Using someone else's half-empty bottles of alcohol for cooking or otherwise. Any concerns?
September 30, 2010 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Someone recently moved, and tossed out some used bottles of alcohol (half-empty) among other non-garbage items they had put on the curb for trash pickup. My wife wants to use the left-overs for cooking. Is there anything to be concerned about?

Someone who lives nearby recently moved, and included in the items they had put out on the curb for trash-pickup were a few used bottles of alcohol. Naturally we were curious about the stuff being tossed, since they were mostly boxed up rather than bagged, and did a little scavenging.

Most of the other stuff was literature about some pharmaceutical drug related to depression, so we assume the guy who had lived there was a psychologist/psychiatrist or some such, and perhaps he either got divorced or passed away, and thus his wife was throwing out his stuff... but we have no idea for sure. None of the stuff was real trash though, and these used bottles of alcohol were in a box all by themselves. Whomever threw them out didn't bother to empty the bottles first. Might that person have wanted someone else to find and use them? Who knows...

Here's an inventory of what we found:
* Colonial Club Blackberry and Brandy: nearly full
* Blue Guracao: over half full (about 2/3rds)
* Royale Deluxe Chambord Liqueur: about half full
* Cointreau: nearly empty (about 1 inch left)
* J├Ągermeister: nearly empty (about 1 inch left)

My wife and I are not drinkers ourselves, but she thought maybe we could use some of the left-over alcohol for cooking. Is there anything to be concerned about? The liquids seem fine, not tainted. I doubt anyone would have poisoned them or anything. I know that alchohol in and of itself is a germicidal, so if the prior owner had chugged right from the bottle (do sane people actually do that?), I figure maybe any germs from that have since been killed off. Plus, the cooking process itself would kill probably anything else in the unlikely case that anything remotely harmful may remain. But I digress.

Am I thinking too shallowly here? What are your thoughts?

Any ideas on what to use any of the listed stuff for? (whether specifically for cooking, or otherwise)
posted by purefusion to Food & Drink (63 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Good grief. The booze is probably fine, but drinking something out of an abandoned bottle on the street is literally betting your life on it. This isn't Alice in Wonderland. Go buy your own booze.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:27 AM on September 30, 2010 [48 favorites]

One word: backwash.
posted by Lucinda at 9:28 AM on September 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

If I were in this situation, I'd keep the Chambord and Cointreau and forget the rest. Use them as raspberry/orange flavorings in desserts or over fresh fruit.

Fresh peaches + vanilla ice cream + Chambord would make a nice peach melba.
posted by gimonca at 9:29 AM on September 30, 2010

Not my cup of tea, but if there were a half full bottle of laphroaig out on the curb, I'd take it in a heartbeat. The chambord and blackberry could be used for desserts, but the rest of it isn't really worth keeping, imo.
posted by TheBones at 9:30 AM on September 30, 2010

Please don't consume a divorced and/or dead man's liquor you found in the trash next to pharmaceutical literature.
posted by griphus at 9:31 AM on September 30, 2010 [59 favorites]

Hope he didn't store poison in those bottles.
posted by smackfu at 9:32 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

My read of the situation from a distance is that there would have been other bottles the person kept; these are the bottles they didn't want and/or didn't know what to do with.

If you decide you don't like Chambord, you are empowered to throw it out as well. I'm assuming you're not skeeved out at being on the edge of dumpster diving, or you wouldn't have asked in the first place.

(For the record, I'm on team eat-the-overnight-counter-sandwich.)
posted by gimonca at 9:33 AM on September 30, 2010

Backwash? Germs???

It could be formaldehyde and petrol, people mix and store all kinds of things in all sorts of ways. For pity's sake buy your own alcohol.
posted by fire&wings at 9:36 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Drinking alcohol from bottles left on the curb for trash pickup? Ugh. UGH. Gross! Please, no, don't do it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:36 AM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Keep this in mind:

Mac: He doesn't have any poison.
Charlie: I don't have any on me, but I do keep some in my fridge at home in the relish jar.
Frank: There's poison in that jar? I thought I was allergic to pickles. What's in the jar with the skull and crossbones?
Charlie: Well that's mayonnaise. It's a decoy.
Frank: And the mayo?
Charlie: That's shampoo.
Frank: You're telling I've been putting shampoo on my sandwiches?
Charlie: If you've been using the mayonnaise, then yeah, probably.
posted by orme at 9:38 AM on September 30, 2010 [18 favorites]

I'm assuming you're not skeeved out at being on the edge of dumpster diving...

