Editorial: On the Rocks; Vodka, New Hampshire-Style

It being Christmas Eve and not the time to ponder politics or policy, we’ll pose a question that’s interesting but not of monumental importance: Now that the famed and much-loved profile of the Old Man of the Mountain is no longer perched above Profile Lake in Franconia Notch, the most appropriate place to see it is ...

... Yes, that’s correct: on the label of a $29.99 bottle of vodka, available for a limited time at your local New Hampshire liquor store. Profits from sales of the commemorative liquor bottle — a distinctive disk-shaped container that provides suitable space for the rendering of the rock formation and the state’s “Live Free or Die” motto — will be used to restore and preserve the deteriorating military flags displayed at the New Hampshire Statehouse. Fewer than 9,000 of the bottles will be sold.

The rock formation can no longer be viewed in the White Mountains, of course, because the improbable arrangement finally yielded to time and natural forces; it slid down the mountain one spring day in 2003. The ledge outcropping was treasured not just because it was a geological novelty but also because it came to be regarded as a symbol of the state. Made of granite, the state’s official rock, and located in what might be the state’s signature landscape, the White Mountains, Old Man in the Mountain presented a profile that somehow captured the New Hampshire character. With its prominent forehead and protruding jaw, the Old Man suggested stubbornness, implacability and flintiness. One could almost sense it scowling at all things new and non-New Hampshire, including ostentation, extravagance, development, taxes and Democrats.

Might it be that the Old Man didn’t so much succumb to the forces of gravity as it simply lost the will to live — if that term might be applied to a rock formation — after realizing that the power of its gaze had proved incapable of thwarting the alien forces transforming the state? In terms of development, for example, much of southern New Hampshire is now all but indistinguishable from Massachusetts, an eventuality that might have been presaged by the interstate that was built right under the Old Man’s nose. And Democrats came, too, turning what was once a Republican bastion into a state that swings back and forth so frequently it almost seems fickle. As for extravagance and ostentation, one only need to see some of the homes built around Lake Winnipesaukee in recent years to realize the state has lost that battle, too.

That pretty much leaves resistance to taxes as the New Hampshire character trait that endured and even outlived the Old Man’s stern visage. Of course, the state must still find money to pay for services, which is why it’s in the liquor business. Liquor revenue, lottery ticket sales and the state’s otherwise odd assortment of taxes and fees can cover only so much, which is why the state finds itself peddling vodka in bottles decorated with the Old Man’s profile as a way of raising a little extra cash.

Come to think of it, it’s hard to imagine any other state undertaking such a bizarre enterprise as retailing a commemorative line of vodka. This doesn’t speak just to the state’s aversion to taxes, but also to its steadfast willingness to do things its own way. Despite the many changes that have come to the state in recent years, New Hampshire remains unafraid to be itself — for better and worse. And to that, we raise a glass of special-edition vodka and make a toast of gratitude.