml $3.99 20 percent Alcohol by Volume
Every good story starts with, “No shit, there we were, drinking Cisco ….” According to the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence, “A bottle of Cisco about the size of a soft drink contains the equivalent of five shots of vodka.” The bottle is deceiving. It looks like an innocent wine cooler from those old Bartles-and-whatever guys. We’re ending this article with the devil, because that’s exactly what Cisco is. Any wine that is affectionately known as “liquid crack” and tastes like watered-down cough syrup is #1 in our book!
Note from The Editor:
After researching these iconic brands from my childhood and questionable 20s, one thing became clear. Each and every label has a parent company selling high-end wine to a classier crowd. So when your brown bag is starting to tear and life has you in the dumps, remember you’re only six degrees of separation from a fine Cabernet Sauvignon. Dust yourself off and stay in the fight!