I know few (if any) non-homeless dumpster divers who would drink the last inch of Mystery Fluid from an open container.
posted by griphus at 9:40 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I myself have stored scary, non-drinkable things in booze bottles. So in a word: don't. In two words? REALLY don't.

To appeal to your frugal side: there is, by my reckoning, less than $30 worth of mid-to-low-grade hooch there. The Chambord and Cointreau are good over ice cream, in desserts, etc.; the others have limited culinary potential. I'd buy yourselves FRESH airline bottles of anything that intrigues you for cooking purposes and ditch this mystery crate.

Note: the other recent "booze windfall" question involved liquor with a KNOWN provenance. This is way different.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:42 AM on September 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

Alcohol kills germs, right?* If it smells like the actual alcohol that is on the label (blue curacao = orange, jagermeister = cough syrup, etc) then it's probably semi-safe. Depending on your relationship with your neighbor though, you may want to ask first to double-check.

Also, I think the type of neighborhood you live in might matter, too. I wouldn't do this where I live (in NYC), but where I grew up in the 'burbs? Sure, rich folks throw out valuable stuff all the time!

* - this is a joke!
posted by Grither at 9:43 AM on September 30, 2010

My dad used to store kerosene in old liquor bottles without actually scribbling out the booze label. I got on his case about it more than a few times that you need to label the bottles.
posted by JJ86 at 9:44 AM on September 30, 2010

Let's be clear. You have not encountered "a few used bottles of alcohol." You have encountered a few bottles labeled as alcohol, with fluid inside them. Huge difference there. HUGE.

You literally have no idea what is inside those bottles. And no way to find out.

There are no tests to determine the difference between a bottle of 100% bourbon versus a bottle of 90% bourbon and 10% urine added as a prank. Or 10% rat poison added as a booby trap by someone with a sick mind and a deep-seated hatred of the homeless.

You don't know the person who threw those bottles out. You don't know what they're capable of. You're assuming that this person is just like you (honest, decent, and sane). You have no reason to make that assumption - none at all.
posted by ErikaB at 9:48 AM on September 30, 2010 [17 favorites]

I can't believe I have to seriously type this out, but okay.

Please do not consume the contents of random unsealed glass bottles you found out on the street. Thanks.
posted by SMPA at 9:49 AM on September 30, 2010 [27 favorites]


Half a bottle of abandoned single-malt in basement? Go for it. But what you have there are the quintessential bottles of cheapish liqueur that everybody ends up buying on a whim for one cocktail or recipe and which then haunt the back of the pantry or gather dust in the booze cabinet for years and years. If you nab them all, you will inherit the curse of the dubious booze.

(The only thing I'd countenance salvaging is the Chambord.)
posted by holgate at 9:55 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Even if you don't think that the people who tossed them "poisoned" them, or just use dthem to store other substances, you don't know if someone else hasn't done something to them in the time they have been sitting on the curb. At this point those bottles can safely be classifies as being of unknown provenance, and you don't want to be ingesting such things.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:56 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Eh, as much as I love some free liquor, I wouldn't do it.
Reasons why:

-I dated someone who urinated in an almost empty bottle of rum when he was drunk and too lazy/drunk to go to the bathroom
-Just thought of backwash

My boyfriend on the other hand, would think he found a pile of gold if he saw all that liquor. I probably would let him drink the fuller bottles - but I would tell him to toss the ones with little left.

I get grossed out easily, but I'm pretty sure you'd be able to smell the bottles and decide whether or not there's "poison", urine or other stuff in there. And I doubt he would put liquid drugs in it.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:06 AM on September 30, 2010

1. Eewww.
2. What in earth are you going to cook with Jager or blue Curacao? This is not some huge treasure trove.
3. This stuff isn't that expensive to go buy. You don't have to buy a huge 750 ml bottle, for example. Need some Cointreau for an orange chocolate mousse? Liquor stores sell "airplane" bottles of almost anything for under $5.
4. Eeeeewwwwwwwww.
posted by kestrel251 at 10:16 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Throw them away now! It's not worth it. Imagine a guy with some horrible diseases and sores all over his mouth drinking directly from the bottles, and he backwashes a lot, or he is cheap and pours it in glasses but then when he doesn't finish them he pours them back into the bottle, but he stuck his dirty unwashed hands into the glasses when moving them around. Yuck!!!!!!!!!
posted by meepmeow at 10:32 AM on September 30, 2010

You don't know who these bottles belonged to, necessarily, or what the owner did with them or added to them. He may have been a psychiatrist or he may have simply suffered from depression. For all you know, he could have mixed his meds in with one of the bottles. The responsible thing to do would be to empty the bottles immediately lest some foolish kid cart them off to share with his friends.

