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40 oz. to deadline

The other day I was chatting off the record with a police officer who was describing the newest swill of choice among the local homeless population.

Apparently, Anheuser-Busch's Hurricane High Gravity is responsible for a rash of recent bum disasters, including fights, early morning trips to the hospital for emergency detox and assorted property crimes involving public urination.

HHG in the 40-ounce form is fairly new to the area, the officer explained, and has supplanted legendary bum mainstays such as Steel Reserve 211 and Camo 40 on the streets and beneath overpasses.

My experiences with malt liquor are few, so I decided to drop by a local market to try this mysterious elixir.

I picked up a 40-ounce bottle of HHG at a reputable market before heading home one night. I was amazed at the relatively tiny market's selection of bum beer and wine.

The swill runs about $2.99, which seemed a bit steep to me, considering I could pick up a jug of St. Ides or Colt 45 for 50 cents cheaper.

Anheuser-Busch's Web site describes HHG as a "very full-bodied" brew with a "smooth, sweet finish."

Sounded good to me.

I did my homework on 40-ounce beers prior to tearing into HHG and found a large cult of swill enthusiasts.

My personal favorite Web site is 40ozMaltLiquor.com, where readers submit photos of themselves upending bottles of the cheapest of cheap bum nectar alongside fairly detailed reviews of each product.

You base the quality of a 40-ounce on a number of criteria, including its "crack" — the sound made by escaping gas when you twist the lid, the sharper the crack the better — aroma, the impact of the initial swallow on your gag reflex and finally the buzz.

A sample review of Camo 40 off 40ozMaltLiquor.com by soberphobia: "Bizarre malt right here. The first few swills might churn the gut but you will soon get used to the chemicals. No matter if you are a rum rookie or tryin to get rid of the D.T's — halfway through this you should be doing quite alrite. Go for more then 2 beware you may wake up in county. I'd really enjoy touring the place they make this at. I can only imagine. Pik one up wit yer girl, drink it in the cemetary, and good things will follow."

HHG stands tall among 40-ounce swill for its megadose of refined sugar and an 8.1 percent-by-volume alcohol punch.

The cop I spoke to told me the hard-core boozers who live in Hawthorne Park can down about three or four of these in a few hours.

He said HHG can lead to psychotic rages and often inspires one to shed layers of clothing with each successive drink.

I hauled the bottle to my friend's apartment and intended to nurse it while watching "The Big Heat" — one of my favorite film noir cuts from 1953. She was out of town and I had the place to myself, which was good because I didn't want her to lose respect for me by seeing me clutch a .40 of HHG on a Saturday night.

To get the full effect gained from reading 40ozMaltLiquor.com, I chilled the bottle for a few minutes before tearing in.

It had a decent crack, but I was looking forward to something more dramatic.

I bent down to catch a whiff of the aroma and jerked back when the bottled vapor wafted out of the mouthhole. I once worked at a paper plant back home and was instantly reminded of the scent of toluene when confronted by HHG.

Suddenly rethinking this little experiment, I gave the bottle a little twirl and put it up to the lamp to get a closer look at the body.

The greyish, tan foam resembled what you would get if you poured 80 gallons of formaldehyde into Bear Creek in late August and collected the mixture 50 yards downstream.

Then it was time to man up.

HHG hits you in waves. The first shock comes when it reaches your teeth and they suddenly turn gummy from the excess of syrup stirred into the brew. Once it makes it through your teeth, your tongue is laid siege by a tangy chemical taste not unlike Windex.

Not kidding, I nearly had to spit out the swill but was scared to ruin my friend's brand new futon.

To understand the horror HHG visits on your taste buds, you have to take yourself back to your misspent youth, snatching cheap wine after school with your friends and chugging it in a garage. You took the brunt of the Wild Irish Rose because you were young and stupid and didn't want to appear weak in front of your friends.

Remember the revulsion?

Now take that and multiply it by 1,000 and you still are nowhere near the booze waterboarding that is HHG.

You swallow it not because you're looking forward to the coming buzz, but because you simply don't want it in your mouth anymore.

No matter how much sugar they dumped into the vat after this concoction was brewed, it could never mask the mouthwashy aftertaste. The chemical film it leaves on the back of your throat is the gift that keeps on giving.

Think of a mixture conjured from Jagermeister, Mad Dog 20/20, Red Bull and carburetor cleaner and you'd come close to understanding HHG's distinctive flavor.

I worked off about four slugs before it was time to pack it in.

I was hesitant to dump it down the sink for fear that it would reach an innocent sewer alligator, causing it to mutate into a giant reptilian killing machine that would one day explode through East Main Street and begin feasting on the tourists.

But dump it I did. I washed the bottle out afterward and packed it with me when I left. I didn't want my friend knowing I had imbibed a 40-ounce HHG in her apartment when she wasn't there. I don't know, something about that seemed pathetic.

People who concern themselves with sociological matters often wonder why a certain segment of our population chooses homelessness over the mainstream.

It is suggested by some that the homeless like being homeless, otherwise they wouldn't live in such a manner.

They are wrong.

The homeless hate being homeless and want to alleviate themselves of the situation as soon as possible. Hence, the ingestion of HHG on a daily basis in Hawthorne Park.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.