Bottoms up: Prairie fire

The only thing more intense than Lee Corso donning a purple cow head live from Weston Field was the headache that greeted your tasters the next morning, or, for one of us, the next afternoon. This pain was unlike the vivid yet moderate cerebral experience a normal Sunday brings – it was fierce, fiery and ruthless. Fortunately for this article the pain was not all that lingered from Homecoming 2007. We happily discovered that, in addition to remnants of alcohol picking apart our insides, there was still a fairly healthy self-destructive tendency brewing inside of us. Accordingly we decided to review the “Prairie Fire.” The morning-after heads of many students housed conflagrations the likes of which are perhaps only familiar to Southern California. In our delirious state, we sought out a remedy for this very unnatural disaster; we somehow conjured up the familiar phrase, “fight fire with fire,” and headed to the gallows.

The “Prairie Fire,” properly speaking, consists of any strong alcoholic beverage “splashed” with some kind of hot sauce. Apparently, the shot was initially created by a frustrated bartender in Melbourne who, being bombarded with customers demanding free drink tickets, decided to serve these free-loaders something for which they would pay, albeit not with their wallets. Typically one encounters the “Mexican” version of this drink, which calls for Tabasco and gold tequila; other versions pair the sauce with rum, Everclear or even whiskey. Doing our best to avoid sunlight, we managed to procure brand name Tabasco sauce, Frank’s Red Hot sauce, Jose Cuervo and even some Patrón Silver. We were excited for the unique opportunity to put the age-old question to rest – is it the sauce, or is it, the sauce?

As a baseline, we decided to start with the classic Cuervo and Tabasco. The Tabasco transformed the tequila from its ominous, gold color to a menacing red and we threw them back. Jose’s burn combined with the legendary, McIlhenny sting to create a moment of agony, but it all settled surprisingly smoothly. Rather than being a perfect storm, the two extremes ended up pacifying each other on the way down; this symbiotic relationship was much more effective than coffee in rousing our weary spirits.

Thoroughly emboldened, we decided to swap Frank’s Red Hot for Tabasco. Frank’s Red Hot has a reputation for being a more flavorful and less powerful hot sauce. Unfortunately its lack of potency is of little comfort when one is looking at an aggressive shot of tequila. This time, the tequila’s initial burn was softened by a complex array of spice and tanginess, which was very pleasant. Unfortunately, Jose easily defeated Frank in the battle for our taste buds and our flavorful respite from Jose’s ferocity was all too short-lived. Frank’s could not hold its own against the power of Jose Cuervo, even after one taster started to drink it as a chaser – with disastrous results.

Cited in many rap songs, Patrón Silver has a reputation for being the tequila of champions; we figured this would make it a perfect breakfast of champions. We put on some Jay-Z, sprayed some Tabasco in the general vicinity of the glasses and tossed ’em down the hatch. Patrón’s subtle burn and complex array of spices did not blend as well with the power and heat of Tabasco as did the Jose Cuervo. Honestly, unless you chase a shot of Patrón with a punch to the stomach, it’s going to be a smooth ride. It was not as effective putting out the fire as the seemingly paradoxical Cuervo-Tabasco team. In fact, the overload of Tabasco made it less enjoyable.

At this point we were having difficulty figuring out which hot sauce was which. Also having no idea where the cork to the Patrón had gone, we had to bring in a consultant to get through the last tasting. Faced with the combination of Patrón and Frank’s, we were ready. As the secret ingredients in the “perfect margarita” (so says their Web site) and the original Buffalo wings, respectively, we expected great things from the famous pairing; our consultant, fresh off a “famous pairing” himself, came along for the ride as we were greeted with the best of both worlds. The Patrón and the Frank’s were equally subtle, and the smoky spice of the former was accentuated by the tangy hints of pepper and garlic in the latter.

Your tasters were very pleased with the results. The burning in our heads was kept company by the newfound burning in our mouths and stomachs. In a way the two neutralized each other. In another way we felt like crap. Perhaps if we had been in a more sound state of mind we would have remembered that the saying actually reads, “don’t fight fire with fire.” But our collective state of mind was rather unsound, especially after the “Prairie Fire” rolled through – we headed to the Herring to feel better.

Jose Cuervo about $20 for 750 mL, Patrón Silver about $35 for 750 mL.