If you want to cook with alcohol for free, team up with a friend who does drink alcohol and borrow from her bar. Just share whatever you make. Or, find a recipe you would like to try that calls for a particular type of liquor and buy the smallest bottle you can find. If you end up not liking it, give the bottle away to a friend (this is the only appropriate way to receive opened bottles--directly, from a person you trust). Worst case, you're out maybe $15 (and that's if you buy a full-size bottle, not "airplane" size).
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:32 AM on September 30, 2010

Response by poster: It's definitely alcohol. It has all the smell of alcohol, no doubt about it.
posted by purefusion at 10:33 AM on September 30, 2010

Response by poster: Also, the drug literature was tons and tons of the same brochures, with display cases for them and the whole nine yards... definitely not for someone who was depressed.
posted by purefusion at 10:34 AM on September 30, 2010

Unless you have some sort of olfactory-based superpowers, "it has all the smell of alcohol" does not necessarily follow "it's definitely alcohol."
posted by griphus at 10:37 AM on September 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

Don't do it. (And let us know if you figure out which bottle has the most "depression" pills dissolved in it. That'll be the murder weapon. I'm guessing Blue Curacao in the Conservatory by Professor Plum.)
posted by DB Cooper at 10:37 AM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Rather: "It's definitely alcohol" does not necessarily follow "it has all the smell of alcohol."
posted by griphus at 10:38 AM on September 30, 2010

Response by poster: I should also mention that this was in the ritzy subdivision. Well, there isn't exactly a ghetto in this city, and there aren't really any poor people.
posted by purefusion at 10:38 AM on September 30, 2010

Achohol and what?
posted by leafwoman at 10:39 AM on September 30, 2010

Will the warm fuzzy feeling of eating out of the garbage can make you enjoy the food more? Or less?

If you enjoy being all scavenge-y and resourceful and you're gonna love that dessert topping ten times more because of the thrill of using shit you found, then whatever, maybe it's worth it. Otherwise, yeah, just spend a couple bucks on a bottle of Cointreau. As your neighbor demonstrated, nobody ever finishes that stuff. One bottle will keep you well-provided with fruity dessert topping for the rest of your life.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:39 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

there aren't really any poor people.
Rich people do vile and odd things too.
posted by vincele at 10:47 AM on September 30, 2010 [9 favorites]

Dude, people are telling you not to drink it. If you want to drink it so much that you keep adding justifications, why are you here? And "there aren't any poor people" - WTF?
posted by peep at 10:51 AM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

the drug literature was tons and tons of the same brochures, with display cases for them and the whole nine yards... definitely not for someone who was depressed.

OK. Being a pharma sales rep or psychiatrist does not negate the possibility that this person added to or otherwise contaminated the bottles, or that his kid or grandkid did so.

It would be a different story if you knew your neighbor, saw him walking out to the curb with a box of bottles, and asked if you could have them. He'd tell you, "Sure, there's nothing wrong with them, I just don't want to move them with me" or "Actually, I just found out my teenage son had a party and it seems something was added to these bottles--not safe to drink anymore" or "Oh, you wouldn't want these--they've been open for a decade and taste awful now."
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:52 AM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

You'll probably be fine if you drink it. However please don't sue me if you do and you get sick. It's a risk of course but our advice isn't really going to help, because you've probably made up your mind to try cooking with it already.
posted by tehloki at 10:55 AM on September 30, 2010

Response by poster: I think I'm the hesitant one here, since I posted the question... and I appreciate the responses. But I'm also frugal, so there's that part in me. But not being a drinker also conflicts with that frugality, since we don't really need them. Were pretty sure no one else touched the stuff, since ya a quiet subdivision that's out of the way. But yeah, maybe we'll keep the blackberry stuff since it's nearly full, and dump the others.
posted by purefusion at 10:57 AM on September 30, 2010

At the very least, you owe your guests a head's up about the provenance of street-obtained ingredients, should you serve any of this stuff to someone other than your wife.

