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In Bars & Clubs

A bum wine buffet.

Guide to bum wine




Note: The contents of this guide were checked for accuracy when this article was updated on Jan. 20, 2011 at 4:32 p.m. We continually update the thousands of articles on OnMilwaukee.com, but it's possible some details, specials and offers may have changed. As always, we recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the businesses mentioned in the guide.


The "bum wine" has many names: street wine, brown bag wine, wino wine, fortified wine or twist-cap wine (although a lot of decent wines have twist caps now, too). They all, however, have a few things things in common: a price tag under $5, an alcohol content around 18 percent and the promise of a mallet-to-the-skull hangover.

The unfortunate latter fact aside, very cheap wines have their place, mostly with young drinkers, but not always.

"It's not only college kids buying really cheap wine these days," says Mark Nord, the owner of Downer Wines and Spirits, 2638 N. Downer Ave. "A lot of people are buying them these days."

For the uber-economical vino shopper, Nord recommends a $4.99 bottle called Broke Ass, which comes in red or white. "It's not bad," he says.

But more classic bum wines include MD 20/20, Night Train, Thunderbird, Wild Irish Rose and Cisco. Here's a brief description of each.

MD 20/20, often simply referred to as "Mad Dog" even though the MD really stands for "Mogen David," is bottled by the 20/20 wine company in Westfield, New York. There are seven or eight fruity flavors to choose from, but try the "Red Grape Wine" or the "Banana Red" but be careful. At 18 percent alcohol by volume, this dog bites back pretty damn hard.

Night Train Express, the bastard child of E&J Gallo Winery, falls on the bad beverage spectrum somewhere between Nyquil and Kool-Aid. At 17.5 percent alcohol, it's definitely not for kids, but it is, however, a choo-choo wreck waiting to happen.

Thunderbird, also an E&J Gallo secret, was described by one drinker as tasting like "what your hand smells like after you pump gas." Like Night Train, it has an alcohol content of 17.5 percent and it definitely puts the "ill" in swill.

Cisco is very sweet, and yet, it is neither a wine cooler nor a baby's medication. Bottled by the Centerra Wine Company, some flavors have as little as 13.9 percent alcohol. Still not a good beverage to serve at your daughter's "I Carly" sleepover pizza party, however.

Sure, Wild Irish Rose is bright red and pungent, there's nothing floral about "Wild I." Bottled by New York's Canandaigua Wine, it has 18 percent alcohol content and really should have a skull and cross bone on the label instead of a flower.

In Milwaukee, at least a few of these wines are available at most city liquor stores. They are also available in gas stations that sell alcohol.

Matt Baker-Barnes lives in the Harambee nighborhood and he often buys very cheap wines. This past summer, he hosted a "Bum Wine Party" for friends, and served $1.99 bottles of wine and squirt cheese.

"People drink bum wine for one reason: to get drunk. Sometimes, that's what it's all about, even though you pay for it the next morning," he says. "I have 'gone there' since high school, because I'm usually broke, but if you can afford the good stuff -- like Two Buck Chuck -- I say go for it."

Talkbacks

kinnickinnic | Jan. 21, 2011 at 12:49 a.m. (report)

Now here's a subick I knows sumting abouts. I knows bums and I knows dare wines. And lady, yous don't know crap about good wines. I rode the rails with Sneeky Pete himself. He was a kinda sewer of what yous call bum wines. If yous is freezen cold, ain't nuttin better den a good old(6 weeks) Muscatel or what we call Musky. And if yous and your buddys wants to drink high off a da hog, you can't beat good ole White Port with lemon juice. The best wine of all times, sadly to say, ain't no more. It was called "Showboat". It were 40 Proof and I seen God hisself more then once come to my park bench on that fine wine. And I ain't never had no f***** hangover, dems for the sober. Stay drunk you fool!

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lavachequilit | Jan. 20, 2011 at 8:32 p.m. (report)

"Bum wine"? You can not be serious. Just because it's an Internet meme doesn't mean it's clever.

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triguy | Jan. 20, 2011 at 4:43 p.m. (report)

I see someone else has been to the website bumwine.com. hilarious!

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