Also: gah, wtf.
posted by jamaro at 11:05 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Duly noted. Not planning to do that, but the jury is still out as to whether we'd use it at all, even for ourselves.
posted by purefusion at 11:08 AM on September 30, 2010

No, no, no. You have no idea how tainted the contents of those bottles may or may not be. Most people tip unwanted liquids down the sink before disposing of the bottles, too. Why didn't they? Really. Don't. Just don;'t.
posted by Decani at 11:12 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Let it be known that the people of MetaFilter, as a whole, state that purefusion should not consume what is in these bottles, and that if he does so and suffers any ill effects, MetaFilter and its employees and members can in no way be held responsible.

IANAL, but that ought to cover it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:22 AM on September 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

That is hideous and disgusting. Period. Please never invite me over for dinner.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:26 AM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have no issues with eating food from dumpsters, food that's been foraged, and food from the food bank. I have an issue with this. In fact, this question is making me incredibly nervous that people have served me liquor that they've found on the street opened and partially empty. Now I may have to ask every single host about the origins of their food. Thanks a lot for planting this awful thought inside of my mind.
posted by 200burritos at 11:37 AM on September 30, 2010 [10 favorites]

Frugal would be if you had planned on buying that stuff and then found it saving a few dollars. Stupid is what you are contemplating, you save no money. If you think that's frugal then you need to start hitting all of the dumpsters in town, think of all of the money that you wouldn't have spent that you will save.
posted by leafwoman at 11:40 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's being frugal and then there's just being foolish. This case falls into the foolish category, IMHO. Discarded out of date food from someone's pantry(which could be considered "essential")? Ok, might be worth it. Since it sounds like you didn't know this guy well. Thus, you have no clue where the booze has been. Will the dessert really be any less edible to you without the booze?

One of my best friends admitted (quite casually, I might add) to once having a vodka bottle with an entire months supply of Prozac dissolved into it, waiting for the day when she decided life was no longer worth living. No one else knew about or suspected it at the time. Imagine if she had died of unrelated causes and this was left on the curb?
posted by arishaun at 11:48 AM on September 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

What are you gonna cook with an inch of jager?
posted by fire&wings at 11:56 AM on September 30, 2010

Frugal shmugal. Are you going to feel awesome and frugal if you consume something potentially harmful? And backwash. Oh the backwash.

If I had to explain to an EMT what my spouse drank and how much, and I had no idea because it was hobo liquor found on the sidewalk, I'd feel like a super asshole.

Your feelings may vary of course.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:56 AM on September 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

My brother used to pee in bottles.
posted by Sassyfras at 12:07 PM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

This isn't frugal, it's a subplot on an episode of Hoarders.
posted by scody at 12:13 PM on September 30, 2010 [32 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, that comment pretty much pulled me off the fence. That show is disgusting.
posted by purefusion at 12:16 PM on September 30, 2010

Frugality doesn't involve taking something free just because it's there. Frugality involves making good use of whatever resources are on hand - are you going to end up spending more money by taking these bottles than leaving them? Will you have to buy ingredients to make stuff out of them? Will it cost you more in hospital bills if you get ill from drinking/using them?

If you're not going to use them, leave them for someone who will. That's frugal.
posted by Solomon at 12:21 PM on September 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Makes total sense, Solomon.
posted by purefusion at 12:30 PM on September 30, 2010

maybe we'll keep the blackberry stuff since it's nearly full, and dump the others

If it's anything like the "blackberry brandy" you see in liquor stores around here, it's probably cloyingly sweet, cheapish and nasty, sold mostly for consumption under overpasses. This might explain the lack of interest by the person who cleaned out the house before moving (and the mostly full bottle). I couldn't imagine cooking with it.

Not mentioned yet in this very entertaining thread--if the caps look loose-ish, you'll want to beware of ants or other insects having gotten in when they were outdoors. The sugar and fruity smells in these items would attract them.

(Otherwise, unless your neighborhood is playing out "Arsenic and Old Lace" in real life every'll probably be just fine. However, the other comments in this thread show that social acceptance is, well, kind of low, so I wouldn't casually bring it up in a watercooler conversation at work or anything.)
posted by gimonca at 12:53 PM on September 30, 2010

All I'm saying is that in Dumb and Dumber, there's that one scene where he peed in a beer bottle, and another guy ... didn't know about it beforehand.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:17 PM on September 30, 2010

I understand that this entire setup is somehow tantalizing for you guys, perhaps especially since your wife and yourself are not drinkers (hey, it's like a twelve-year-old who finds an abandoned car with the ignition key still in it!), perhaps also because the booze was oh-so neatly tucked away in the restricted section of the discarded goods of some possibly mad possibly deceased (through one of his experiments, who knows?) scientist. But please believe us, there are more pleasant ways of finding out how it is like (drinking).
The Cointreau is almost empty so that's one reasonable option almost down already. What do you want, what do you want to do with the rest?
posted by Namlit at 1:21 PM on September 30, 2010

Best answer: I like how most of these anecdotes are from TV shows and movies, and the rest sounds like local news scare pieces. "Where are your kids? Drinking piss-booze in the rich neighborhood!"

It's possible that any of these things could be done, but incredibly unlikely, and a knee jerk aversion to something from the trash is no reason to do or not do anything. Don't drink them because they're all shitty liqueurs, not because 95% of the internet apparently lives in a terrifying world of rat poison traps for the homeless.

Do you people eat anything you haven't personally grown and watched 24/7? What if some anti-lettuce psycho injected that head you used in last night's salad with antifreeze? Someone could have snuck in your house last night to hide razor blades in your shoes! For fuck's sake.
posted by cmoj at 2:14 PM on September 30, 2010 [15 favorites]

I think the best reason not to drink them is that hard liquor, once opened, does go bad. The higher the alcohol content the longer it will take, but if these bottles have been stored in a warm place or in somewhere with sunlight, and are more than a year old (as mixers and assorted half-empty bottles tend to be), then it's possible the flavor is going to have gone south.
posted by mikeh at 2:31 PM on September 30, 2010

Thank goodness someone mentioned Hoarders!

It's not the hoarding behaviour of your thinking of the potential of seemingly useful items of debatable value, or even what may or may not be inside of the bottles I'd worry about - so much as the outside of the bottles. They could have come from a house decorated with nothing but Target bags, rotting pumpkins, cat (and hopefully, just cat) feces piled three feet deep and sailcats along with other horrors. And you'd never know just from looking.
posted by peagood at 3:02 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dude, if you went to a frat house on Sunday morning, would you walk around and start drinking half-full beer cans? Yes, most of them would probably be just flat beer, but an appreciable portion of them would be cigarette butts and ash soaking in flat beer, spit from chewing tobacco, and piss. It blows my mind that you're even considering drinking this stuff that you found on the street just because it "smells like alcohol". You'll probably be OK, but count me among the posters whom this question makes outright queasy.
posted by banishedimmortal at 3:09 PM on September 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Am I thinking too shallowly here?"

You had to ask?
posted by HuronBob at 3:43 PM on September 30, 2010

1) A couple of them only have an inch left. Hardly seems worth the risk.

2) And yes... sane people actually do that, and much worse.

3) I used to work in the kitchen of a very fancy restaurant/hotel. All sorts of booze/food/other would come back, in various states of use/non use from the rooms service side. ALL of it was considered garbage, if not toxic waste. Why? Because if any one group of people understand the true f*cked nature of mankind, it is kitchen workers.

Hardly seems worth the risk.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:31 PM on September 30, 2010 [6 favorites]

Blackberry Brandy is like 7$ a new bottle, for the good stuff.
An ER co pay is at least 50$.

Don't be stupid.
posted by mazienh at 7:29 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm still baffled that you had to ask about this. Do you have kids? Surely you wouldn't let them eat anything they found (for all intents and purposes) in the trash. Nor would you allow them to eat something that has clearly been opened from a halloween haul - WHY on earth would you and your SO think this is even remotely a good idea?
posted by FlamingBore at 8:00 PM on September 30, 2010

If it were me, the idea of backwash, germs, etc wouldn't gross me out too much. But I would be worried about the reason the guy is throwing them away. It might be that he is moving, or they taste bad, or he's given up alcohol. But it might be that something happened to them - he spilled something over a carton where they were sitting open, or found out his kid had added something to them as a prank, or to stop him drinking, or whatever.

The only circumstance in which I'd drink them is if I could ask him about them. But if he moved, I guess you can't do that. (And if you're too shy to ask him, then you aren't desperate enough to want to drink them!)
posted by lollusc at 9:11 PM on September 30, 2010

I would be worried about the reason the guy is throwing them away

See, I wouldn't be, because they are definitely in the class of booze you buy and then drink or use once or twice, then let sit for years, but can never quite justify throwing away until you have to contemplate packing it up and taking it somewhere else. To me, though, the fact that it's "Cousin Oliver" booze means it's not worth nabbing.
posted by holgate at 10:21 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

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